John Tresch named Chair in History of Art, Science and Folk Practice at the Warburg Institute

Thursday 17 August 2017

John Tresch, associate professor of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, has been named Chair in History of Art, Science and Folk Practice at the Warburg Institute.

Last year the University of London was awarded $530,000 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Warburg Institute to establish the chair and an associated post-doctoral research position.

The Warburg Institute, based in Woburn Square, is renowned across the world for the interdisciplinary study of cultural and intellectual history, particularly the role of images in culture. It is dedicated to research on the history of ideas, the dissemination and transformations of texts, ideas and images in society, and the relationship between images, art and their texts and subtexts. The institute houses a research library of international importance, a photographic collection organised according to a unique iconographic classification system and Aby Warburg’s archive, which also holds the papers of other major thinkers of the 20th century who were connected to the institute.

The new professorship will be critical in restoring, developing and elaborating the theoretical, cultural historical and anthropological implications of the work of Aby Warburg, the founder of the institute, and will inspire the kinds of cross-disciplinary work that will help revitalise the possibilities of research in the humanities.  

Professor Tresch said: ‘I’m honoured by this opportunity to carry forward the legacy of Aby Warburg, and thrilled to work with my new colleagues to help expand the institute’s commitment to the history of science and its connections to art, religious practices, and knowledge traditions worldwide. I look forward to contributing to the many excellent programs at the University of London and the School of Advanced Study.’

Professor Tresch is an historian of science and technology whose work focuses on changing methods, instruments, and institutions in the sciences, arts, and media. His book The Romantic Machine examined intersections between romanticism, science, and utopian politics in France before the revolution of 1848; it won the History of Science Society's Pfizer Award for Outstanding Book in 2013. Supported by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he is currently finishing his next book, The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science, which examines Poe’s life and work in the light of antebellum America’s obsession with science and technology. His other ongoing projects develop the concept of ‘cosmograms’ as a tool for comparing forms of natural order, and explore connections between contemporary neuroscience and traditional monastic practices.

He has held fellowships from Columbia’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the Max Planck Institute for History of Science in Berlin, the Huntington Library, the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and has been visiting researcher at King's College London and at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He is editor-in-chief of the History of Anthropology Newsletter.

Professor Tresch holds a BA in anthropology from the University of Chicago, a DEA from the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, and a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge.

‘I am very pleased that Professor Tresch has accepted our invitation to join the Warburg as Chair in History of Art, Science and Folk Practice,’ said Professor Roger Kain, CBE, FBA, dean and chief executive of the School of Advanced Study. ‘He is a widely respected historian of science who has published extensively in the cross-disciplinary subject areas that have long been strengths of the Warburg. As the first holder of this new chair funded by the Mellon Foundation, he will be able to move away from the traditional separation of these fields and to develop innovative forms and areas of research.’

From 2017–18 Professor Tresch will hold a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, taking us residence at the Warburg starting in September 2017.

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