Elizabeth Athens

Fellow’s Talk: Elizabeth Athens on William Bartram’s Vision of the Natural World

2021–21 UCHI Fellow's Talk. An Essay Towards a Natural History of William Bartram's Drawings. Assistant Professor of Art History Elizabeth Athens with a response by Helen M. Rozwdowski. Live. Online. Registration Required. January 27, 2021, 4:00pm.

An Essay Towards a Natural History of William Bartram’s Drawings

Elizabeth Athens (Assistant Professor of Art History)

with a response by Helen M. Rozwadowski (Professor of History, UConn)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021, 4:00pm (Online—Register here)

The act of drawing or “figuring” provided the American naturalist William Bartram (1739–1823) a model for understanding the natural world. Bartram saw figuring as a series of reciprocal interactions among natural world, artist, and audience, a view that coincided with his belief in a dynamic, responsive cosmos. Though the term ecology is of nineteenth-century origin, the study of the natural world’s relationships emerges in the eighteenth, and this presentation examines the affinity between Bartram’s graphic work and an interconnected natural world. In particular it considers how his drawings—by calling attention to their construction through visual quotations, jostling perspectives, and unusual flourishes—presented a new mode of natural history representation, one in which they function as extensions of the natural world’s own organic processes and patterns.

Elizabeth Athens is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches courses on museum studies, histories of collecting, and material culture. She previously served as part of the research team for the History of Early American Landscape Design database at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington, D.C., and as the American art curator of the Worcester Art Museum. Her current research centers on the work of the American artist-naturalist William Bartram (1739–1823), whose efforts helped redirect the taxonomic focus of eighteenth-century natural history to the study of lived relationships. This project examines Bartram’s unusual graphic practice and how his natural history drawings helped articulate such a shift.

Founder of the University of Connecticut’s Maritime Studies program, Helen M. Rozwadowski teaches history of science and environmental history as well as interdisciplinary and experiential maritime-related courses. She has spent her career encouraging scholars and students to join in writing the history of interconnections between oceans and people. Her book on the 19th-century scientific and cultural discovery of the depths, Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea, won the History of Science Society’s Davis Prize for best book directed to a wide public audience. In The Sea Knows No Boundaries she explores the history of 20th-century marine sciences that support international fisheries and marine environmental management. Recently she has co-edited Soundings and Crossings: Doing Science at Sea 1800-1970, one of several volumes that have established the field of history of oceanography. Her recent book, Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans (Reaktion Books, 2018), which won the Sharon Harris Book Award from UCHI in 2019, has come out in a Korean edition in 2019 and a Chinese edition in 2020.

Registration is required for the event.

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at uchi@uconn.edu or by phone (860) 486-9057.

Announcing the 2020–21 UConn Faculty Fellows

The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) is proud to announce its incoming class of UConn faculty fellows. The Class of 2020–21 will consist of seven faculty who embody the creative drive and energy of the arts and humanities scholarship at the University of Connecticut. More information about each fellow, including their biographical information, will be provided at a later date:

 

 

Elizabeth Athens sitting against a background of flowers

Elizabeth Athens

 

Department of Art & Art History

Project Title: Figuring a World: William Bartram’s Natural History

Amanda Crawford headshot

Amanda Crawford

 

Department of Journalism

Project Title: The Sky is Crying: the Sandy Hook Shooting and the Battle for Truth

Melanie Newport headshot

Melanie Newport

 

Department of History

Project Title: This is My Jail:  Reform and Mass Incarceration in Chicago and Cook County

Helen Rozwadowski headshot

Helen Rozwadowski

 

Department of History - Avery Point

Project Title: Science as Frontier: History Hidden in Plain Sight

Sara Silverstein headshot

Sara Silverstein

 

Department of History & Human Rights Institute

Project Title: Toward Global Health: A History of International Collaboration

Scott Wallace headshot

Scott Wallace

 

Department of Journalism

Project Title: The Bleeding Frontier: Indigenous Warriors in the Battle for the Amazon and Planet Earth

Sarah Winter headshot

Sarah Winter

 

Department of English

Project Title: The Right to a Remedy: Habeas Corpus, Empire, and Human Rights Narratives

You Should…Read: Micrographia Illustrata

George Adams, Micrographia Illustrata, 4th ed. (London, 1771), retrieved from babel.hathitrust.org

Visual technologies have conditioned us to dramatic alterations of size and scale, but in the eighteenth century, they still retained a considerable shock factor. Microscopy, for instance, was likened to a type of travel, a way to enter a previously unknown “Magazine of Wonders.” The London instrument-maker George Adams endeavored to popularize it among non-specialists and, not incidentally, improve his sales through the many editions of his Micrographia Illustrata. He assured his readers that everything they took for granted—blight on rose leaves, mold on bread—would transform into something new and entirely unanticipated when magnified. “The whole Earth is full of Life,” he wrote, “and then if we call in the Assistance of Art, what a new Scene of Wonder opens to our View? What an infinite Variety of living creatures present themselves to our Sight?” Even more exciting was the practice of solar microscopy, in which the magnified view was projected on a wall, giving observers the sense of entering into the object itself. In his book, Adams describes the act of magnification as an early form of virtual reality that allowed viewers to set off into new and bewildering landscapes. And, of course, he provided a catalogue of instruments and prices at the end of the volume, just in case anyone was interested.

-Elizabeth Athens 
Assistant Professor
Department of Art and Art History
University of Connecticut