Meaningful Color: Epistemology of Color in the Sciences (early modernity to today)

Organisers

Bettina Bock von Wülfingen
Guest Researcher at the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University / Cluster of Excellence Image Knowledge Gestaltung, Humboldt University Berlin

Argument

From amazingly colorful antique relics to the attempts to standardize colors in biomedical imaging – color is gaining in relevance in the sciences. Yet the epistemic role of color, its long-standing neglect due to historic symbolic, in part gendered, ascriptions, and the function of color in visualizations for internal scientific use have not received much attention in the sciences and humanities to date. This is especially the case for non-mimetic color use. With the term non-mimetic we refer to colors that are not applied to mimic colors of nature (such as the sky blue, urine, or plant colors) but are of (sometimes hidden and unintended) semiotic relevance.
The internal use of color in the sciences raises different epistemological questions to those that arise with images for external communication. The choice and symbolism of color in the latter case is guided to a greater degree by a need for simplification and considerations as to the expectations of a broader public. Colored images for internal scientific use emerge during the research process itself (as a medium for self-reflection) or are produced in appliances and used for intersubjective communication and to obtain feedback from the scientific community. Digital publishing has enhanced the use of color in scientific images, in contrast to the costly use of color in print media, whilst the globalization of the scientific community challenges the idea of universal color symbolism. Meanwhile standardization of color applications in scientific images seldom occurred and occurs, leaving a broad diversity of color symbolism within fields. All this raises the need for color awareness.
The history of the ontology of color has already gained some attention in history of science. It is of course not to disentangle from its meaningful use or non-use. Still, the session rather focuses on the meaningful application of color and its interpretation by the sciences – and the history of such theorizing. It explores the color conventions and strategies in scientific images that predominate today as well as in historical perspective and across disciplines. This encompasses the issue of the neglect of color as an object of scientific self-reflection and as an object of the humanities’ research on the sciences. In brief: in this session we investigate the epistemic dimensions of color in the sciences, across disciplines and across history: How was the use of color understood, what did/do specific colors mean, what did they symbolize, how did this change or what did/does it mean to use color at all, or otherwise what can we say about (historic, contemporary) discussions on the use(fulnes) of color in sciences and medicine? Please send abstracts of up to 200 words.

Contact email
Deadline for paper submission

December 01, 2017