CfA: Diagrams in Science, Science in Diagrams, 1300–1700

June 14-18, 2020, Online

Call for papers

In modern scientific publications, readers will often encounter diagrams providing a visual account of some complex concept or theory. This visual tool, the diagram, has a long, yet ill-understood history in premodern science. While some fields of knowledge, e.g. geometry and astronomy, have used diagrams from its very start, other disciplines of medieval and early modern science (such as medicine and alchemy) adopted this tool of presentation and reasoning at a later stage. This conference seeks to address and compare the development and use of diagrams in all strands of premodern scientific knowledge between approx. 1300 and 1700. This time period is chosen specifically to be able to study the material and medial side of diagrams, and to understand whether and how the introduction of the printing press to the Western World impacted the production, use, and availability of diagrams. Print was restricting the options, since for example, colour was harder to produce, diagrams were not always printed directly next to the related text, and the preparation of woodblocks and copper plates requested other skills than drawing them. At the same time diagrams (like texts, and other visual tools) became wider spread through print. Did this have an impact on the use of diagrams in the various scientific “disciplines” of premodern science? How strongly was diagrammatic thinking part of scientific practice on paper? We believe that we need to study the history of the diagram as part of the “scientific toolbox”, against the backdrop of broader scientific, technological and social developments, to understand more about the use, function, and epistemic value of images in premodern science in general.

This conference aims at doing so by tracing the emergences and the disruptions of traditions of diagrams in all fields of scientific theory and practice, e.g. (but not restricted to) geometry, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, alchemy, law, theology, and music.

We ask contributors to focus on a limited set of diagrams of one tradition or field and to address, among others, questions such as the following:

1. Do the diagrams under investigation come from a precise tradition or do they form the foundation of such a tradition?
2. What is the scientific/disciplinary context of the diagrams under investigation and how do they relate to it?
3. What is the aim of the diagrams under investigation (illustration, explanation, demonstration, etc.)?
4. How does the medium carrying diagrams under investigation impact their form and role (print, manuscript)?
5. What are the most intriguing visual/graphical features to be found in the diagrams under investigation?
6. How do the diagrams under investigation interact with the text and which vocabulary is used to refer to the diagrams?
7. What justifies the diagrams under investigation to be labelled as ‘diagrams’ (and not ‘tables’, ‘maps’, etc.) and what is a reasonable demarcation line here?
8. How do the diagrams under investigation relate to scientific practices (experiments, taking measures, etc.)?

The conference will take place on June 14–18, 2021, entirely online, in two 90-minute sessions per day. Presentations will be based on pre-circulated papers, which will then be prepared for publication. To participate as a speaker, please send the following documents to by September 15, 2020:

• a title
• a 300-word abstract
• a short CV, including full name, affiliation and email address

Confirmed speakers:
Kathleen Crowther, University of Oklahoma
Christoph Lüthy, Radboud University Nijmegen
Benjamin Wardhaugh, University of Oxford

Conference organized by the Max Planck Research Group Visualizing Science in Media Revolutions:
Sietske Fransen, Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History
Christoph Sander, Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History

Deadline: September 15, 2020

Posted: July 21, 2020