The scientists affiliated with the early Royal Society of London have long been regarded as forerunners of modern empiricism, rejecting the symbolic and moral goals of Renaissance natural history in favor of plainly representing the world as it really was. In Aesthetic Science, Alexander Wragge-Morley challenges this interpretation by arguing that key figures such as John Ray, Robert Boyle, Nehemiah Grew, Robert Hooke, and Thomas Willis saw the study of nature as an aesthetic project.
To show how early modern naturalists conceived of the interplay between sensory experience and the production of knowledge, Aesthetic Science: Representing Nature in the Royal Society of London, 1650-1720 (U Chicago Press, 2020) explores natural-historical and anatomical works of the Royal Society through the lens of the aesthetic. By underscoring the importance of subjective experience to the communication of knowledge about nature, Wragge-Morley offers a groundbreaking reconsideration of scientific representation in the early modern period and brings to light the hitherto overlooked role of aesthetic experience in the history of the empirical sciences.
Alexander Wragge-Morley is a lecturer in the history of science and medicine at the University of Lancaster. His research seeks to understand how people in the past obtained knowledge through sensory experience. In doing so, he brings together histories of science, medicine, the body, the neurosciences, art, literature, and religion.
Alexandra Ortolja-Baird is Lecturer in Digital History and Culture at the University of Portsmouth. She tweets at @timetravelallie.
Alexandra Ortolja-Baird is Lecturer in Digital History and Culture at the University of Portsmouth.
She tweets at @timetravelallie