Historiography of history of science, hard to find HSTM downloads…and maybe cat pictures.


Why I’m blogging and joining Mastodon but not leaving Twitter yet…

I joined Twitter in 2014, and in December 2022 I will probably leave Twitter, or at least log out a while. I’m exploring Mastodon (@nothingtolius@h-net.social), but I’m currently more invested in making a bigger transition: I’m going to “take my talents to South Beach,” by blogging more and doom/cat-scrolling less. I’ve lately been really inspired by Hilda Bastian’s amazing combination of reporting, analysis, and personal reflection at her PLOS-hosted blog, Absolutely Maybe; and by Thony Christie’s wonderful blog The Renaissance Mathematicus, and the freedom Thony has seized to be public, acerbic, and rigorous all at once. Institutions from the Dunn Museum in…

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How much did a microscope cost in the 1830s and 1840s?

In her 1987 evaluation of the history of Schleiden and Schwann’s cell theory, the late Ilse Jahn pointed out that in Berlin in the 1830s and 1840s there were a lot of scientists using advanced microscopes, many of whom were clustered around the Gesellschaft naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin. So how much did their microscopes cost? And why was this important in the history of biology?

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Gavin Bridson, The History of Natural History: An Annotated Bibliography (1994)

Here’s a book I stumbled upon today that I wish I knew about a long time ago: Gavin Bridson’s The History of Natural History: An Annotated Bibliography. It’s not just a bibliography of natural history resources, it’s a bibliography of history of natural history resources, which means this should go on the top of any grad student’s prelims or comps reading list for the history of the life sciences. When I was in grad school at UW-Madison (back before the History of Science department merged with the History Department in 2017—BTW a good thing for everyone involved, by all accounts)…

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Cell theory historiography and Gustav Gabriel Valentin’s Histiogeniae plantarum atque animalium (Histiogenia comparata) of 1835/37

Not infrequently, histories of cell theory will mention Jan Purkyně (1787–1869) and his student Gabriel Gustav Valentin (1810–1883) as important forerunners to Schleiden and Schwann. Years before Schleiden’s 1838 “Beiträge zur Phytogenesis” and Schwann’s 1839 Mikroskopische Untersuchungen, Purkyně and Valentin both observed nuclei in animal cells, and both suggested a possible homology between plant cells and animal cells. Purkyně never wrote any essay, book, or treatise just on cell theory the way that Schleiden and Schwann had, but Valentin did exactly that in 1835. Probably fewer than 10 people have ever read Valentin’s 1835 treatise on cells, however. According to…

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CD-ROM 💿 for Dieter Gerlach’s Geschichte der Mikroskopie (2009)

Dieter Gerlach’s book Geschichte der Mikroskopie (2009) is far and away the best single reference work on the history of microscopy.* It is also long out of print: the publisher Verlag Harri Deutsch closed its doors in 2013, and Dr. Gerlach passed away in 2015. Geschichte der Mikroskopie was clearly a labor of love and dedication, and Dr. Gerlach collected hundreds of pictures of both biologists and historical microscopes for the book. The book included a CD-ROM with these same images in higher resolution and in color. Since a lot of library copies no longer have the CD-ROM, I’ve uploaded…

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Core historiography on 19th century cell theory

In May 2022 Karl Matlin invited a few of us — Hanna Worliczek, Andrew Reynolds, Gina Surita, Anna Guerrero, and Jane Maienschein — out to the MBL to discuss our ideas for the future of the historiography of cell biology. I made some slides and pedantic comments. I thought I’d share my slides on what I’d consider to be core the scholarship on cell theory in the 19th century. If you see stuff that’s missing, email me (dan@dan-liu.net) and I’ll add it. (You can try using the comments section below, but I can’t guarantee I’ll see it.) I’d argue there…

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