Friday, 24 March 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Chitra Ramalingam, Yale University

“The Laboratory as Camera: Experiment and the Photographic Archive of Victorian Science”

The history of early photography and its relation to science was until recently the history of a handful of famous, beautiful images. As historical scholarship has moved productively toward an understanding of science as visual culture (rather than considering science in relation to visual culture), we are beginning to understand how deeply embedded photography has been, from its inception, into the day to day practices of science. Through examples from To See a Spark, my forthcoming book on the electric spark as a scientific and aesthetic object in Victorian Britain, this paper presents multiple ways of reading a scientific photograph in order to understand photography’s place in the visual and material culture of Victorian science, and to bring more historical specificity to our understanding of nineteenth-century “ways of seeing”.


Chitra Ramalingam is a historian of science and historian of photography at Yale. After earning a PhD in History of Science from Harvard University, she held research fellowships at the Science Museum, London, and the University of Cambridge before arriving at Yale, where she has a joint appointment as Lecturer in History of Science and Medicine and Research Associate at the Yale Center for British Art. Her research, teaching, and curatorial activities center on the history of physics, the early history of photography in Britain, and the visual and material culture of Victorian science. She is author of To See a Spark: Experiment and Visual Experience in Victorian Science (under contract, Yale University Press), and co-editor of William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography (Yale University Press, 2013).