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Lectures & Conferences

The A.S.W. Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography

2018 Rosenbach Lectures

Carlo Ginzburg, Professor Emeritus, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

Fossils, Apes, Humans: A Chapter in the History of Science, Revisited

POSTPONED. Lectures may be scheduled for Fall 2018. Details will be posted when they become available.

Class of 1978 Pavilion
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, 6th floor
3420 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA

"Paleontology and Connoisseurship"  

"A New Species of Antiquarian"  

"An Even More Humiliating Opinion"  

from Petrus Camper, <em>Natuurkundige Verhandelingen over den Orang Outang</em> (1782)
From Petrus Camper, Natuurkundige Verhandelingen over den Orang Outang (1782)
Today we regard paleontology and connoisseurship as very distant spheres of knowledge. But are they not sharing a commitment to the decipherment of clues, either natural or cultural? This somewhat speculative argument can be substantiated by two historically connected case studies, focusing on the trajectories of two friends, Petrus Camper (1722-1789) and François-Xavier de Burtin (1743-1818). The former, a well-known Dutch anatomist, was interested in painting and physiognomy. The latter, a much less known but very remakable figure, moved from the study of fossils to the study of paintings. Their relationship unveils an unknown chapter in the history of antiquarianism and connoisseurship.

Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) a leading figure of French (indeed, European) science, one of the founders of comparative anatomy, called himself "a new species of antiquarian": a striking, somewhat unexpected, although not original self-definition. But to understand its implications one has to retrace a complex intellectual trajectory (which includes both Camper and Burtin) that will lead to a new image of antiquarianism and its relationship with history, implying a partial revision of Arnaldo Momigliano's great essay "Ancient History and the Antiquarian" (1950). Ultimately, this reflection will lead to a reflection on what history was, and what can become in the frail, threatened environment we live in.

Was it possible to articulate the idea of a descent of humans from big apes before Darwin? And if this has been the case, how? Through which cognitive instruments? Could either travel accounts or books dealing with political philosophy be read against the grain, playing the footnotes against the text? What is at stake is not a search for some forgotten forerunners of Darwin--an utterly useless, misleading notion--but, on the contrary, the possibility to reflect on the deep discontinuity between Darwin's project and natural history before him. From this discontinuity some visual and textual roots of contemporary racism will emerge.

Carlo Ginzburg has been Professore ordinario di Storia delle culture europee, insegna at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa since 2006. He is also Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Among his many publications are Threads and Traces: True, False, Fictive (2006); The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth centuries (2002), and The Cheese and the Worms: the Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (1980).

For more information: (215) 898-7088; jpollack@upenn.edu

List of Past Rosenbach Lectures

Rosenbach Lectures as of 2007 are available through
the Penn Libraries Scholarly Commons repository.
View and download available podcasts and videos.


The Rosenbach Fellowship in Bibliography, established by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania in 1928, honors a gift for that purpose from A.S.W. Rosenbach, one of America's greatest book dealers and collectors. Its intention is to further scholarship and scholarly publication in bibliography and book history, broadly understood. Rosenbach Fellows typically present a series of three lectures over a period of one to two weeks while in residence at the University of Pennsylvania. Because of a continuing commitment to the series by the University of Pennsylvania Press, many of these lectures have been published as book-length studies.

The Rosenbach Lectures are the longest continuing series of bibliographical lectureships in the United States. The series began in 1931, with Christopher Morley as the first Rosenbach Fellow. Over the years, lecture topics have included fifteenth-century printing, the relationships between print and manuscript, papermaking, book illustration, American reading and publishing, and reading in the digital age. Among recent lecturers are Paul Needham, Ann Blair, William Zachs, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, and Mary J. Carruthers.

A.S.W. Rosenbach
Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, 1939
Courtesy of Rosenbach Museum
& Library