Posts tagged ‘History of Science’

Cycles and circulation: a theme in the history of biology and medicine

Cycles and circulation: a theme in the history of biology and medicine,”History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43:89 (2021), 1-39. [PDF]

Nick Hopwood, Staffan Müller‑Wille, Janet Browne, Christiane Groeben, Shigehisa Kuriyama, Maaike van der Lugt, Guido Giglioni, Lynn K. Nyhart, Hans‑Jörg Rheinberger, Ariane Dröscher, Warwick Anderson, Peder Anker, Mathias Grote, Lucy van de Wiel, The Fifteenth Ischia Summer School on the History of the Life Sciences


We invite systematic consideration of the metaphors of cycles and circulation as a long-term theme in the history of the life and environmental sciences and medicine. Ubiquitous in ancient religious and philosophical traditions, especially in representing the seasons and the motions of celestial bodies, circlesonce symbolized perfection. Over the centuries cyclic images in western medicine, natural philosophy, natural history and eventually biology gained independence from cosmology and theology and came to depend less on strictly circular forms. As potent ‘canonical icons’, cycles also interacted with representations of linear and irreversible change, including arrows, arcs, scales, series and trees, as in theories of the Earth and of evolution. In modern times life cycles and reproductive cycles have often been held to characterize life, in some cases especially female life, while human efforts selectively to foster and disrupt these cycles have harnessed their productivity in medicine and agriculture. But strong cyclic metaphors have continued to link physiology and climatology, medicine and economics, and biology and manufacturing, notably through the relations between land, food and population. From the grand nineteenth-century transformations of matter to systems ecology, the circulation of molecules through organic and inorganic compartments has posed the problem of maintaining identity in the face of flux and highlights the seductive ability of cyclic schemes to imply closure where no original state was in fact restored. More concerted attention to cycles and circulation will enrich analyses of the power of metaphors to naturalize understandings of life and their shaping by practical interests and political imaginations.

August 23, 2021 at 11:16 am Leave a comment

Book Talk: The Power of the Periphery

Book Talk: The Power of the Periphery: How Norway became an Environmental Pioneer for the World. Institute for Public Knowledge, New York University, Oct. 6 2020.

In conversation with Eric Klinenberg. Recording on YouTube

October 7, 2020 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

My review of Climate in Motion


Deborah R. Coen, Climate in Motion: Science, Empire, and the Problem of Scale, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018).

H-Environment Roundtable Reviews, Jan. 17., 2020. [PDF]

January 17, 2020 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

My review of The Culture of Nature in Britain

 Peter Harman, The Culture of Nature in Britain
       Environmental History, Oct 2011, 727-728

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October 14, 2011 at 7:46 am Leave a comment

The Economy of Nature in the Botany of Nehemiah Grew

The Economy of Nature in the Botany of Nehemiah Grew,” Archives of Natural History, 31:2 (2004), 191-207.

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Historians of natural history often point to early modern promoters of the mathematical and mechanical as a key shift in understandings of the organic world. This article visits the natural philosophy of one of the chief supporters of this view of nature, namely the first curator of plants at the Royal Society, Nehemiah Grew. This article sets his work within the material world of patronage, medical and mathematical tools, laboratory life, and finally his views on human virtues, health and the role of women. It reads Grew as a religious informed natural philosopher whose understanding of the economy of nature hails the wisdom of the Creator and the possibility of gaining spiritual and medical health from studying the language of the book of nature. The quest to understand nature’s language was about tempering the human will and arrogance so that one could appreciate the Lord’s creative power in the world. As representative of the Royal Society’s promotion of empirical and mechanical research, Grew mobilized excitement for botany with an ethos of showing nature’s economy respect.

May 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm Leave a comment


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