2007-2008 Lectures


The Elizabeth McNab and D. Lorne Gales Lectures in the History of Science, supported by the Mossman foundation of McGill University, are given by leading scholars in the field of history of science and science studies. Recent lecturers have included Donna Haraway (University of California, Santa Cruz), Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge), and Isabelle Stengers (Université Libre de Bruxelles). Details of this year's lectures are below.

Fall 2007


Date: Monday, October 15, 2007, 6 p.m.

Speakers: Paula Findlen, Stanford University

Location: Moot Court, Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 rue Peel (above Dr Penfield Avenue)

Title: After Leonardo: The Artist as Scientist in Seventeenth-Century Italy


Fall 2008

Emily Thompson "The Boys Upstairs: Projecting Change in the American Film Industry, 1926-1933"

Time: 5:30pm, Tuesday 28 October 2008
Where: Tanna Schulich Hall, Schulich School of Music
Strathcona Music Building, 555 Sherbrooke St. W.
RSVP to rsvp.libraries [at] mcgill.ca / 514-398-4681

Abstract: When commercially successful sound movies arrived in American theaters Circa 1926, the craft of motion picture projection changed dramatically. During the transitional period many projectionists played a significant role in creating, as well as reproducing, film music and sound effects for theater audiences. Some briefly became "proto-DJs," manning dual-turntable units and creating musical mixes off commercial records to accompany the silent films that still ran in theaters that had been wired for sound. Others added sound effects and voice-over narration. But since the goal of the new sound movie technology was to standardize the music and effects that accompanied each film, this transitional practice died out as soon as it was no longer necessary. Projectionists were soon faced with more practical challenges to their craft, including cost-conscious theater owners, corrupt union officials, new labor-saving technologies, and the Great Depression.

The story of "The Boys Upstairs" demonstrates the complex interplay of creative, technical, and social elements that both characterizes technological change and determines who benefits most from such change.

Emily Thompson is a historian of technology at Princeton University. She is the author of The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (MIT Press, 2002), and the holder of a MacArthur Fellowship.


After Leonardo: The Artist as Scientist in Seventeenth-Century Italy
Paula Findlen

In 1670 the Sicilian painter Agostino Scilla published a book with the curious title of Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense. A careful account of the fossil record of Malta and Sicily, Scilla's book participated in debates about the nature of fossils, siding with those who argued for their organic nature. This talk explores one of the central premises of Scilla's methodology: namely, his claim to have superior insight into nature as a painter. In doing so, it also considers his relationship to the legacy of Leonardo da Vinci who made similar claims at the end of the fifteenth century.