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Assigning Cultural Values

Edited By Kjerstin Aukrust

Assigning Cultural Values is a collection of thirteen essays focusing on the analysis of cultural value in light of aestheticization or aesthetic practices. Reflecting the fruits of the Research Council of Norway’s comprehensive programme for cultural research (KULVER), this anthology studies cultural phenomena not as static dimensions, but rather as factors involved in negotiations and exchanges. By examining the processes in which aestheticization is prominent, the contributors show how the experience-based, relational, and perceptual aspects of assigning cultural values come into focus. Each of the essays offers unique perspectives on the value given to different cultural phenomena, by focusing on their historically changeable aspects, their reciprocal relationships, and their connection to social contexts and power. Drawing on case studies from the fields of cultural history, aesthetics, literature, film, gender studies, art history and theory, design history, and museology, the collection provides a wide-ranging and multifaceted analysis of how the assignment of cultural values is changed, displaced, transferred, and acquired, and will therefore interest all researchers and students within the field of humanities.

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Part 1:The Aesthetic and Cultural Values of Science

Extract

Part 1: The Aesthetic and Cultural Values of Science 15 Size is in the Eye of the Beholder: On the Cultural History of Microfaunae in Seventeenth-Century Europe Adam Dodd “After an attentive examination of the nature and fabric of the least and largest animals, I cannot but allow the less an equal, or perhaps superior degree in dignity.”1 Published posthumously in 1758, Jan Swammerdam’s (1637-1680) The Book of Nature is but one example of the extent to which the empirical observation of insects in early modern Europe corresponded with changing notions about the value of subvisible and microscopic life. These changing notions of value were, and remain, intimately tied to the aesthetics – the set of principles concerning the appreciation of beauty in nature – encouraged and enabled by the microscope. Mi- crofaunae (used here to refer to all small and subvisible invertebrates)2 have re- ceived comparatively little attention from scholars of cultural history. Even with- in the rapidly expanding field of animal studies, which prioritizes the cultural relativity of conceptions of nonhuman species, microfaunae constitute only peri- pheral subjects. Yet, this vast and diverse group of animals represents many significant intersections of nature and culture, vision and imagination, objects and images – in short, the microfaunae do indeed have a rich and demonstrably cultural history. Knowledge about microfaunae represents not only a technologi- cal achievement (the invention and improvement of the microscope and micro- scopical technique), but a cultural achievement as well. For not only is the mi- croscope itself...

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