2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 4:45 PM


WANDERSEE, James H., EarthScholars Research Group, Louisiana State University, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, Room 223-F Peabody Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803 and CLARY, Renee M., EarthScholars Research Group, Louisiana State University, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 223-F Peabody Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, jwander@lsu.edu

Nicolaus Steno (1638-1686), credited by Stephen J. Gould as the founder of geology and by some geology textbooks as the father of stratigraphy, was at different times in his scientific career, an anatomist and a geologist. Both geology and biology are highly visual disciplines. In addition, they frequently display their investigative results as complex, layered, and multivariate visual representations. Steno was not only a keen observer, he reasoned using images as well. As an example, he constructed a six-stage historical geology graphic for his published work on the geology of Tuscany (Rudwick, 1976).

Visionary Anatomies is a 2005 art exhibition mounted at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, DC and currently mirrored on the National Academies' website. It reflects, in part, the history of human anatomical imagery and it exemplifies the continued dialogue between artists and scientists--which can lead to the discovery of powerful metaphors, according to according to the exhibition's curator, J.D. Talasek. Equally important, an accompanying 12-page essay in the exhibition's catalogue authored by Michael Sappol (2004), Curator-Historian at the National Library of Medicine, highlights selected phases of the evolution of human anatomical illustration and their accompanying implications for visual communication.

We investigated the historical and representational content of this acclaimed art exhibition and its historical essay, along with the contents of Steno's De solido (1669) and Cutler's (2003) popular biography of Steno, The Seashell on the Mountaintop, (within the larger context of supporting historical sources), to explicate and elaborate upon two implicit biology-based Stenonian stratigraphical metaphors: Nature's Knife and the Earth as an Anatomical Theater. In support of these two metaphors, we developed a defensible feature set of Steno's prior biological expertise and experiences that may have enhanced his ability to make and visually synthesize geological field observations leading to his three famous laws. "Less than two years after dissecting the head of the great white shark, Steno completed a manuscript on the geology of Tuscany" (Scott, 2004). Manning (Geol. Soc., 2000) reminds us that the histories of the physical and the living worlds are actually interwoven.