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Workshop, Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, 16–17 June 2008

Org. by: Nick Hopwood, Simon Schaffer, Jim Secord


A workshop on seriality and scientific objects, in Europe and beyond, between 1780 and 1848 for historians of science and others to debate the relations between the practical construction of series as objects of scientific study and the technologies through which such objects were made visible and public.

Our provisional hypothesis is that there is a fundamental connexion between the communicative modes in which scientists convey their accounts of the world, and the pictures of the world they produce. It is often noted that the transformation of accounts of nature and society in the decades around 1800 coincided with the emergence of new forms of material production. One way of exploring this issue is through the category of the “series”, for seriality can describe both an organisation of communication and an account of the contents of nature. The notion of seriality seems especially apt in the age of revolution, when it became a central category in fields ranging from zoology and political economy to periodical publication and newspaper journalism. Three registers of serial objects would seem, prima facie, related in this period: Serial objects, Serial images, and Serial publics.

In the decades around 1800, scientific objects in series were not the result of mechanized production, but were instead the outcome of regimes of highly regulated hand labour.