CfP: Circulation of Images in the Life Sciences

Application Deadline: June 14, 2021
Event Date: 16-17 and 23 October, 2021
Location: Online through the Consortium of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

Images are crucial to work in the life sciences. Visual and pictorial representations that reveal biological content have been borrowed, shared, and copied across the various subdisciplines of biological research and beyond. Epistemically and practically, but also for purposes of rhetoric, education, funding, and dissemination, the use of such representations as multidimensional tools has diversified since the 1800s.

Focusing on the life sciences, this workshop aims to establish a dialog between papers that investigate the intersection of scientific knowledge-production with its dissemination to scientific and non-scientific audiences. We will ask: How and why are images borrowed and reused? How do functions, purposes, and meanings of an image change when it is adopted, co-opted, or adapted in a new context?

To explore the manifold ways images have been reused as they circulate across audiences, genres, and media, our workshop will move beyond investigating the “original” purpose or function of particular images. Some images are made to be reused; other images, made for one purpose, are co-opted for another. All of these practices raise a number of questions: When might the production of images take into account the intended use but also its potential reuse, or even “misuse”? When might the reuse of an image overcome its intended use and original purpose and what are the contexts in which such images are co-opted? 

These questions can certainly be extended to all the sciences. Our focus on the life sciences is based on the close interaction and overlapping of its subdisciplines, images and image-making practices playing a foundational role within these interactions. This is the framework for exploring an additional question: What potential does analyzing image-circulation have to further insight in the historiography of the life sciences? For example, does a focus on the reuses of images help deepen out understanding of distinctions between production and reception, dissemination and circulation, scientific research and popular science? 

We invite submissions covering a broad range of life-science and medical disciplines, with topics extending historically from 1800 to the present. Topics include but are not limited to:
  • People, actors, and communities including scientists and scientific illustrators, artists, amateur-scientists, hobbyists, practitioners, conservationists, popularizers, and communicators; citizen and community science and other forms of participatory projects
  • Places in a geographical and institutional sense, but also genres of publication and markets
  • Regulations covering areas such as copyrights and intellectual property
  • Conventions and norms related to pictorial and visual practice, pictorial genres, and aesthetics
  • Media such as film, photography, print, lantern slides, and sculpture; materials, e. g. wax, glass; visualization processes, e. g. preparation and conservation techniques
  • Pictorial genres and iconographies 
  • Relations and interactions, e. g. text and image, data and image
  • Study systems such as cell-type, organs and organ systems, organism, species, community, ecosystem, and many others
The workshop will be held online and will be sponsored by the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. To accommodate different time zones and schedules, the workshop will take place in half-day sessions over two succeeding weekends (16-17 October and 23 October, 2021). In addition to the paper discussions, we plan to have a keynote lecture and/or a roundtable discussion.

This workshop will be based on pre-circulated papers of 4000-5000 words, the aim being to produce an edited volume or special issue of a journal that will forge this important interdisciplinary intervention into the circulation of images in the life sciences. We expect papers to be at a shareable draft stage. Participants are expected to prepare for the discussions. Each discussion section will start with observations from experts in the area, followed by brief responses by the authors. 

Please submit an extended abstract of max. 500 words by June 14 to The abstract should include the scope of the paper, a discussion of potential visual-source material, and the historiographical/theoretical/methodological contexts informing the author’s approach. Participants will be notified concerning acceptance by July 5 at the very latest. 

For further questions please contact Katharina Steiner.