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Objectivity has a history, and it is full of surprises. In Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison chart the emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences -- and show how the concept differs from its alternatives, truth-to-nature and trained judgment. This is a story of lofty epistemic ideals fused with workaday practices in the making of scientific images.
From the eighteenth through the early twenty-first centuries, the images that reveal the deepest commitments of the empirical sciences -- from anatomy to crystallography -- are those featured in scientific atlases, the compendia that teach practitioners what is worth looking at and how to look at it. Galison and Daston use atlas images to uncover a hidden history of scientific objectivity and its rivals. Whether an atlas maker idealizes an image to capture the essentials in the name of truth-to-nature or refuses to erase even the most incidental detail in the name of objectivity or highlights patterns in the name of trained judgment is a decision enforced by an ethos as well as by an epistemology.
As Daston and Galison argue, atlases shape the subjects as well as the objects of science. To pursue objectivity -- or truth-to-nature or trained judgment -- is simultaneously to cultivate a distinctive scientific self wherein knowing and knower converge. Moreover, the very point at which they visibly converge is in the very act of seeing not as a separate individual but as a member of a particular scientific community. Embedded in the atlas image, therefore, are the traces of consequential choices about knowledge, persona, and collective sight. Objectivity is a book addressed to anyone interested in the elusive and crucial notion of objectivity -- and in what it means to peer into the world scientifically.
the history of objectivity had its own coherence and rhythm, as well as its own distinctive patterns of explanation. At its heart were ways of seeing that were at once social, epistemological, and ethical: collectively learned, they did not owe their existence to any individual, to any laboratory, or even to any discipline. We came to understand this image history of objectivity as an account of kinds of sight. Atlases had implications for who the scien tist aspired to be, for how knowledge was
of repeating, images are more vivid and indelible than Fig. 2.6. “Cassowaries of Kangaroo Island.” François Péron, Voyages de découvertes aux Terres australes (Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1807-1816), pl. 66 (courtesy of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz). Atlas images of animal species exotic to Europeans, such as these emus (mistakenly identified as cassowaries), or difficult to preserve, such as jellyfish, bore witness to the existence of new species. They also served as
clumsiness; in short, all of the parts of it beautiful and O B J E C T I V I T Y pleasing to the eye. For as I wanted to shew an example of nature [nat urae exemplum], I chused to take it from the best pattern of nature.23 Accordingly, Albinus selected a skeleton “ of the male sex, of a middle stature, and very well proportioned; of the most perfect kind, without any blemish or deformity.” (For Albinus it went without say ing that a perfect skeleton was perforce male; in 1797, the German
cases, even as they tried to eliminate the wayward judgments of their artists with grids, measurements, or the camera obscura. Art and science converged in intertwined judgments of truth and beauty. Eighteenth-century scientific atlas makers referred explicitly and repeatedly to coeval art genres and criticism. Like Hunter, the English naturalist and artist George Edwards, the Library Keeper to the Royal College of Physicians of London, promised readers of his Natural History of Uncommon Birds
portrait of any one of them. Seeing —and, above all, drawing —was simultaneously an act of aesthetic appreciation, selection, and accentuation. These images were made to serve the ideal of truth —and often beauty along with truth —not that of ob jectivity, which did not yet exist. Truth-to-Nature after Objectivity In Chapter Three, we shall examine the rise of mechanical objectiv ity and how it changed the ways scientific atlas images were made and understood. From the perspective of atlas