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December 03, 2014

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bearded man in lab coat at table with flasks
Santiago Ramón y Cajal in Valencia, Spain, in 1885. Legado Cajal (CSIC). Instituto Cajal. Madrid, Spain.

New book paints portrait of Spanish scientist as artist

Many in the scientific world today recognize Spanish Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal as a pioneer in cell biology and neuroscience and a renowned medical illustrator. Now he is being more fully recognized as an empirical observer and dedicated photographer.

In her latest book, Lens, Laboratory, Landscape: Observing Modern Spain, Claudia Schaefer, Rush Rhees Chair and professor of Spanish and of comparative literature and of film and media studies, explores the uses of observation for the acquisition of knowledge about the world in 19th- and early 20th-century Spain, set within the context of the country’s problematic road to modernization and its participation in the European scientific community. For Schaefer, the book represents “an intellectual labor of love and a personal challenge to find a language of intersecting interests between the humanities and sciences.”

Schaefer argues that with the independence of the American colonies by 1898 and a consequent end to its empire, Spain sought to follow the lead of scientists such as Cajal, whose speech on admission to the Spanish Royal Academy of Science referred to “research [as] a fever.” Dedicated scientific research in all areas of life would open the door to modernity, he proposed.

In the transition from scientific drawings to photographic images and experiments with processes of development, Cajal made the Spanish scientist visible, and he documented scientific activity (including the practice of photography) as a profession. Schaefer sets the man and his work within a broader historical and cultural context of “scientific laboratories, photographs, artwork, travel writings, urban development, and cultural geography produced in Spain.”

To demonstrate how observation pervaded art and science, the public and the private, Schaefer also examines the legacy of Cajal in other fields such as the “retinal vision” of philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, the topographic studies of geographer Manuel de Terán, and the fascination with (and later distrust of) lenses and sight of artist Salvador Dalí.

man in cleric garb at microscope
Santiago Ramón y Cajal in Valencia, Spain. Legado Cajal (CSIC). Instituto Cajal. Madrid, Spain.

Ultimately, politics and the civil war from 1936 to 1939 disrupted the momentum of scientific inquiry in Spain, with many scientists going into exile. But moribund intellectual life was counteracted by the continued support for the Instituto Cajal, the oldest research center for neurobiology in Spain. The institute, founded in 1902, houses both the material legacy of Cajal—his slides, drawings, and photographs—and the practical future of scientific laboratories and scientists in Spain.

Schaefer’s research demonstrates that modern Spain was part of the conversation about competing modes of observation, the value of the empirical, and the speed of modern life that would challenge the tenets of observation. Ways of seeing, and learning the conventions of sight formed the focus of debates still present today.

To learn more about Schaefer’s work, including the Bridging Fellowship that supported it, visit www.rochester.edu/college/research/articles/cajal.html.



Celebrating University authors

The seventh annual Celebration of Authorship, hosted by Provost Peter Lennie, will feature printed and electronic books, edited volumes, and texts, as well as published compositions and recordings produced by University faculty and staff from all fields.

The event is planned from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10, in the Hawkins-Carlson Room, Rush Rhees Library.

Visit www.rochester.edu/provost/honorsandawards/celebrationofthebook

Recent faculty publications

The Theory of the Sublime from Longinus to Kant
--By Robert Doran, associate professor of French and comparative literature
--Cambridge University Press, 2015
Doran explores the concept of the sublime, from its first articulation in ancient Greece to its place in the aesthetic philosophy of the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

On War and Morality
--By Robert Holmes, professor emeritus of philosophy
--Princeton University Press, 2014
Princeton University Press has republished Holmes’s work as part of the Princeton Legacy Library, a project to expand access to scholarly works no longer in print. Writing in the late 1980s, Holmes argued that the threat of nuclear war resulted in the “respectability” of conventional war, and that all war is “morally impermissible” in the modern military context.

A Scholar’s Guide to Getting Published in English: Critical Choices and Practical Strategies
--By Mary Jane Curry, associate professor and director of language education at the Warner School, and Theresa Lillis, professor in English language and applied linguistics at the Open University in the United Kingdom
--Multilingual Matters, 2013
Curry and Lillis respond to the growing reliance on English in academic publishing with a guide for scholars in countries in which English is not a primary language.

Applied Meta-Analysis with R
--By Ding-Geng (Din) Chen, professor of biostatistics at the School of Medicine and Dentistry and at the School of Nursing, and Karl Peace, professor of biostatistics at Georgia Southern University’s Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health
--Chapman & Hall/CRC Biostatistics Series, 2013
Chen and Peace provide an overview for practitioners on the application of statistical methods to synthesize biomedical and clinical trial data using the programming language R.

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