CfA: Fifteenth Ischia Summer School on the History of the Life Sciences, 24 June – 1 July 2017 (Ischia, Italy)

Readers who work on the history of life sciences around the globe may be excited to participate in the prestigious week-long Ischia Summer School. Participants will receive advanced training in history of the life sciences through lectures, seminars and discussions. The courses in the summer school will be offered by distinguished faculty from around the world, in a beautiful and historical setting. The detailed invitation to the 15th Ischia Summer School is given below:

Applications are invited for this week-long summer school, which provides advanced training in history of the life sciences through lectures, seminars and discussions in a historically rich and naturally beautiful setting. The theme for 2017 is ‘Cycles of Life’. The confirmed faculty are Warwick Anderson (University of Sydney), Peder Anker (New York University), Ariane Droescher (University of Bologna), Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute, London), Mathias Grote (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Shigehisa Kuriyama (Harvard University), Maaike van der Lugt (Université Paris Diderot), Lynn Nyhart (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (MPIWG, Berlin) and Lucy van der Wiel (University of Cambridge).

Course organizers: Janet Browne (Harvard University), Christiane Groeben (University of Naples), Nick Hopwood (University of Cambridge), Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter) and the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn.

Introduction to the theme

In the early twenty-first century, organisms are understood as having life cycles, inherited sequences of stages through which they reproduce and adapt to environmental challenges. Strategies to disrupt pest and pathogen life cycles play key roles in agriculture, biomedicine and public health. Organisms are also connected to each other, as well as to the air, soil, rocks and water, by material fluxes forming ‘biogeochemical’ cycles. The continual recycling of such elements and compounds as carbon, nitrogen and water links the life and environmental sciences from biochemistry to geology and ecology. The effects of human activities on these nutrient cycles threaten us with climate change, resource depletion and pollution, some of the biggest challenges in global politics today. Yet if cycles are topical, they are neither all new, nor all the same. Cycles of various kinds are among the oldest ways of framing human existence on earth and in the cosmos, and of thinking about health and disease, animals and plants – and at least calendars and seasons remain fundamental. This summer school seeks to understand the history of ‘cycles of life’ from early times to the present day, to trace connections and to identify patterns of continuity and change.

Cycles of generation and corruption, and of the transformation of the elements, have long structured knowledge and everyday life. The revolutions of the celestial bodies were thought to shape repeated events in the sublunary sphere, from the succession of the seasons to women’s monthly bleeding. Linking microcosm and macrocosm, William Harvey likened the circulation of the blood to the weather cycle. Human beings, their bodily constitutions and fever cycles determined by natal astrology, proceeded through the seven ages of man (or woman) in the hope that individual death would be followed by not just a new generation, but also spiritual rebirth. Religious festivals, calendars and almanacs followed an annual cycle, although Judaeo-Christian theology was based on a finite, arrow-like chronology that would provide an important resource for a transformation in conceptions of time around 1800.

In the Age of Revolutions this world was reconceived as a historical phenomenon subject to natural law. Enlightenment savants, notably James Hutton and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, proposed that nature ran in perpetual cycles. Hutton’s earth was a machine like a steam-engine for producing worlds without beginning or end; in Lamarck’s transformism spontaneous generation initiated series upon series of ascending forms. By the nineteenth century theories of evolution were founded on the reality of irreversible change, not least through extinction. Individual organisms were understood to develop through life cycles that occasionally showed ‘alternation of generations’, the phenomenon of a species appearing in two different forms, such that an individual would resemble its grandmother and granddaughters, but not mother or daughters. Rich studies of life cycles led to new understanding of the reproduction of plants and animals, with perturbations providing variations from which nature would select.

The ground was laid for a more general view of cycles of life and nutrition during the debates that in the mid-1800s pitted Louis Pasteur against Justus Liebig and defined the roles of biology and chemistry in explaining the phenomena of generation, contagion and putrefaction. Biologically, life, even microscopic life, came to be understood as arising not spontaneously, but strictly from reproduction of the same species. Chemically, the cycles were more promiscuous: in accordance with the principle of the conservation of matter, microbes made new life possible by rotting dead bodies, returning their molecules to the earth and making them available for another organism. Pasteur taught that life stems from death and death from life in an eternal cycle. Chemical changes in individual bodies — Liebig’s ‘metamorphoses’, or ‘metabolism’ as it came to be known — were thus linked to life cycles and the larger circulation of elements. Fundamental cycles of photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation and carbon assimilation were identified in plants.

Biological cycles gained currency in the mid-twentieth century, from the citric acid (Krebs) to the menstrual cycle, from nutrient to cell cycles. On a larger scale, by deploying radioactive isotopes as tracers after World War II, ecologists such as Evelyn Hutchinson followed carbon and phosphorus through biogeochemical cycles that included living and non-living compartments of ‘ecosystems’. Cyberneticians touted ‘circular systems’ as a general key to ‘self-regulating processes, self-orientating systems and organisms, and self-directing personalities’; and feedback became a standard concept. Control techniques were invented to intervene in biological cycles and create artificial ones, from the oral contraceptive pill and IVF treatment to the thermal cycling that drives the polymerase chain reaction.

Historians have investigated only a few biological cycles and largely in isolation; this school aims to encourage synthesis. We shall explore shared properties of cycles, and the differences and relations between one discipline or research programme and another and over the centuries. Modern metabolic and diurnal cycles oscillate. Life cycles are directional and their individual spans finite. Heredity and evolution work through their succession and endless variation. Ecological cycles are open-ended — and yet the ideal of a return to an original state underpins all modern conservation and restoration work. Concepts of cyclicity in the life sciences thus operate on vastly different spatial and temporal scales, and at the same time constitute a productive point of intersection with physics, chemistry, geology and economics. How much the various modern and premodern cycles have in common, or what biological cycles share with those in other sciences, and other domains of knowledge and practice, are open questions. The theme ‘cycles of life’ invites fresh engagement with the history of the life sciences over the long term.

Draft lecture and seminar titles

Shigehisa Kuriyama | Lecture: Cycles, crises and slopes: Intuitions of life in the diverse medical traditions; Seminar: Cycles of life in traditional Chinese medicine

Maaike van der Lugt | Lecture: Life cycles and rhythms in medieval medicine and natural philosophy; Seminar: Urso of Salerno (fl. end of 12th century) and the rhythm of living things

Guido Giglioni | Lecture: The vital cycles of early modern bodies, natural and political; Seminar: Early modern cycles of life, death and illness

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger | Commentary: Times and cycles in biology

Lynn Nyhart| Lecture: The (developmental) life-cycle as a unifying concept in nineteenth-century biology; Seminar: Alternation of generations and life cycles

Mathias Grote| Lecture: Small bugs, large cycles: Microbes and ecology from Sergei Winogradsky to Lynn Margulis; Seminar: Cycles, regulation and intermediary metabolism

Ariane Droescher | Lecture: Lines or circles? Ways to understand the role of cells in biological phenomena around 1900; Seminar: Conflicting visions of cells in developmental and regeneration research

Warwick Anderson | Lecture: Microbial life cycles and population cycles; Seminar: From parasitic life histories to disease ecology

Peder Anker | Lecture: Ecological cycles in the twentieth century; Seminar: Ouroboros architecture: Histories of environmental design

Lucy van de Wiel | Lecture: Temporalities of reproduction: Life cycles and IVF cycles; Seminar: Viable rhythms: Cellular aging in time-lapse embryo imaging

Funding: The 2017 School is supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust and the National Science Foundation.

Cost: There is a charge for students of 300 Euros each. This will cover hotel accommodation and all meals, but students will need to pay for their own travel to Ischia.

The directors will consider requests to waive the fee from qualified students, especially from developing countries, who are unable to raise the money themselves and whose institutions cannot provide it. These must be supported by a detailed financial statement and a letter from the applicant’s head of institution.

Applications: Applications should include:

a statement specifying academic experience and reasons for interest in the course topic (max. 300 words),

a brief cv,

a letter of recommendation.

Timetable:

28 February 2017 | Deadline for applications – applications must have been received by Midnight CET

15 March 2017 | Students to be notified of application outcome

26 May 2017 | Registration fees and/or registration forms due

Procedure: Please send applications to this email address: administrator@ischiasummerschool.org. The body of the email should start with the applicant’s full name (first name, surname and middle names or initials if desired). The statement, CV and recommendation letter should be attached as (preferably PDF) files, named surnamefirstname and statement (‘st’), CV (‘cv’) or recommendation (‘rec’).

Example: Applicant Alfred E. Neumann attaches to his email (1) his 300-word statement named NeumannAlfred-st.pdf, (2) his brief CV named NeumannAlfred-cv.pdf and (3) his supervisor’s recommendation letter named NeumannAlfred-rec.pdf.

You should receive confirmation within 24 hours of submission that your attachments arrived in readable form. Please contact the website administrator for any technical problems.

If email submission is impossible, you may send paper versions of the three documents to: Nick Hopwood, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH, United Kingdom

The summer school is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the National Science Foundation, and the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.

The deadline for registrations is February 28, 2017. Interested readers may get further details about the summer school and registration here: http://ischiasummerschool.org/2017-theme

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