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The Technical Image

A History of Styles in Scientific Imagery

Copublished with the Bard Graduate Center

The Technical Image

A History of Styles in Scientific Imagery

Copublished with the Bard Graduate Center
In science and technology, the images used to depict ideas, data, and reactions can be as striking and explosive as the concepts and processes they embody—both works of art and generative forces in their own right. Drawing on a close dialogue between the histories of art, science, and technology, The Technical Image explores these images not as mere illustrations or examples, but as productive agents and distinctive, multilayered elements of the process of generating knowledge. Using beautifully reproduced visuals, this book not only reveals how scientific images play a constructive role in shaping the findings and insights they illustrate, but also—however mechanical or detached from individual researchers’ choices their appearances may be—how they come to embody the styles of a period, a mindset, a research collective, or a device.

Opening with a set of key questions about artistic representation in science, technology, and medicine, The Technical Image then investigates historical case studies focusing on specific images, such as James Watson’s models of genes, drawings of Darwin’s finches, and images of early modern musical automata. These case studies in turn are used to illustrate broad themes ranging from “Digital Images” to “Objectivity and Evidence” and to define and elaborate upon fundamental terms in the field. Taken as a whole, this collection will provide analytical tools for the interpretation and application of scientific and technological imagery.

See sample pages (PDF format).

208 pages | 93 color plates, 92 halftones | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2015

Art: Art--General Studies

History of Science


“This multidisciplinary study trains an art historian’s eye on historical scientific imagery. Editors Bredekamp, Dünkel, and Schneider draw on research from the Humboldt University of Berlin and a range of haunting images. They show that an iconic 1896 radiograph of a hand by X-ray discoverer Wilhelm Röntgen prompted both rhapsodies over a ‘photography of the invisible’ and frustration among medics struggling to use such images for diagnosis.”

Barbara Kiser | Nature

“This generously illustrated volume brings the groundbreaking research of Humboldt University professors and students on the history of scientific imagery to an English-reading audience. Scholars of the history of science, art history, and visual culture will be rewarded not only with a compendium of crisply reproduced images (92 black-and-white and 93 color plates) from the early modern period to the present, but also with a trenchant series of case studies that provides an important theoretical and methodological framework for a contextual investigation of ‘technical illustrations’ that opens up questions for the practice of art history as a whole. The imagery within this volume (e.g., woodcuts of human anatomy, nascent X-ray technology, early computer interfaces, and modern sonography) is examined in its transformative role as producing (and not merely reflecting) knowledge. As the editors argue, the forms of the images—and their presentation, classification, and modes of reproduction—point to broader, significant epistemological concerns beyond iconographic content, and raise questions that problematize such terms as objectivity, evidence, perception, and observation. The glossary items embedded within the discursive chapters and the bibliographic survey provide additional tools for students. . . . Recommended.”

C. J. Jolivette, Missouri State University | Choice

“It is a beautifully designed hardcover publication that invites looking and reading, but also inspires thinking and reflection. . . . The way in which this volume deals with historical research is refreshing. Instead of describing historical ‘progress’ starting in the past, automatically confirming our modern technical superiority in imagery and design, the case studies go back in time. . . . The intellectual scope of this volume shows itself most prominently in the analytical tools. Instead of borrowing terms to talk about design and imagery from philosophy, linguistics or semiotics, the theoretical universe is explored in two ways. On the one hand, authors articulate modern concepts, understanding images, for instance, as ‘productive agents and distinctive multi-layered elements in the epistemic process.’ On the other hand, the words used by historical inventors to reflect upon the imagery they generated—such as ‘techné’, ‘nature’, ‘representation’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘art’—are taken seriously, in terms of the German tradition of Begriffsgeschichte. . . . By using a modern analytical apparatus as well as having an open mind towards former conceptual frameworks, the authors are able to meticulously analyse all kinds of imagery. . . . This volume offers a wonderful challenge: that we should elaborate this intellectual project outside Germany, inspire each other, and discuss and correct some ideas—which is of course what fruitful academic debate is all about!”

Journal of Design History

“Not only is the objectivity of scientific images . . . challenged, but the accounts here of technical histories, evaluation practices, iconographical traditions, and modes of perception make even clearer the constructive character of the images. For all that such images are expected to be self-evident and to follow rules of repetition and verifiability, like experiments, it is nevertheless—or, even better, therefore—the case that manipulated images often generate better scientific results in the eyes of the scientists. . . . The volume deserves to be treated as an indispensable research tool.”

Mirjam Brusius, University of Oxford, on the German edition | British Journal for the History of Science

The Technical Image concretizes the beginnings of a long-term intellectual project of outstanding importance: the interdisciplinary melding of methods from art history, media studies, and the history of science to produce a new body of scholarly literature on imagery generated in the contexts of ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ scientific research. The illustrations are excellent, the translations are very good indeed, and the glossary will be invaluable to undergraduate and graduate students alike as they begin to navigate the rich interdisciplinary literature now emerging on the interactions between the history of art and the history of science and technology. The pointed and even controversial texts in this volume will serve in the Anglophone academy as a point of departure for a renewed debate in numerous fields that is already well under way in the German-speaking context.”

John Harwood, Oberlin College | author of "The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design"

“By way of direct and empirical engagement with materials and forms that make up an image, general issues emerge that go into informing and shaping the study of technical images. Among the most important of these general issues is the notion of style. As an art-historical category, style thus reemerges in the context of technical images. This book does an excellent job of not only expanding the study of the image in the history and sociology of science more toward art history’s veritable and long engagement with the image; but also conversely, it succeeds in explaining what art history takes to be an image. Visually exciting, interesting, and engaging.”

Omar W. Nasim, University of Kent | author of "Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century"

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