Humanities Brown Bag Seminar

Monday, October 24, 2022
12:00pm to 1:00pm
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Dabney Hall, Garden of the Associates
Culturing Nature's Order: A History of Exemplary Microbes and Manufactured Milieus
Charles A. Kollmer, Ahmanson Postdoctoral Instructor in History of Biology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Caltech,
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Abstract: In this talk, I will speak about my book project, Culturing Nature's Order: A History of Exemplary Microbes and Manufactured Milieus. The book charts how microorganisms housed in glass containers became mainstays of scientific and medical inquiries throughout the world between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. Cultured microbes, separated from their surroundings by transparent vessels, provided scientists and physicians effective means to study infectious diseases, fermentation and decay, taxonomic relationships, and, eventually, biochemical processes crucial to the perpetuation of all living things. The book situates knowledge derived from experts' myriad engagements with microbial cultures historically, arguing that culture techniques did not isolate microorganisms so much as recontextualize them. Researchers and practitioners operating in a variety of roles took up shared techniques, removing microbes from the niches in which they thrived and transferring these organisms into receptacles assembled from manufactured components. Collectively, these mundane acts of cultivation bolstered incisive reasoning about nature's order while quietly naturalizing environmental and social changes wrought by capital, industry, and empire.

For more information, please contact Cecilia Lu by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email at [email protected].