25 Oct. 2019 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Emily Hutcheson (University of Wisconsin)

“‘The first stage of the love-making’: Specimen Exchange, Taxonomy, and Ecology in a Transnational Algal Network, 1880–1930”

The modern concept of coral reefs as living, ecological units appears to be a by-product of the 1960s, coeval with the increase in environmental consciousness and the popularization of SCUBA diving technology. However, despite a focus on the geology of reefs in the historiography, the idea that coral reefs were richly populated ecosystems, with varied plant and animal associations that functioned in concert, was firmly in place by 1955, and can be seen in ecologists H. T. Odum and Eugene Odum’s well-known study of coral reefs, “Trophic Structure and Productivity of a Windward Reef Community on Eniwetok Atoll.” This chapter uncovers the antecedents of the idea of the living reef ecosystem, which are found in the correspondence and taxonomical work of a group of algologists (botanists who study algae). In the 1880s and 1890s, a number of women algologists created a self-organized network, through which they shared material specimens, classifications, advice, encouragement, and ideas. Their taxonomical work began to include considerations of ecological factors, and their collaborative publications in the early 1900s contain distinct ecological insights into the living conditions, biotic and abiotic, of algae in, on, and around coral reefs. Through analyzing the work of the self-organized network, I aim to chronicle how ecology grew out of taxonomy in the realm of marine botany, rather than as a science distinctly separate from it.


Emily Hutcheson is a doctoral candidate in History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds an MA in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MA in History and Philosophy of Science from Florida State University, and a BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University. Her dissertation on the history of coral reef science traces how, between 1880 and 1930, reefs came to be seen as living communities through the work of a self-organized network of scientists that included many botanists.


17 Oct. 2019 — 3:30 pm — GAR 4.100 

Alberto Martínez (UT History Department) 

“Burned Alive: Giordano Bruno, Galileo and the Inquisition”

In 1600, the Catholic Inquisition condemned the philosopher and cosmologist Giordano Bruno for heresy, and he was then burned alive in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome. Historians, scientists, and philosophical scholars have traditionally held that Bruno’s theological beliefs led to his execution, denying any link between his study of the nature of the universe and his trial. But in Burned Alive (University of Chicago Press, 2018), Alberto A. Martínez draws on new evidence to claim that Bruno’s cosmological beliefs—that the stars are suns surrounded by planetary worlds like our own, and that the Earth moves because it has a soul—were indeed the primary factor in his condemnation.

Linking Bruno’s trial to later confrontations between the Inquisition and Galileo in 1616 and 1633, Martínez shows how some of the same Inquisitors who judged Bruno challenged Galileo. In particular, one clergyman who authored the most critical reports used by the Inquisition to condemn Galileo in 1633 immediately thereafter wrote an unpublished manuscript in which he denounced Galileo and other followers of Copernicus for their beliefs about the universe: that many worlds exist and that the Earth moves because it has a soul. Challenging the accepted history of astronomy to reveal Bruno as a true innovator whose contributions to the science predate those of Galileo, this book shows that is was cosmology, not theology, that led Bruno to his death.

“In his provocative new book, Martínez revisits the grim fate of Italian natural philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600. Bruno was an innovative thinker with unusual views on the nature of the universe; he believed that life on other worlds might exist, that the motion of planets was not perfectly circular, and that Earth itself had a soul. Many modern historians have argued that the Catholic Inquisition’s decision to sentence Bruno to death was not primarily about his cosmological views but about other heresies against Catholic teachings, such as his denial of transubstantiation. Martínez, however, draws on the Inquisition’s records to argue that Bruno’s cosmology was in fact the major reason that Inquisitors singled him out as a dangerous and heretical thinker. Burned Alive also shows that some of those same Inquisition personnel were involved in Galileo’s trial in 1633, which provides further evidence of the Inquisition’s interest in stamping out heresies about the cosmos.” —Physics Today

Alberto Martínez is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is a Professor of History and Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at UT Austin. In addition to Burned Alive, he is also the author of four other books: The Cult of Pythagoras: Math and Myths (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), on the evolution of myths in the history of mathematics; Science Secrets: The Truth About Darwin’s Finches, Einstein’s Wife, and Other Myths (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011); Kinematics: The Lost Origins of Einstein’s Relativity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009); and Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent (Princeton University Press, 2005).

Further details on the event and the book.

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to cmeador@austin.utexas.edu to reserve your seat and receive a copy of the reading selection to be discussed. This event is part of the 2019–2020 History Faculty New Book Talk Series at the Institute for Historical Studies.