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Visual Culture Program

Monday, April 22, 2024
3:00pm to 5:30pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Scaling Observations
Devin Griffiths, University of Southern California,
Anna Henchman, Boston University,
Omar Nasim, University of Regensburg,
Anne Sullivan, University of California, Riverside,

In the nineteenth century a series of technological innovations radically expanded the human compass of observation and exploration—off into the far reaches of the vast heavens, back into the mists of deep time, and down into the smallest corners of the petri dish. The changed scales on which humans could observe, document, and interpret, opened up fundamentally new questions about physical reality and our place within it. More prospectively, they can also be seen to offer a preview of the new challenges our scientific imagination contends with today in the face of new breakthroughs in particle physics and a new reckoning with the timescale of a changing climate. What perceptual challenges occur when we attempt to engage with either the infinitesimal or the infinite? How do we observe, document, and interpret environments that span from the terrestrial to the celestial and what problems and promises span scales and historical moments? This one-day symposium unites scholars of visual culture, the history of science, and literary studies for an interdisciplinary consideration of scale, perspective, and perception in human and natural past and future.


Devin Griffiths
Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Southern California
"Alice Protests: The Afterlives of Wonderland in Environmental Critique"

Anna Henchman
Associate Professor of English, Boston University
"Larva, Polyp, and the Scale of Individuation in 19th-Century British Naturalism"

Omar Nasim
Professor of the History of Science, Institute of Philosophy, University of Regensburg
"Photography's Perception of Scale in the History of Astronomy"

Anne Sullivan
Lecturer, University of California, Riverside
"Recording Infinity: Astronomical Scale in Victorian Literature and Photography"


Devin Griffiths is an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. His research sits at the intersection of environmental history, philosophy of science, and literary studies. Central to that work is the question of how literary form shapes our experience of relation and natural systems. His first book, The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature Between the Darwins (Johns Hopkins, 2016), was a runner up for book prizes by the British Society of Literature and Science and the British Association for Romantic Studies. With Deanna Kreisel, he is also coeditor of After Darwin: Literature, Theory, and Criticism in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge UP). His work has appeared in various journals, including Critical Inquiry, Book History, ELH, SEL, and Victorian Studies. He is currently working on two books, a study of energy history and ecological thought titled "The Ecology of Power: Energy Aesthetics and the Arts of Expression," and a second work on ecoaesthetic theories.

Anna Henchman is an Associate Professor of English at Boston University who specializes on 19th-century literature, science and perception. Her first book, The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature revealed the links between stellar astronomy and vertiginous shifts in narrative scale and point of view in writers like Alfred Tennyson, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. She's currently working on two book-length projects: one on coral and a second on the role invertebrates play within the 19th-century British imagination, entitled "Tiny Creatures and the Boundaries of Being." She teaches courses on conceptions of time, animals, children's literature, and the life and work of Audre Lorde. Since 2017 a central focus of her work has been co-creating and co-teaching "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Climate Change" within BU's Kilachand Honors College.

Omar Nasim currently holds the Professorship in the History of Science at the Institute for Philosophy at the University of Regensburg, Germany. He is a specialist in the visual, cultural, and material histories of science and technology in modern Western Europe, USA, and Great Britain. His second book Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth-Century (2013) is the result of detailed archival and historical work, used to disclose the rich and productive links between the acts of drawing, seeing and knowing. This book won the prestigious History of Science Society's Pfizer Award for Outstanding Scholarly Book in 2016. His most recent book is called The Astronomer's Chair: A Visual and Cultural History (The MIT Press, 2021). Currently he is working away on a monograph on the history of photography in astronomy.

Anne Sullivan is a Lecturer in the University Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside. As the Weisman Postdoctoral Scholar in Visual Culture (2019-21) and the Anne Rothenberg Postdoctoral Scholar in Visual Culture (2021-22) at Caltech, she taught literature and visual culture courses on "Volcanoes" and "Picturing the Universe." An article drawn from her research on fire in nineteenth-century literary and media history was published in 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. An article related to her research on nineteenth-century astronomical imaging and British literature will appear in the catalog for Caltech's 2024 Getty PST exhibition Crossing Over: Art and Science at Caltech, 1920–2020.

For more information, please contact Mary Martin by phone at 626-395-4571 or by email at [email protected].