The Astronomer’s Chair: A Visual and Cultural History is the first book-length study of the place of seat-furniture in the history of science, particularly with respect to the astronomer’s gendered and racialized labor and body. With a focus on mechanically adjustable observing chairs used in conjunction with telescopes in Europe, Great Britain, and the United States in the nineteenth century, the book situates task-specific chairs at the intersection of multiple economies: moral, visual, and epistemic. The novel approach taken in The Astronomer’s Chair—one that methodologically treats visual and material cultures jointly—allows the author to systematically decolonize the image and object of the chair in science but also to relocate it in a broad material cosmology of the nineteenth century that is global. Equipped with the distinct conclusions of this study, Nasim implicates Freud’s couch into a global history of the psyche, one just as historicist and Orientalized as the astronomer’s chair. Omar Nasim will discuss his new book in conversation with Ph.D. student Hannah Pivo.
Omar W. Nasim is the Professor of History of Science at the University of Regensburg in Germany. His research crisscrosses between design, art, science, technology, and philosophy. With an emphasis on disclosing scientific practice and labor in the observational sciences of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he has written about drawing-practices, photography, gestural and performative knowledge, as well as furniture. He’s been a fellow at the Vossius Center for History of Humanities and Sciences in Amsterdam, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, the Newton International Fellowship at Oxford University, the Chair for Science Studies at the ETH-Zurich, the NCCR’s Iconic Criticism project at the University of Basel, and the DAAD. His book Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century won the prestigious History of Science Society’s Pfizer Book Award in 2016. His most recent book, The Astronomer's Chair: A Visual and Cultural History, came out from MIT Press in September 2021. Currently, he leads an international project entitled: Astronomy’s Glass Archive: Photographic Practices at the Observatory, 1850-1950.
Hannah Pivo is a Ph.D. student in Columbia University's Department of Art History and Archaeology, where she works on the history of 19th- and 20th-century design with a focus on graphic design and visual communication. She holds a B.A. from Pomona College and an M.A. in Modern and Contemporary Art History with a specialization in Design History from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Before entering the doctoral program in 2019, she was Curatorial Assistant for 20th- and 21st-Century Design at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
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