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Zone Books


by Lorraine Daston, Peter Galison
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The emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences, as revealed through images in scientific atlases—a story of how lofty epistemic ideals fuse with workaday practices.

Objectivity has a history, and it is full of surprises. In Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison chart the emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences—and show how the concept differs from its alternatives, truth-to-nature and trained judgment. This is a story of lofty epistemic ideals fused with workaday practices in the making of scientific images.

From the eighteenth through the early twenty-first centuries, the images that reveal the deepest commitments of the empirical sciences—from anatomy to crystallography—are those featured in scientific atlases, the compendia that teach practitioners what is worth looking at and how to look at it. Galison and Daston use atlas images to uncover a hidden history of scientific objectivity and its rivals. Whether an atlas maker idealizes an image to capture the essentials in the name of truth-to-nature or refuses to erase even the most incidental detail in the name of objectivity or highlights patterns in the name of trained judgment is a decision enforced by an ethos as well as by an epistemology.

As Daston and Galison argue, atlases shape the subjects as well as the objects of science. To pursue objectivity—or truth-to-nature or trained judgment—is simultaneously to cultivate a distinctive scientific self wherein knowing and knower converge. Moreover, the very point at which they visibly converge is in the very act of seeing not as a separate individual but as a member of a particular scientific community. Embedded in the atlas image, therefore, are the traces of consequential choices about knowledge, persona, and collective sight. Objectivity is a book addressed to anyone interested in the elusive and crucial notion of objectivity—and in what it means to peer into the world scientifically.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781890951795
Publisher: Zone Books
Publication date: 11/05/2010
Series: Zone Books
Pages: 504
Sales rank: 1,181,871
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lorraine Daston is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and Visiting Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She is the coauthor (with Katharine Park) of Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750 and (with Peter Galison) Objectivity and the editor of Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science, all three published by Zone Books.

Peter Galison is Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University. He is the author of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time, How Experiments End, and Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics, among other books, and coeditor (with Emily Thompson) of The Architecture of Science (MIT Press, 1999).

What People are Saying About This

Hilary Putnam

Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison is not just a fine book, it is that rare thing, a great book. It is almost shockingly original, genuinely profound, and amazingly learned without ever being pedantic. It should force everyone interested in science and its history or in objectivity and its history to think more deeply about what they think they already know. It gives me great satisfaction to learn that thinking and writing of this brilliance and depth are still going on, even in this age of consumerism and mass markets.

Bruno Latour

This richly illustrated book deeply renews the meaning of accurate reproduction by showing how many ways there have been to be 'true to nature.' Art science and reproduction techniques are merged to show that 'things in themselves' can be presented with their vast and beautiful company. This splendid book will be for many years the ultimate compendium on the joint history of objectivity and visualization.


This richly illustrated book deeply renews the meaning of accurate reproduction by showing how many ways there have been to be 'true to nature.' Art science and reproduction techniques are merged to show that 'things in themselves' can be presented with their vast and beautiful company. This splendid book will be for many years the ultimate compendium on the joint history of objectivity and visualization.

Bruno Latour, author of Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy

From the Publisher

"This is a deeply researched book that will make you think. It is beautiful, and it is important....I recommend it to anyone — optimist or pessimist, female or male — with a healthy dash of curiosity and a cranium." — Oren Harman, Bar Ilan University, Israel,The European Legacy

Zone Books

Arnold Davidson

Historically brilliant, philosophically profound, and beautifully written, Objectivity will be the focus of discussion for decades to come. At one and the same time a history of scientific objectivity and a history of the scientific self, rarely have rigor and imagination been combined so seamlessly and to such deep effect. No one who opens this book can fail to be engaged and provoked by its energy, ideas, and arguments. One emerges from reading it as if from a series of intellectual earthquakes—sound but no longer safe.

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Objectivity 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Tod_Christianson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An analysis of the development of objectivity in scientific thought from the 1800's until present. This theme is developed around the use of scientific atlases that were generated to be used as objective reference points in scientific thought. Examples of these would be atlases of flower types, birds, star charts, etc.The major thesis is that the use of these atlases, and therefore the mirrored development of scientific objectivity, went through three main stages; these were: truth to nature, mechanical objectivity and trained judgment. Truth to nature was exemplified by realistic drawings that were generally made by an artist supervised by an expert, a process they refer to as "four eye sight".It was often the case that such an approach, although appearing detailed, was not necessarily that realistic. The second stage, mechanical objectivity, relied on the use of impersonal visualization techniques such as daguerreotype and photography. Eventually it was determined that such methods were also dependent on many subjective variables such as lighting effects and angles. It is also true that some photographs require an expert to interpret the information contained in them.The final stage of "trained judgment" flows from this limitation. In this stage of the history of objectivity, trained experts consciously attempt to apply objectivity to the reasoning processes involved in assessing data such as spectral charts, radiograms and so forth.This is an expansive and satisfying work. There is a scholarly attention to detail with respect to setting the historical framework of these ideas. The book is copiously and beautifully illustrated with supporting drawings and images.
bentoth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is something missing from this otherwise interesting book: medicine. The nineteenth century marked the time when medical practitioners abandoned their individualistic approach in favour of a collective scientific mentality. Daston and Galison stick with the more scientific sciences and thus miss the opportunity to explore the emergence of objectivity in the murkier areas of science such as clinical medicine.
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really neat history of the epistemology of Western scientific knowledge through the history of how scientists created, thought about, and represented images. The authors argue that various concepts competed and responded to each other through the general concept of ¿objectivity,¿ from truth-to-nature (requiring an ideal) to mechanical objectivity (requiring a picture made without human intervention) to responses to mechanical objectivity that involved either abandoning images entirely or exercising human judgment to pick and evaluate pictures. Objectivity is always defined with reference to subjectivity, and thus the debate over what an appropriate scientific image is also requires debate over the definition of what a good scientist is. A specialized but satisfying read.