Tuesday, April 6, 2010

4/6: What were characteristics of mid-19th century visual culture that reflect notions about evolution?

Last Updated: 04-08-2010 01:41:59

What would Darwin and others who were thinking about evolution have seen in the mid-19th century that might have resonated with or disturbed their line of thought? Mike pointed out that On the Origin of Species does not make use of visual content. How is this significant? When Darwin did use illustrations, what did he choose? In what ways was the visual culture in or out of sync with the scientific and philosophical cultures of the time?

Following Kevin’s prompt to post a statement on the “cultural context” at the time of publication and on “where there was any observable impact on visual culture after publication”, I would like repeat some of the methodological discussion that informed the workshop I convened last May at the Department of Art History, University of Oxford on Darwin’s impact on the arts and the historiography of art from the 19th century to the current moment. The word impact implies a connection of a cultural, social and historical order yet to consider the relation of ‘evolution and visual culture’ in given historical and cultural contexts, we felt we had first to explain ‘impact’ in historical terms. If evolution is connected to visual culture and this connection is a culturally and historically specific ‘thing’, then the implicit assumption is that evolution has a cultural history and indeed by some, an art history, as well. If so, the question I would like to pose, from the methodological end of the discussion, is what kind of history do we need in order to reconstruct the history of evolution in art and 19th century visual culture? What kind of history one needs, in other words, to explain how evolution travels and indeed travelled in the 19th century and the world, not of natural objects, or scientific things, but artifacts and aesthetic objects, historiographic things of art historical discourse, instead?

In the workshop we examined success or failure of Darwin’s theory to replicate itself in the world of artifice as a historical problem connected, not so much to aspects intrinsic to the truth of Darwin’s proposal, and therefore we did not focus primarily on argument and narrative itself, but on the contrary on practices and media developed in order to allow for this translation as aesthetically situated, but at the same time, culturally and socially embedded acts.

Considering art and visual culture in the material and disciplinary contexts, already visible from the 19th century, we examined 19th century attempts to ‘domesticate’ Darwin’s theory of evolution in the world of art, museum display, architectural design and print culture, broadly constituted to embrace its literary and visual objects, in relation to what we called ‘techniques of evolution in 19th century arts’. These included taxonomy, design and narrative and what they attested to was not the immediate success of Darwin’s theory in disciplining visual form, but instead, the resistance of particular and different media in the act of translation itself.

As Arthur MacGregor’s analysis of collecting and classifying practices in the 19th century museum after the publication of the Origins showed for example, the application of Darwin’s ideas in a word of things, constituted by preceding taxonomic orders and systems, was far from a neutral, or indeed easily to be termed ‘successful’ operation. Nor was the conjuring and reproduction of evolutionary imagery, post Species a phenomenon that may be assessed historically on the grounds of accuracy to Darwin’s own narrative, as Sara Thornton’s paper on new regimes of social interconnectedess, evident in 19th century evolution-inspired print culture demonstrated.

From a cultural perspective though, 19th century ‘evolutionary media’ conformed to the ‘culture’ that Darwin’s theory of evolution imposed on the world of natural things, constituted as collective entities in motion and in antagonism, competing one another, as Alastair Wright’s concluding remarks on ‘competing media of evolution in the 19th century’ showed. This competition was as much for social as well as well as theoretical space and manifested itself, very much like the reception of Darwin’s theory manifests itself against the communities of 19th century men of science but also modern culture, as one of controversy. The foundations of art history in the 19th century, if Riegl’s writings may be taken to express such an incident, is an example to the above phenomenon.

Riegl’s making of a new history of art in Stilfragen, while draws on Darwin and evolution, revisits the meaning of ‘style as historical evidence’, presented by Semper in Der Stil, as a matter of controversy, between the preconceived opinion and new theories prompted by new discoveries and the evidence of new facts; in Riegl’s case, ‘more archaic things’ unearthed, with evidence of style derived from ‘human instincts’, compete with Semper’s examples and theorizing of beginnings based on the evidence of technique on ‘less archaic’, in Riegl’s time, examples of material culture. Riegl’s ‘style’, as an act of translation between Darwin’s Origins and the envisioning of a new type of art history in the second half of the 19th century, becomes, in this light, an act fixed in the appropriation of a particular style used to communicate knowledge reliably, in the same period and the same context of scientific culture that Darwin’s book mobilizes. Controversy over, and by, an understanding of communication as the exchange of facts is crucial to the latter, as it is to Riegl’s controversy with Semper over the meaning of style as historical evidence, but also to the rich repertoire that the concept of visual evidence may be seen to enact in the 19th century and its later legacies, in the domain of art and art history. To this concept I would like to draw the attention to in discussing art and evolution as a relational object, moving away from issues of form and iconography, remembering also that the book lacked illustrations.

Only 150 years ago in Darwin’s era natural history collections were in an early stage of finding order from the perceived chaos of nature.Collections and natural history collections in particular have evolved from human beings desire to understand and control the world around them. The Renaissance collections were amassed as a symbolic means of bringing order to chaos in cabinets of wonders. These collections provided the owners the expensive prestige of objects collected by travelers and sold for their conceptual powers.Linnaeus’ Systema naturae was presented as a creationist’s worship reflecting the order of divine thinking. Linnaeus system of binomial nomenclature (the use of a generic and specific name for each species) in Latinized scientific names created a rudimentary ordered form the young Darwin found open to his first collections of beetles.

Quoting from a recent conversation with John E. Simmons of Muselogica:“After Linnaeus (1750s-1760s) natural history collections became typological, which is to say, it was commonly believed that species were immutable and that if you had one or two representatives of each species, you would have a complete record of biodiversity. As a result, most European museums at this time had few specimens of many species. Had Darwin used only the museum collections of his day for his work, he would never have come up with the theory of evolution by natural selection, because he would not have seen the diversity within species that is produced in nature. Both Darwin and Wallace were in the field, in the tropics, collecting and preparing species so that they saw directly just how variable species were and as a consequence, both figured out what was happening (natural selection). After Darwin, museums began to try and collect many more individuals of each species.”

Science museum architecture and their displays are of particular interest, as Assimina Kaniari suggests, to see the evolution of evolutionary thought. Art historian Carla Yanni, Nature’s Museums explores how Alfred Waterhouse’s Natural History Museum in London (1881), embodied some of the scientific discourse of its own time. To summarize, Richard Owen, its museum superintendent, was anti-Darwinian, and he won out over Thomas Huxley on many of the museum plans. According to Yanni, Owen linked British natural history and British imperialism in part by displays that divided the natural world into living and extinct species. The religious ornamentation placed on the museum also underscored its distance from Darwinian thought. Other examples relayed in the book show how economics and industry was reflected through displays and architecture. For example displays at the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art showed how geology could be profitable. This subject will be of interest to follow up through the present when our discussion reaches that point in time.

To Kevin's question about what Darwin and others were thinking, I'd note that Darwin returned from the Beagle to a world—and a scientific world--awash in illustrations. Technological developments facilitated the publication of cheap books and periodicals illustrated with woodcuts, and works of natural science poured into the hands of the middle and working classes, often via the “useful knowledge” movement. Lithography—cheaper and easier than engraving—became a staple of illustrated natural history folios, works aimed at scientists, museums, and collectors alike. Taxonomic monographs were of course carefully illustrated, and Darwin would have been familiar with the importance of frontispieces to works like his grandfather’s (see Michael Sappol’s post in the “What Do We Mean by Evolution” thread) and to Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology. Darwin in the years immediately following the Beagle voyage saw himself mainly as a geologist, so he was well-versed in both the recently-codified visual language of geology and in the formal and informal ways that geologists depicted what Martin Rudwick calls “scenes from deep time.” These latter scenes, as Ralph O’Connor has shown, circulated widely in early Victorian culture, creating mutually-influencing visual traffic between elite and popular science, painting, and London entertainments like the panorama.

The Origin of Species thus appeared in a climate that expected a work by a leading scientist to be well illustrated. The Origin's inclusion of just a single (albeit powerful) visual illustration would have come as a surprise. This surprising dearth of illustration, however, should be seen in at least three contexts: that the existing conventions of natural history illustration were largely rooted in the assumption of species fixity; that natural selection was almost by definition un-illustratable; and that Darwin’s other books were almost all copiously illustrated, often by leading artists and engravers, and sometimes were on the visual cutting edge. My own sense is that because the Origin was cobbled together in comparative haste, Darwin didn't have time to assemble the illustrations he desired, and Darwin was always very particular about his illustrations. It's also worth noting that The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals--the three books that flesh out the supporting evidence that the Origin withholds--are well illustrated, and thus reflect something like the visual appearance that Darwin's "big book" on natural selection would have had.

It's sometimes argued that the Origin lacks illustration to keep the focus on the argument. There's a strong element of truth in that, and the branching diagram is a wonderfully complex and yet concise visual consolidation of the argument (first used to illustrate descent with modification and then, later in the book, as an idealized representation of the fossil record). But I also think Darwin hadn't yet worked out the problem of if and how to illustrate the book. Because many of the conventions of natural history illustration were rooted in species fixity, those conventions were uncongenial to him. But the notion that he might need to invent new visual practices to convey his ideas was too much, for him and for the reader. The ideas were radical enough.

I think Jonathan is right. The lack of illustrations in Origin of the Species is most likely due to the haste with which it was assembled. But I would still argue that vivid textual description and vivid metaphor can be productively understood to be part of a larger visual culture that was in dialog with textual culture (and which was negotiated within the politics of the relative merits and cultural meaning of the text/image [~spirit/matter] divide. Assimina's review of current research, if I understand it correctly, is a call for us to focus more on underlying philosophical assumptions, political contests, and image-making practices of the particular historical moments in which evolutionary discourse and images were made, which a close focus on iconography and visual rhetoric may neglect. For example, the visual representation of dynamic movement and process in time versus a flattened tabular (no time) or allegorical (dream time) approach. As another gallery piece, I here present a table by Geoffroy St Hilaire, to put alongside Darwin's printed tree diagram. As the ruled lines evidence, both diagrams participate in contemporary registrarial, inventorying, tabulating practice.

Image caption: Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Composition de la tête osseuse, chez l’homme et les animaux, trouvée semblable en nombre, connexions et application usuelle de ses parties. Paris, 1824.
Martin Kemp’s book The Human animal (Chicago, 2007) has explored in tremendous depth, both visual and chronological, legacies of pre-modern and modern science on art. It is perhaps interesting to note that, in the particular iconography that Rudwick discusses in his book Scenes from deep time, mostly popular imagery, the idea of the brute savage is re-invented both visually and conceptually. Kemp identifies this transition with the impact of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Admitting that, “the science of psysiognomics provided a tool through which we could both rationalize and refine our seeing of faces in terms of birds and beasts”, he asserts that, “in the nineteenth century the new sciences of man and nature that aspired to measure, classify and categorize as their central duty set the human races and types within a spectrum from animal to man”. According to Kemp, the rendering of this spectrum continuous should be credited to Darwin. As a consequence ‘men’ acquired ‘new’ ‘breastly’ ‘traits and signs’. Kemp discusses the “brutish cave-men of post-Darwinian convention”, throwing in the discussion not simply 19th century geological controversy, even though geology was the hot science at the time when Darwin’s book became published, (Lyell’s early editions of the Principles neglecting Darwin) but a series of ‘disciplines’, the boundaries of which are quite visible from our retrospective terms, but more interconnected if one examines them against the social networks of 19th century men of science. Martin Kemp lists a few as anthropology, ethnography, craniology, eugenics, primatology. For anthropology Lubbock is a good figure to look at while Galton oscillates between eugenics and photography. ‘Forensic’ thinking, and the thinking of the visual as evidence, reliable or controverted, takes up many forms in the interconnected legacies of Darwin’s work across 19th century ‘evolutionary’ media.

As far as museum practice is concerned, Arthur MacGregor’s ‘Exhibiting evolutionism. Darwinism and pseudo-Darwinism in museum practice after 1859’ from the Journal of the History of Collections (2009), pp. 1-18 is a great take on the tensions between Darwin’s theory and the tangible world of material things and their preceding orders taxonomic and social. One particular ‘visual’ legacy, or visual technology one may observe in the 19th century museum as a legacy indebted to Darwin is the diorama that re-merges in modernist art but also contemporary art, such as the work of Alexis Rockman. To discuss this legacy in the post Darwin context one should bring in Haeckel among others. His beautifully decorative images of radiolarians become reproduced in much later contexts intact, such as D’ Arcy Thompson’s seminal On Growth and Form, who in the first edition of the book in 1917, while accepting evolution complained about the lack of visual specificity in Darwin’s theory of natural selection. This part was omitted from later editions.

Much of what Assimina writes refers to the post-Darwinian world, and we will have more to say on that tomorrow. Ellen made the point that Owen, who disagreed with Darwin, was also a defender of British imperialsim. We are all too aware of the religious objections to evolutionary thinking. What was the political context for the discussion of evolution? Also, visual culture has a capacity for creating links between ideas more quickly and directly than can be done with written analysis. Are there examples in visual culture that create connections between evolution and other powerful notions of the time such as industrialization, popular democracy, or colonialism?

A good starting point for a reply to this is Adrian Desmond's The Politics of Evolution, mentioned by Michael in one of the other threads. Desmond argues that Owen's transcendental anatomy was designed in large measure to rebut and replace the Lamarckian ideas spreading among London's medical community in the 1830s, ideas which were seen as having explicitly political applications (read: republicanism).

Owen's notion was that actual organisms, past and present, varied from an "archetypal" design that existed in the divine mind, and was unfolded in time. Owen's classificatory works thus present such archetypal forms as reference points. Owen's influence is vividly evident in Darwin's barnacle monograph. Not only was it he who encouraged Darwin to undertake the barnacles, but Darwin's illustration of an archetypal barnacle takes a page, almost literally, from Owen's books. Darwin of course looked at the archetypal barnacle and saw a common ancestor, but, not yet ready to go public with his theory, he talks of barnacle classification in Owen's terms.
There are a number of threads I would like to pick up on, but alas, I am off to class. Later this evening, I will address some thoughts on Ernst Haeckel, not in terms of of his fantastic Kustformen der Natur, but on his fraudulent images pertaining to his recapitulation theory. More later.....

Perhaps, one reason Darwin didn't want to include the rich visual content that was available to him for illustrating his book is the same reason why many scientists to this day prefer to rely on carefully composed "statement-pictures" (words and numbers) rather than precisely illustrated "picture-statements" (images) to present a theory. Or, maybe he felt that "interpretive" drawings are intrinsically ambiguous, or too subjective and personal, to risk representing his explicit facts on evolution. Although he dearly valued his journaling, which scoped out and helped organize his visual thoughts, it was enough that they served this private purpose.

Another reason he may have been reluctant to add more varied visualizations was that there was an unspoken divide between the arts and sciences, and perhaps he didn't want that conversation to distract from his presentation. I mean, Darwin must have been aware of the rather vocal clashes between artistic and scientific cultures, sensabilities, and philosophies that were evident in the French schools of Realism and Romanticism. Although those art movements grew up in the early 19th century, they had an unforgettable presence throughout. In a very real sense, those art movements embody key insights into the evolution of aesthetic experiences. And they were hardly silent or hidden from the rest of the world. After all Paris was the cradle of change in the arts and culture then. Many new aesthetics were taking shape and growing into that glorious butterfly of "Modernism," which seemed to float above the public's mind.
I can't imagine that he would have wanted to intentionally complicate his work or message by drawing from either the inspirations or artifacts that were identified with these two powerhouse art movements, or the ones that shortly followed. As students of art history know, Realism and Romanticism soon crossed the wake of the "jetstreams," so to speak, created bythe Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including the Pointillists, in the later half of the 19th century. Even though Darwin may never have been absorbed by the passionate, larger-than-life paintings of the Romanticist Eugene Delacroix, even though he probably never studied the psychologically-charged work of Théodore Géricault in search of insights into the evolution of human emotions, he would have appreciated these courageous artists' aesthetic and their unique visions. Also, he probably admired the stunningly delicate renderings of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the Neo-Classicist, who used his inquisitive eyes to capture the most subtle details of his subject with a rare combination of reserved emotion and precision.

When I look at Darwin's free-flowing, interpretive drawings of nature, I see the influences of the ever-watchful observer of human nature, Honoré Daumier, whose draftsmanship never dwarfed the depth of emotions and wit he manifested with his fluid lines that chronicled human relationships in those times. Daumier highlighted facets of human evolution that words alone seem to miss. Maybe Darwin didn't see that. But then, who can argue you the success of the words he didn't miss!

The Irish Museum of Natural History open in 1856 three years before "On the Origin..." was published.is now locally referred to the dead zoo. The grand style including the soft light from a clearstory is indicative of the value Visual Culture placed on Natural History.

Perhaps ‘design’ would be a good concept to address in thinking about the evolutionary theory versus religious interpretation debates in mid 19th century. Speaking about science-religion polarities I would like to note the work of John Brooke and in particular an essay in J. D. Proctor (ed.) Science, Religion, and the Human Experience: ‘Darwin , Design, and the Unification of Nature' (OUP, 2005). According to Brooke, Darwin’s own personal beliefs on God were complex and a series of incidents, drawn from his personal experiences and phenomena he witnessed, led Darwin to question the idea of God as a guiding Creator. Even though at first glance Darwin’s theory of evolution does not seem to suggest any implicit unity of nature, as Darwin’s ‘nature’ competes against itself in a struggle for existence, his adherence to the view that life had been derived from a single proto-life form, according to Brooke suggests his striving toward unification.

This is a very different line though from what Kevin suggests we focus on, concerned more with the reception of the work, its cultural impact and solutions to questions of social and political order that the latter entailed. I think to see Darwin’s theory of evolution in the light of the political climate of the time is to see nuances of 19th century liberalism in the work of 19th century men of science claiming also a new role for themselves removed from the aristocracy of rank and fixed in what John Evans called the ‘aristocracy of science’. Many of the ‘new bodies’ of science such as the Geological Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Knowledge had been instituted only a few years before the publication of the Origins and kept strong links with the world of industry promoting a vision of science applied to industrial advancement and social progress, as prescribed earlier by Babbage in his Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on some of its causes (London, 1930). Many of the 19th century men of science were also men of business.

It is however interesting that Darwin’s break came out in a book form; in other words he did not use this institutional apparatus to communicate his findings, like it happened for example with many other discoveries in the second half of the 19th century such as for examples discoveries concerned with the encounters with a ‘remote human antiquity’ in Prestwich’s communication to the Royal Society in 1859 published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1860 (J. Prestwich, ‘On the occurrence of flint-implements associated with the remains of extinct mammalian in undisturbed beds of a late Geological period, in France at Amiens and Abbeville, and in England at Hoxne’) and in Lyell’s ‘Address of the President’ on opening the section of geology at the meeting of the British Association in Aberdeen, in 1859, on the same topic. This is perhaps an argument in support for what Barbara Larson suggested concerned with the tradition of being naturalist that Darwin came from and perhaps revived with a kick.

In returning to Charles Kingsley's fable, "The Water Babies," the reader follows Tom through his transformative journey towards becoming an organism of higher consciousness. As his experiences direct him towards this goal, he undergoes the physical changes of one species becoming another: first a a fish, then an amphibian, and then a mammal. Literally fashioned after Ernst Haeckel's recapitulation theory, Tom is a living example of "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." It is in this framework of 19th century fiction that the reader is presented with what appears to be Darwin's mechanism of change. Haeckel's theory argues that all complex living organisms pass through the embryological stages of less developed organisms. Like Tom, in Kingsley's "The Water Babies," Haeckel's organisms develop by repeating the embryological patterns of more primitive ancestral forms. To illustrate this phenomenon, he executed visual representations of various vertebrate embryos, which he characterized as possessing "very early form" Drawings of fish, salamander, turtle, chick, pig, cow, rabbit and human embryos were arranged as a typology thus bringing into view their corresponding features. Although, at first appearing to be accurate depictions of the various embryos in question, it later became known that his visual representations were, in fact, manipulated, and hence fraudulent. (For a thorough analysis see Nick Hopwood's "Pictures of Evolution and Charges of Fraud: Ernst Haeckel's Embryological Illustrations," Isis. 2006, 97:260-301.) This is one case in point where biological narratives in fiction compliment actual scientific theories in the 19th century.

The image of Heckel’s that you posted visually resonates for me with the contemporary work of Brad Smith. Brad Smith as you well know has his feet firmly planted in both camps, so to speak. He is Associate Dean for Creative Work, Research and Graduate Education and Associate Professor at the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is also Research Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

I inject this image here, not to pull the discussion away from the historical parameters set for the first few days of the symposium, but to foreshadow a thread that most likely will arise soon. Like your work previously posted of your water babies series, Brad’s work reinvestigates historical themes and ideas mediated through contemporary culture and technology. Visual artists have the ability to collapse time upon itself in order to connect threads of historical thought in significant and relevant ways. I wonder what other contempoary artists might provide a useful perspective to this question on mid-19th century visual culture.

Yes, there are a full array of artists whose work "resonates with 19th century ideas of evolution."Certainly Damien Hirst's preserved specimens and Mark Dion's installations are examples. Employing the installation tropes of the encased specimen and the "faux" natural history collection, these artists create various narratives that refer to these earlier practices. More on this later. One more word about Ernst Haeckel and morphology. I am sure we will get to this later, but the term ecology, was coined in 1866 in his "Generelle Morphologie." Many contemporary artists continue to work within this theme. But alas,I am off to class.

Damien Hirst

Mark Dion

Following JD's prompt to include relevant contemporary work, this Badminton Monkey is a David McMannaway jomo from the late 1980's. David is in his late 80's or early 90's now and is a regional art legend with little national exposure. When I acquired the piece 20 years ago, David gave me a very animated argument as to Darwin's evolution producing an unintended defaming of apes. David's mind and body are failing now. But I recently received a phone call from him when a gorilla escaped from the Dallas Zoo and was shot and killed by a policeman. The message was simply: "another ape meets the evolution racket"

To return to JD’s image, I wonder, in reverse, how this image would have appeared in the 19th century, if it was possible in any technical sense, and how it does appear to anyone not familiar with evolutionary theory? To me it looks fantastically fluid and reminds the ‘liquid forms’ of Susan Derges. It’s a post-photography image and non-figurative in a subtle yet irreducibly visual kind of way. It also reminds me the topological forms and complex objects designed by Greg Lynn. His Embryological House project ‘at once made and born’, described as a ‘hybrid of computer simulation and genetic mutation’ is a possible example of comparison.

Looking at the engraved and mass reproduced Haeckel images, in all their linearity and definition, that Susanne Anker discussed, however, it appears to me that they comprise very different forms, both in terms of how they emerge and become reproduced, if compared to what modern technologies allow for the replication and circulation of mass imagery. If the book addressed the wider public and the images that presumably would illustrate it in 1859 had to be reproduced on a mass scale with the dominant then technology, how much Darwin would have liked the idea of depicting fixed and linear images of species while arguing for the lack of fixity instead?

04-07-2010 13:09:11
I agree with Assimina that the way images emerged and were circulated in the 19th century need to be considered as well as the impact of photography. Please note an attached image of visual culture in a Victorian classroom. In our century, not only do we deal with the mass circulation of images but the immutable nature of the image has also been challenged. In addition to Assimina’s example of Greg Lynn, some computational scientists (e.g., Thomas Ray) and several contemporary artists (e.g., John Simon, Jr.) have tried to create mutable forms by assigning natural selection criteria to functions of fitness, but without much success. Part of the difficulty is that what was ‘natural’ must be artificially programmed in as a selection value. But I imagine we will pursue some of these issues in contemporary art in greater depth later on.
Copying in a Victorian classroom from Vaughan, J, Nelson's New Drawing Class

04-07-2010 15:15:05

It is difficult to know which thread to post this reply, since it responds to issues that have appeared in different threads. Similarly, my focus is on the late 19th century, rather than mid 19th, but I hope to point out a theme which comes out of evolutionary thinking and visualization techniques in the 1880s but carries through, arguably, to today.

My focus is the issue of species fixity/stasis/norms vs hybridity/fluidity/diversity, and how ideas about these two primary conceptions have been visualized. Some forms of visualization tend towards fixity/stasis - for example, photography as an extension of human vision through technology, to stop time visually, in contrast to motion-pictures and film. Alternately, beyond the issue of media, species hybridity can be and has been visualized through illustrations, in art often tending towards the grotesque or monstrous, or today using the techniques of genetic engineering (Eduardo Kac's work is a great case in point).

Assimina asks: "How would Darwin have felt about fixity of species images, rather than fluidity"? Apart from images of the monstrous, what options did Darwin have for images of species fluidity? Really, I'm curious if some of the 19th-century specialists can produce some, and not just as tree-like diagrams of change, which are based on species fixity and jumps, not fluidity.

The elephant in the room (pointed out by various historians of science and beyond) is that Darwin did not really address the issue of how, in fact, species actually change, and as far as I know, this is still an ongoing debate. Ideas of random mutation came later; adaptive mutation, at least in concept if not in terminology, was more in keeping with Darwin's Lamarckian views. Perhaps scientific images of Lamarckian evolutionary change should be brought into this thread; I'll post some images hopefully soon of urban planning, architecture, and design schemes that aimed in general to create Lamarckian evolutionary reform.

Furthermore (and please correct me if I'm wrong on this), we still have not yet observed one so-called "higher" species actually transforming into another (although Lynn Margulis discusses various studies in this direction, I believe). Rick Welch mentions this is due to the slow rate of evolutionary change. I will post images later in the late 20th to 21st century discussion that pertain to this issue, but I raise it here in case one of you knows of good 19th-century imagery showing species fluidity, as Assimina's comment makes me wonder.

To continue with late-19th-century techniques for fixing species/typological norms, I bring into the discussion Galton’s Anthropometric Laboratory at University College, London, and the various tools at his disposal. Two are shown here: his headspanner for anthropometric measurements, and an eye chart for categorizing subjected individuals into types (apparently, 16 standardized eye-color types were possible; note that eye shape doesn’t seem to be of concern).
(*** Both images from exhibition catalogue for Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum publication)

Imagine Galton had these tools and walked into a packed stadium today, perhaps at the Olympics, and was faced with categorizing a large number of diverse individuals into certain “types.” A few of his “types,” drawn from a much less global context (but still, it’s crucial here to bring British imperialism into the equation) are also attached below – criminals, scientists, Jews, etc. If his goal were to recreate the evolutionary history of the human race from measurements he derives from people in the stadium (the holy grail of sorts), how would he proceed?

Galton’s typological studies – by race, profession, family, etc. – by means of composite photography (as well as by their legacy in eugenics) give away his method. How could he order his data, unless he knew before he measured someone which racial category he would place them into – based upon skin color, or facial features, or a verbal interview asking their family history, etc. (Computers, today, mitigate this problem to a large degree, allowing complex analysis of multi-dimensional data sets, but still the fundamental problem of the assumptions that go into a priori classifications of data persists). In other words, he would have to assume and visualize a fixity or “purity” of types/racial “norms” prior to establishing and visualizing “race crossing/fluidity/human diversity.

Galton, along with Karl Pearson and others, helped establish biometrics and the field of statistics as a guiding method for analyzing data, accumulated through a huge number measurements. Disregarding the subjectivity under which measurements were taken in the first place (even in the late 1920s, Charles Davenport was still trying to get an international standard for taking measurements so that data would be useful across studies – plus, where exactly does a shoulder begin that is the same for everyone measured?), statistical charts and composite photographs and sculptures still function as a means for measuring change: if not species change, then population change, within predetermined boundaries. The 1993 cover image from Time magazine, a computer-generated composite predicting a shift in the “look” of the “national body” in 2050 away from a white majority, shows the longevity of this type of thinking (and fear-mongering as well, which is evident in the rhetoric of the Time article, which integrated views on political policies such as immigration restriction into its discussion).

Whether one interprets these as “fixing” individuals into a single type or as proving de facto fluidity/diversity - since no one person conforms to the “norm” – drives home a sticky part of the problem of trying to measure and visualize evolutionary change: Which features do you choose to focus on? How do you decide to classify the data? Where do you limit your measurements, i.e., what boundaries do you draw to make an infinitely diverse and interconnected system intelligible as measurable parts (since that seems to be the actual bottom line: obtaining measurable data for computers to then analyze)?

04-07-2010 16:18:47
I think transformation and not stasis is the underlying thread on which Darwin builds. His vision of nature-if species, a highly theorized and abstracted notion in itself, may be seen to compose ‘nature’-was certainly one of motion-at least if compared to the earlier morphologists’ renderings of form and its development. But to return to the initial point about fixed forms, what I emphasized which Ellen Levy got really well, is the idea of immutability that emerges from the image if one considers it not as a theoretical abstraction but as a tangible object prepared for a particular job. Creating an image for publication and mass reproduction was a complex procedure-and photography well into the second half of the 19th century seems no good for this purpose as it fails to reproduce adequate definition and contrast in the observable detail. There are occasions where images survive the theory itself and become reproduced in later editions. So fixity refers to the immutability of the image as a tangible thing and fluidity to the rhetoric that the image is invested with in Darwin’s text; the aspiration to narrate time. I think one could be very imaginable and see fluid forms and complex forms well before their discovery in mathematics, like some historians have done, rethinking the depiction of water in renaissance painting for example as early precursors of complexity; that was not my point, no causal link implied.

04-07-2010 17:02:39
Regarding my earlier question for 19th-century images of species fluidity, I realize I am asking this question from a 21st-century idea of what species fluidity might mean.

However, I also thought about museum installations showing human evolution that purported to display different human types as if they were showing species change in action, based upon presumptions of arrested development and archaic remnants (Haeckel's theory of recapitulation proved highly useful in this regard).

I attach an image here, from the 1930s at the American Museum of Natural History. Clearly, in these types of displays, racial classification, imperialism, and presumed hierarchies of "progress" (technology, science, the military, politics, economics, etc.) factor into the ways in which westerners, including those in the scientific community, interpreted human diversity as they gained increasing familiarity with it through colonial expansion. Of course, they positioned themselves at the apex of evolutionary progress. It should be noted, similarly, that not only was whiteness visually positioned as superior, - the culmination thus far -- but so was being male and having middle- to upper-class status.

From the archives of the American Museum of Natural History. I don't have the exact caption and citation material. I believe it is a photo of dioramas that were in the Hall of Man, c. 1930s, showing the evolution of man.

04-07-2010 17:04:20
Yes, there were limited visual means of showing transformation in mid-19th-century illustration. Sequential illustration could do part of the job, which is one reason why many 19th-century racial anatomies appropriated Camper's comparative illustration, re-purposed it as an evolutionary sequence and used it as a model for their own evolutionary sequences. Haeckel's embryological series provided another way in, under the principle of ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny . Both of these could serve as a kind stop-motion animation avant la lettre. The iconography of sturm-und-drang of dramatic weather events and history paintings showed arrested dramatic motion, and even the tableau vivant, could be mobilized to suggest transformation. And the tree diagram. And the imaginative reconstruction of extinct animals, often posed in what seems to be a struggle for survival, point in this direction.

With the development of motion pictures, it became possible to visually perform transformation over time, even a kind of compressed evolutionary deep time. See, for example, the reverse-engineered evolutionary transformation in the 1931 Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVESREi5JhU&feature=related). After the civilized Dr Jekyll turns into the evolutionarily primitive Hyde, he exclaims: "Free, free, free at last!" (Civilization is a burden, a prison for the beast within that we have evolved from.

Haeckel, The evolution of man:...the principal points of human ontogeny and phylogeny (1883). Life as a gnarled ancient tree. Darwin argued that evolution had no inherent direction, but here humanity is at the top of the evolutionary tree.

Henry C. Chapman, Evolution of life (1873), 177 and facing plate.

04-07-2010 17:06:02
One comment in regard to the images of Haeckel posted by Suzanne is that he refined the earlier ideas of Etienne Geoffroy Staint-Hilaire, who was known as the father of embryology and teratology (monstrosities) by the 1820s; his ideas were revived by Haeckel and others later in the century. G St.-H believed that the embryo followed "evolution" from the living cell, to the gill-breathing to humans and that if you intervened in human fetal development you could arrest the embryo at its fish or animal stage or produce monstrous results that never-the-less shed light on evolution. Though Haeckel (a self-described Darwin follower in Germany) is better known in reviving these ideas, the French Darwinist Camille Dareste returned to embryology by the 1870s, producing "artificial monsters." In an earlier thread, there was a comment on a bottled martian in a natural history museum (I believe this came from a Wells novel). This may be a bottled "defective" fetus, commonly displayed in natural history museums as recently as a decade ago (at least at the Paris museum of natural history they were just recently removed). In terms of nineteenth-century examples of "fluid evolution," for those that believed in recapitulation theory, bottled human fetuses with tails or gills might have suggested tangible clues to a deeper if not immediate past.

04-07-2010 23:42:42
My interest in bringing up Haeckel's embryological illustrations is to consider the cultural, rather than scientific value of his embryonic images. His scientific theory of recapitulation has clearly been debunked, yet his iconic representations have had a continued presence in publications through the 20th century. These images seem to exist as cultural markers whose significance rests within the domain of visual culture. Why did fraudulent images continue to circulate, knowing full well that their scientific "truth" value had been stripped away? Do these images tease out fantasies of being one with nature? Are they in some way, an apparatus for metaphorically picturing time? Are they the extant residue of burgeoning evolutionary ideas? As representations of iconic status, these images are never spent. Another set of fraudulent images that are still circulating are the 1965 photographs of fetuses by Lennart Nilsson. Staged as the miracle of in-situ uterine life, these early images were in fact photographs of dead fetuses. Moreover, they continue to speak to an imagined cosmological and mythological order rife with multiple meanings and unintended consequences.

04-08-2010 01:41:59
Yes, Michael Sappol’s comment about the 1931 ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’ certainly draws attention to the cinema’s power to create a visual scenario of the movement of evolutionary time. The power of the moving image to create scenes of evolutionary transformation in which the human either evolves and/or devolves is quite startling. Jekyll’s transformations (I think there are 7 such scenes in the film) emphasise fluidity over stability of form. Such scenes have become the staple of the science fiction horror genre over the years. There have been over 100 screen versions of Stevenson’s tale. I think Darwin in a sense anticipated the power of the cinema to yoke together very different forms and to visually narrate the drama of evolution. His famous or infamous description of the swimming black bear (from Origin) that gradually evolved into a whale points to this. He says he could see no difficulty in a race of bears ‘being rendered, by natural selection more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale’. This is a very cinematic description. We can almost see the visual transformation brought about through the art of special effects. The power of the cinema to use special effects and to draw on ‘persistence of vision’, by which still images appear to move, to create motion from stopped time, make cinema a perfect technological and artistic form to explore the rethinking of time, that was central to modernity, and appears to have been ushered in by Darwin’s ideas on evolution, transformation and deep time.

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