The view from Castello Aragonese. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Chiara Marra.

The view from Castello Aragonese. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Chiara Marra.

27 June – 3 July 2015

Geographies of Life

Introduction to the theme

Life’s diversity is today an integral part of the various climates and locales our planet has to offer. Herodotus wrote of the stations of the earth’s life forms, and since Aristotle the sea has also attracted naturalists as a source of wonders that confound land-based classifications. Yet understandings of the spatial distribution of life have changed radically over time. In the ancient world, land and sea formed separate spheres in a structured cosmos of “natural places,” each of which possessed its properly adapted inhabitants. For Aristotle, seals were “monsters,” because they show all the main features of land animals, but live in the wrong place. Living beings could be in the right place or out of place, they could inhabit temperate and marginal (hot or cold) zones, but the patterns were not understood in terms of geographic distribution on a grid of latitude and longitude.

Early modern voyages of exploration added this geographical dimension. Sea and land collapsed into one “terraqueous globe,” and naturalists began to realize that identical climes could harbour very different fauna and flora. At the same time, the concept of species acquired temporal and spatial dimensionality, with species now understood as physical and physiological systems in their own right, rather than forms that matter could take on. Only in the nineteenth century, however, did the spatial distribution of organisms become the subject of a dedicated field of research, biogeography. Alexander von Humboldt’s attempt to derive quantitative biogeographic “laws” led to the realization that the distribution of species did not simply follow the physical environment as it varied with latitude, altitude, and geological conditions, but was the contingent result of migrations, displacements, and hybridisations. Evolutionism, that is, depended not only on the discovery of “deep time” (itself a spatial metaphor), but also on the temporalisation and dynamisation of spatial relations. The consolidation of nation states, as well as colonial and imperial projects, was the political correlate of this development, which was equally visible in the human sciences, with medical topographies feeding into epidemiology, and racial typologies into anthropology and demography.

From the late nineteenth century, when the sea also acquired layers of depth and a detailed topography, an international network of field stations were dedicated, for example, to marine biological and high-altitude research. These institutions facilitated in situ investigations of living organisms and the study of human bodies under extreme conditions. Colonial and imperial surveys, the promotion of agriculture and fisheries by nation states, epidemiology and population genetics, the integration of meteorology and hydrology into climatology, and finally, the use of radioactive isotopes and satellite data in tracking life on a global scale, have turned geographic space into an integral and essential component of contemporary understandings of life on earth. Thus, if the nineteenth century saw the dynamisation of geographic space, the twentieth century saw its experimentalisation, the turning of landscapes into ‘labscapes’, as Robert Kohler called them.

Historians have studied the geographic dimension of the life sciences from a diversity of perspectives, though usually with a focus on particular fields: natural history in the context of exploration and empire, biogeography, oceanography, ecology, epidemiology, demography and medical geography. This summer school adds perspectives from the spatial turn in the history of science, medicine and technology, including studies of transregional and global exchange networks, which have often taken inspiration from imperial studies, oceanic histories, and world history. It also takes account of spatially organized inscription devices, including the lists, catalogues, maps, statistical records, and databases that can synoptically present data gathered from various places.

It was timely to explore the changing relationship between humans and the spatially organized environment also because, confronted by problems of disease control, food security, conservation biology, and climate change, the biosciences themselves increasingly study life as a complex, spatially distributed phenomenon, be it on the micro-scale of biofilms and gut floras, or the macro-scale of the biosphere. This may represent a reawakening after a period when molecular biology dominated, or developments of research programmes that were always alternatives to the molecular paradigm, or the opening up of new spaces for research by the very molecularization of life. At the same time, human geographers had turned their attention to the life sciences as a phenomenon to be addressed with their own tools. Though such concepts as Friedrich Ratzel’s Lebensraum have a long (and problematic) history, geographers had recently begun to study the production of biological knowledge in its own right. Often taking spatial metaphors in the life sciences as a starting point – “boundary,” with its prominent place in immunology, is a telling example – they were exploring the co-production of spatial relations through interactions between humans, both experts and laypeople, and other organisms. The summer school on “Geographies of Life” thus addressed a subject of urgent relevance to the evolving relations of humans with our natural and social environments, and added historical depth to attempts to understand the roles of the life sciences in changing those relations.

Structure, programme and readings list


Seminars focus on pre-circulated texts from the readings list. Participants are allocated to individual seminar groups in order to prepare the seminar, in consultation with the seminar leader. They are encouraged to bring in the expertise from their own projects to shape the discussion. Often, this takes the form of preparing short informal contributions (2–5 mins) to kick off discussion, but more collective and interactive ways of engaging with the reading materials – like setting questions and/or exercises for group work – are always more than welcome.

The discussion forum is meant for school announcements and to facilitate discussion, and was used for the second time (and to a larger extent). The Forum was and remains publically visible, but only Ischia participants can post and/or start new discussion topics, and only Ischia2015 participants can create topics in 2015-related parts. They were all allocated to seminar groups, with the suggestion to create a discussion topic before the school started, to prepare the seminars. Participants were encouraged to present themselves and their work under the '2015 Participants' topic, even if just providing the URL of their homepage.


Saturday, June 27
16:30–20:00 Registration and welcoming reception at Villa Dohrn
20:30 Dinner at Villa Ciccio
Sunday, June 28
09:00 – 09:45 Welcome and introductions
09:45 – 10:30 Introduction to the theme, ‘Geographies of Life’ (Janet Browne)
10:30 – 11:30 Session 1 (Lecture Juan Pimentel)
Life before life in the early modern Iberian World
11:30 – 12:00 Coffee
12:00 – 13:00 Session 2 (Seminar Juan Pimentel)
A Peruvian tableau of natural history (1799): Some visual devices to display diversity
Oana Baboi, José Beltrán, Dorit Brixius and Sebestian Kroupa
13:00 – 16:00 Lunch
16:00 – 17:00 Session 3 (Lecture Sujit Sivasundaram)
From the winds of the Bay of Bengal: Science, empire and self
17:00 – 17:30 Coffee
17:30 – 18:30 Session 4 (Seminar Sujit Sivasundaram)
Coral islands and indigenous and exogenous histories of the Pacific Ocean
Catarina Madruga, Daniel Simpson and Alistair Sponsel
18:30 – 19:30 Open Discussion
20:30 Dinner at Villa Ciccio
Monday, June 29
09:00 – 09:30 Session 5 (Intervention Staffan Müller-Wille)
Linnaeus: A flat world with four corners
09:30 – 10:30 Session 6 (Lecture Nils Güttler)
Mapping plant life: From Humboldt to early ecology
10:30 – 11:00 Coffee
11:00 – 12:00 Session 7 (Seminar Nils Güttler)
Distribution mapping: Scales and approaches
Yildirim Duygu, Kaan Üçsu and Robert-Jan Wille
12:00 – 16:00 Lunch and time for activities
16:00 – 17:00 Session 8 (Lecture Raf de Bont)
Resident science: Field stations and their environment, 1870–1930
17:00 – 17:30 Coffee
17:30 – 18:30 Session 9 (Seminar Raf de Bont)
Emplacing field science
Fausto Campos, Luísa Reis Castro, Adreissa Páez-Michel and Katharina Steiner
18:30 – 19:30 Open Discussion
20:30 Dinner at Villa Ciccio
Tuesday, June 30
Naples day
07:45 – 10:00 Ferry Ischia → Naples (Medmar) and
transfer to the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (SZN)
10:00 – 10:30 Coffee break (foyer of SZN) and transfer to conference room
10:30 - 10:45 Welcome (Roberto Danovaro, president of the SZN)
10:30 – 11:00 Presentation (Christiane Groeben)
The Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn
11:00 – 11:30 Presentation (Daniele Iudicone)
Tara Oceans: A global experience
11:30 – 12:00 Presentation (Sandra Hochscheid)
Conservation and research in the Public Aquarium of Naples: The case of mediterranean sea turtles
12:00 – 12:30 Transfer to Fresco Room
Presentation of the Fresco Room (Christiane Groeben)
12:30 – 13:30 Group visits to
  1. Aquarium (Hochscheid)
  2. Plankton Lab (Di Capua, Percopo)
  3. Archives (Maja)
13:30 – 19:00 Free time to discover Naples
19:00 Ferry Naples → Ischia (Medmar, from Porta di Massa)
Wednesday, July 1
09:00 – 09:30 Session 10 (Intervention Janet Browne)
Title tba
09:30 – 10:30 Session 11 (Lecture Lynn Nyhart)
Practicing scales: Animal geography and ecology, c. 1900
10:30 – 11:00 Coffee
11:00 – 12:00 Session 12 (Seminar Lynn Nyhart)
How to read review literature; or, Exercises in cosmopolitanism
Elena Canadelli, Felix Lüttge and Kathryn Schoefert
12:00 – 16:00 Lunch and time for activities
16:00 – 17:00 Session 13 (Lecture Joe Cain)
Synthesis period in evolutionary studies
17:00 – 17:30 Coffee
17:30 – 18:30 Session 14 (Seminar Joe Cain)
Geographies of evolutionary studies, 1930s and 1940s
Petter Hellström, Brian Tyrrell and Marta Velasco
18:30 – 19:30 Open Discussion
20:30 Dinner at a local restaurant
Thursday, July 2
09:00 – 10:00 Session 15 (Lecture Angela Creager)
The atom and the ecosystem
10:00 – 11:00 Session 16 (Seminar Angela Creager)
Radiotracers, nutrient cycling and the ecology of pollution
Leah Aronowsky, Melissa Charenko and Laura Martin
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee
11:30 – 12:30 Session 17 (Lecture Helen Rozwadowski)
The three-dimensional ocean: Can categories of ocean space frame histories of the life sciences?
12:30 – 15:30 Lunch
15:30 – 16:30 Session 18 (Seminar Helen Rozwadowski)
The history of the life sciences in the three-dimensional ocean
Antony Adler, Susana García and Erika Jones
16:30 – 17:00 Coffee
17:00 – 18:00 Final Discussion (Chair: Nick Hopwood)
20:30 Dinner at Villa Ciccio
Friday, July 3
Departure Ciao – Arrivederci!

Readings list

Alphabetized by lecturer, the Readings list for the 2015 Ischia Summer School is publicly readable. Copyrights prevent the files themselves to be made directly accessible; therefore participants were instructed to login (via the form then on the website frontpage, or on the forum frontpage) so that a download box (for a 50MB archive of PDFs) appeared in its place.

Raf de Bont
  • Ernst Schüz (1936). The White Stork as a Subject of Research, Bird-Banding, 7: 99–106.
  • Stephen Bocking (2013). Situated yet Mobile: Examining the Environmental History of Arctic Ecological Science’. In: Dolly Jørgensen, Finn Arne Jørgensen and Sara B. Pritchard (eds.), New Natures: Joining Environmental history with Science and Technology Studies, Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, pp. 164–178.
Joe Cain
  • Ernst Mayr (1941). The origin of gaps between species. The Collecting Net, 16: 137–143.
  • Joe Cain (2009). Rethinking the Synthesis Period in Evolutionary Studies. Journal of the History of Biology, 42(4): 621–648.

Angela Creager
  • Angela N. H. Creager (2013) Timescapes of Radioactive Tracers in Biochemistry and Ecology. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 35: 83–90.
  • Eugene P. Odum (1959). Fundamentals of Ecology, 2nd edition. Philadelphia and London: Saunders, pp. 467–474.
  • George Woodwell (1967). Toxic Substances and Ecological Cycles. Scientific American, 216: 24–31.
Nils Güttler
  • Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland (1805/2009), Essay on the Geography of Plants, edited by Stephen T. Jackson and translated by Sylvie Romanowski. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, pp 76–85 (Translation of: Essai sur la géographie des plantes (1805). Paris: Levrault, Schoell et compagnie).
  • A.G. Dezauche fils (1805). Carte botanique de France: Pour la 3e. edition de la Flore Française (Botanical map of France: For the third edition of the French Flora).
  • Jean-Baptist Lamarck and Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (1805). Explanation of the botanical map of France. Journal of Biogeography, 33: 766–768. (Translation of the introduction of Lamarck and de Candolle (1805), Flore Française 3rd edition.
  • Hewett C. Watson (1936). Observations on the Construction of Maps for illustrating the Distribution of Plants (with Reference to the Communication of Mr. Hinds on the same Subject). Magazine of Natural History, 9: 17–21.
  • F.W. Oliver and A.G. Tansley (1904). Methods of Surveying Vegetation on a Large Scale. New Phytologist, 3:228–237 +plate 11.
Lynn Nyhart
  • Arnold E. Ortmann (1904). Bericht über die Fortschritte unserer Kenntnis von der Verbreitung der Tiere (1901–03) ["Report on the progress in our knowledge of the distribution of animals, 1901–03"], Geographisches Jahrbuch (Geographical Yearbook) 1903, pp 447–477.
  • A two-page guidance document on how to read the above.
Juan Pimentel
  • Essential reading:
    • Daniela Bleichmar, “Peruvian nature up close, seen from afar”, RES 59/60, Spring/Autumn, 2011, pp. 60–73.
    • Italo Calvino (1976). How New the New World was. In: Collection of Sand, London: Penguin Classics, 2013, pp. 10–17 (Translation of Collezione di sabbia, Garzanti, 1984).
    • Five selected images:
      • Louis Thiebaut and José Ignacio Lequanda (1799). Quadro de la Historia natural, Civil y Geográfico del Reyno del Perú.
      • Ernst H.P.A. Haeckel (1866). Tree of Life illustration from Generelle Morphologie der Organismen: allgemeine Grundzüge der organischen Formen-Wissenschaft, mechanisch begründet durch die von C. Darwin reformirte Decendenz-Theorie. Berlin.
      • Anonymous (1750). Casta painting, Puebla (Nueva España).
      • Alexander von Humboldt (1805), Illustration from Essai sur la géographie des plantes. Paris: Levrault, Schoell et compagnie.
      • Frederic Edwin Church (1859). Heart of the Andes.
  • Background reading (files not available):
    • Giulio Barsanti (1992). La Scala, la Mappa, l’Albero. Immagini e classificazioni della natura fra Sei e Ottocento, Firenze: Sansoni Editore.
    • Michel Foucault (1994). The Order of things. An archaeology of human sciences, New York; Vintage Books Edition (Translation of Les mots et les choses, Gallimard, 1966).
    • Anne Marie Claire Godlewska (1999). From Enlightenment vision to Modern Science? Humboldt’s Visual Thinking. In: David. N. Livingstone and Charles W. J. Withers (Eds), Geography and Enlightenment. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 236–281.
    • María Elena Martínez (2008). Genealogical Fictions. Limpieza de sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Helen Rozwadowski
  • Michael S. Reidy (2008). Horizontal and Vertical Consciousness. In: Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, pp 274–281.
  • Helen M. Rozwadowski (2004). Engineering, Imagination and Industry: Scripps Island and Dreams for Ocean Science in the 1960s (excerpt). In: Rozwadowski and van Keuren (Eds), The Machine in Neptune’s Garden: Historical Perspectives on Technology and the Marine Environment. Science History Publications, pp. 315–33.
  • John R. Gillis (2004). Islomania. In: Islands of the Mind: How the Human Imagination Created the Atlantic World, Palgrave McMillan, pp. 1–4.
Sujit Sivasundaram
  • Sujit Sivasundaram (2014). Science. In: David Armitage and Alison Bashford (Eds.), Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 237–260.
  • David Malo (1898). Hawaiian Antiquities (Moolelo Hawaii), translated by N. B. Emerson. Honolulu: Hawaiian Gazette Co, 1903. Please read pp.21–28. Online primary source:
  • Martha Warren Beckwith (1951). 'Kumulipo', translation and commentary on a creation chant. Please glance over Chapter 10, Birth of Sea and Land Life, to get the feel of a Polynesian genealogy. Online primary source:

Cost and Funding

There was a charge for students of €300 each, covering hotel accommodation and all meals; but students needed to pay for their own travel to Ischia.

The directors have considered and granted some requests to waive the fee from qualified students, especially from developing countries, who were unable to raise the money themselves and whose institutions could not provide it. These had to be supported by a detailed financial statement and a letter from the applicant’s head of institution.

The 2015 School was financially supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and logistically by the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn.


On March 24, all applicants have been notified of their application outcome. Successful applicants had to confirm their attendance by March 31, and alternative candidates took the places of those unable to attend. By May 31 the registration fees and forms were due.

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

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