Monthly Archives: February 2016

Friday, 26 February 2016 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Michael H. Shank, University of Wisconsin

“Politics and Astrology in the Background of the Galileo Affair”

For many people, the Galileo Affair is the archetype for the relations of science and religion. This perception fairly represents the 1616 prohibition of Copernicus “until corrected,” but it makes little sense of the events leading to Galileo’s condemnation in 1633. To appreciate the reasons behind the trial and abjuration of Galileo, it is much more important to understand the intricacies of seventeenth-century Roman politics than the interpretation of Biblical verses about the Sun. The talk will emphasize in particular the messy interaction of astrology with papal and European politics as the crucial context in framing the negative reception of Galileo’s Dialogue.


Michael H. Shank received his Ph.D. in the History of Science (1983) from Harvard, where he taught (1983-87) before moving to Emory (1987-88) and then to the Department of the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1988-2015). He retired last July in order to complete several research projects. His primary research areas are in late-medieval astronomy, natural philosophy, and scientific printing (with a particular focus on the work of Johannes Regiomontanus). His book in progress on Galileo in the 1620s and ’30s in an outgrowth of his teaching. He coedited, with David Lindberg, the Cambridge History of Science, vol. 2: Medieval Science (2013). His latest articles is “Between Computation and Experiment: A History of Science of the Early University of Vienna,” in Heidrun Rosenberg and Michael Viktor Schwarz, eds., Wien 1365: Eine Universität Entsteht (Vienna: Christian Brandstätter Verlag, 2015), pp. 162–215.

Friday, 19 February 2016 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Seth Garfield, UT

“Major Silva Coutinho’s Plant: Guarana and Louis Agassiz’s Amazon Expedition of 1865–66”

The history of guarana, a caffeine rich plant native to the Amazon and the namesake of Brazil’s “national” soda, is one of the least chronicled among those of the world’s major stimulants. To date, we have yet to understand the plant’s journey from obscure regional indigenous cultivar to high-profile ingredient in a multibillion dollar industry. This paper explores the role of scientists in orchestrating guarana’s broader dissemination in global research and commercial networks.

João Martins da Silva Coutinho was a Brazilian military engineer who served as the Amazonian guide for Harvard’s Thayer Expedition of 1865-66, led by zoologist Louis Agassiz. The latter’s creationist and racist objectives in surveying the natural history of the Amazon have been amply documented, but scholars have not focused on Silva Coutinho’s agenda to advance Brazil’s export diversification and regional integration. An analysis of Silva Coutinho’s promotion of the guarana trade reveals not only how the Brazilian engineer’s instrumentalization of science placed him both in line and at odds with foreign scientists and native peoples. It also demonstrates how the focus on foodways can offer new angles to understand questions of race, geopolitics, and national identity in (Latin American) history.


Seth Garfield received his Ph.D. in Latin American history from Yale University in 1996 and has taught at the University of Texas since 2001. He currently serves as undergraduate faculty adviser at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and as the director of the Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History.

He is the author of Indigenous Struggle at the Heart of Brazil: State Policy, Frontier Expansion, and the Xavante Indians, 1937–1988, and In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region, both published by Duke University Press. His research has been funded by the Fulbright Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Mellon Foundation.