23 de enero de 2018

CfP: The Wisdom of Automata: Performative Science and Early Modern Diplomacy

Automata – often made up by puzzling parts, like wood inlays, brass, or metal – are charged with different tasks, such as defense, entertainment, or time-keeping. Not only do automata move mechanically (Hero of Alexandria 1589), they also allow a 'methodizing' of spatial displacement through artificial life (Truitt 2016). Building on this premise, namely that despite their internal diversification over time, the metis of self-propelled devices converges on political brokerage and cross-cultural exchange, the proposed Special Issue brings to a new light early modern entanglements of travel and experimental science aiming to produce a dialogue across disciplines where monologue currently prevails, especially but not exclusively between the burgeoning literature on Mediterranean gift-giving and portable archaeologies (Behrens-Abouseif 2014; Necipoglu 2014; Iafrate 2015) and the tradition of research pivoted around the mechanization of nature (e.g. Roux and Garber 2012).

It is generally accepted that, as with the history of acoustics and sound (Smith 1999; Sterne 2003), boundaries between object and subject are blurred in the deep history of automata. Often this very fuzziness turns into a performance of cultural heritage, historically situated or perspectival as it might be (Bynum 1997). However, while in their hybridity automata should have helped shedding new light on fundamental uses of material culture, most scholarship up to date has suffered from a divide between attending to artisanal and technical manufacture on the one hand, and considering the social protocols attending to its display on the other. Likewise, despite a long history that punctuates a sense of reciprocal unfolding between longue durée perspectives and localized contexts, the prevailing trend has been towards microhistory. As a result, with notable exceptions investigating the theoretical implications of skill when it becomes wondrous (Young 2017) and the irrepressible theatricality of the automaton (Tkaczyk 2011), more work remains to be done to conveniently tie up mechanical instrumentality with social legitimation, making the most of seminal inquiries into ambassadorial training (Beihammer et al. 2002; Zwierlein 2017) and into courtly culture as a discipline of automatic artificiality (Wolfe 2004). Even in the case of well-known episodes in which automata feature prominently, such as the Sultan's 1582 circumcision festival, we still lack a broader exploration of how the individual pieces responded not only, say, to German techniques of construction, as in the case of moving clocks, but also to European reconstructions of Turkish like, through the turcica, and to the underlying Ottoman guild-system as well.

In addition to advocating a more fruitful merging of micro-historical and macro-historical approaches, this Special Issue aims at a comprehensive re-balancing between production and circulation, and therefore at reinstating automatic life as a leading early modern discipline of information management (Brendecke 2012), carefully distinguishing within it different epistemic levels and their Braudelian, external constraints, like rivalry, commerce, postal service. A first consequence of this fresh realignment is that artificial life gravitates towards a larger mechanics of mobility (Rothman 2014; Nelles 2015) and the 'archival turn' (Friedrich 2013). The main claim of this collection is that what ultimately is embodied in automata and their peculiar time-keeping (with Voskuhl 2013, but contra Riskin 2016) is not a simulation of live bodies, but a replication of habitus — that is, a tissue of geopolitical ambitions and bodily practices. It also suggests that it is precisely by indexing mechanical wonders alongside, not beyond, early modern routines of workmanship that one could reassess the epistemological asymmetries affecting instrumentality (Shapin and Schaffer 1989), arriving at a form of historicization that is firmly and usefully rooted in a re-enchantment of technology (Gell 1999).

Papers should not exceed 8,000 words. They should be prepared for a double blind-review and should be submitted electronically to sgulizia@gmail.com by March 1st, 2019. Scheduled publication is anticipated for November 2019.


Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. 2014. Practising Diplomacy in the Mamluk Sultanate: Gifts and Material Culture in the Medieval Islamic World. London: I. B. Tauris.

Beihammer, Alexander, Maria Parani and Christopher Schabel, eds. 2008. Diplomatics in the Eastern Mediterranean 1000-1500: Aspects of Cross-Cultural Communication. Leiden: Brill.

Brendecke, Arndt. 2012. Imperio e información, funciones del saber en el dominio colonial español. Madrid-Frankfurt: Iberoamericana.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. 1997. "Wonder," The American Historical Review 102: 1-26.

Friedrich, Markus. 2013. Die Geburt des Archivs: eine Wissensgeschichte. Munich: Oldenbourg.

Gell, Alfred. 1999. "The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology," in The Art of Anthropology, pp. 159-186. London: Berg.

Hero of Alexandria. 1589. De gli automati, overo machine se moventi; translated by Bernardino Baldi. Venice: Porro.

Iafrate, Allegra. 2015. The Wandering Throne of Salomon: Objects and Tales of Kingship in the Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Brill.

Necipoğlu, Gülru. 2014. "Connectivity, Mobility, and Mediterranean Portable Archaeology," in Alina Payne (ed.), Dalmatia and the Mediterranean. Leiden: Brill, pp. 313-381.

Nelles, Paul. 2015. "Cosas y cartas: Scribal Production and Material Pathways in Jesuit Global Communication," Journal of Jesuit Studies 2: 421-450.

Riskin, Jessica. 2016. The Restless Clock. A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Rothman, Natalie. 2014. Brokering Empire: Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Roux, Sophie and Dan Garber, eds. 2012. The Mechanization of Natural Philosophy. Boston: Springer.

Shapin, Steven and Simon Schaffer. 1989. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Smith, Bruce. 1999. The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Sterne, Jonathan. 2003. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Tkaczyk, Viktoria. 2011. Himmels-Falten: zur Theatralität des Fliegens in der Frühen Neuzeit. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Truitt, E.R. 2016. Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Voskuhl, Adelheid. 2013. Androids in the Enlightenment: Mechanics, Artisans, and Cultures of the Self. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Wolfe, Jessica. 2004. Humanism, Machinery, and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Young, Mark Thomas. 2017. "Enchanting Automata: Wilkins and the Wonder of Workmanship," Intellectual History Review 27: 453-471.

Zwierlein, Cornel, 2017. Imperial Unknowns: The French and British in the Mediterranean, 1650-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.