After an exciting start to our seminar series, we are very much looking forward to our next session… Unfortunately, our scheduled speaker, Anna Maerker (KCL), has had to cancel.

Our new speaker has kindly stepped in at the last minute, so the schedule can continue as normal this Tuesday at 6pm:

Alexander Wragge-Morley (UCL) – ‘The Utility of the Spleen: Medical Knowledge and Aesthetic Judgement in Eighteenth-Century London’

This paper stakes out a new approach to answering questions about the
interplay between aesthetics and medical expertise in early 18th-century
London. it is well known that famous medics such as John Woodward,
Richard Mead and William Stukeley drew close connections between the
articulation of medical expertise and the capacity to form appropriate
judgments about the value of art objects, books and antiquities. Little
attention has been paid, however, to the role of medics in framing,
through their alleged knowledge of the body’s appetitive and sensory
functions, framing the forms of embodiment appropriate to the pursuit of
medical knowledge and art appreciation alike. In this paper I therefore
examine William Stukeley’s ‘Of the Spleen, its Description and History’
(1723), a work that attempts to conclusively demonstrate the
much-contested utility of the spleen in the animal economy. Stukeley’s
efforts to prove the utility and beauty of the spleen point out some of
the ways in which medical discourse helped to shape – and even
pathologize – the role of the body in the production of knowledge and
the perception of beauty. I therefore suggest that the dilemmas of
embodiment at work in aesthetic discourses and the empricial sciences
were important to the constitution of medical expertise


Alexander Wragge-Morley is working this year as a lecturer in early
modern intellectual history at UCL. Alex has a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge, awarded in 2012. He did both is undergraduate and masters degrees at KCL. He has taught at the University of Oxford and held a postdoctoral fellowship jointly at the California Institute
of Technology and The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

Alex’s research focuses on questions about the role of emotional and
aesthetic kinds of experience in the production of knowledge through
practices such as natural history and medicine. He is currently
finishing his first monograph, Aesthetic Science: Representing Nature in
the Royal Society of London, 1650-1720. This book challenges the
historiographical consensus by showing that naturalists affiliated to
the Royal Society of London saw the representation of nature as a deeply
aesthetic project, shaped by concerns about purposiveness, beauty, and
pleasure in sensory experience.


We look forward to seeing you there!


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