Research Groups:The Visualization of Knowledge in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

[RG # 141] The Visualization of Knowledge in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

September 1, 2014 - June 30, 2015


Marcia Kupfer (Independent Scholar, Washington DC)
Katrin Kogman Appel (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

The production of visual models is a cognitive mechanism integral to thought. Their invention depends on the reciprocal interaction between mental imaging and strategies of textual and graphic mediation. Such devices as lists, tables, diagrams, charts and maps do not merely compile and communicate information but also have a generative power: they formalize abstract concepts, provide grids through which to process data, set in motion analytic operations that give rise to new ideas, and create interpretive frameworks for understanding the world. The medieval and early modern periods stand as a formative era during which visual structures, imagined or materialized, increasingly shaped and systematized knowledge. Yet these periods have been sidelined as theorists interested in the epistemological potential of visual strategies have defined the field of research in terms of the modern natural sciences.

The historical approach pursued by our interdisciplinary research team offers a corrective to the current scholarly trajectory. As we analyze the fundamental principles underlying visual modes of conceptualization, we will also investigate the cultural parameters that modulated diverse applications in Jewish and Christian societies. At issue are the specific ways in which visual schema function in religious and scientific discourses, how intellectual agendas and spiritual values across confessional and cultural divides might lead to analogous or different types of devices, and the impact of exchange or appropriation on the reception and circulation of particular solutions. The chronological, geographical, and civilizational scope of our collective enterprise is unprecedented.