15:30 - 16:30 Emilie Skulberg (University of Amsterdam)
What is a ‘direct’ image of a shadow? A history of ‘directness’ in black hole imaging
When the first image of the shadow of a black hole was released in 2019, the result was presented by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration as a ‘direct’ image. Yet the meaning of ‘directness’ in the depiction of the absence of light was not always clear. We explore the history of different understandings of ‘directness’ tied to the iconography of black holes, and briefly compare it to how directness was understood in research on gravitational waves. Drawing on an extensive collection of sources, we analyze the many different notions of directness as they appeared in peer-reviewed literature, in science communication, and in interviews with members of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. Directness not only played an important role in the presentation of Event Horizon Telescope images, but questions of directness can be found already with visualizations based on simulations depicting black holes in the 1970s. We show how directness was tied to discussions of what can be observed or not, what one is in fact looking at in black hole imaging, and what counts as evidence for the existence of black holes.
The presentation is based on joint work with Jamee Elder (Harvard University) and Grace Field (University of Cambridge).
16:30 - 17:30 Sarah-Maria Schober (Vossius Fellow at University of Amsterdam)
Trusting Paper and Producing Exotica: The History of the Amsterdam Civet Cat Farmers
Amsterdam was one of the main centres of the early modern trade in civet – the glandular secretion of the civet cat used in perfumery and medicine. An influential society of several families of civet farmers obtained monopoly rights for the trade in civet from the States General in 1630. Some possessed several dozen civet cats, kept them in the attics of their townhouses, and scraped out the civet every couple of days. The families imported the animals from the West African coast, tried – together with other actors – to gain knowledge about them and their scent, and to hedge against the risks of the business – using corporations, but also paper as an instrument of trust.
Delving into the particularities of the Amsterdam civet trade, the talk situates the early modern perfume craze at the intersection of the history of smell, knowledge, and economy. I will explore the connections of the actors in the business, the knowledge systems the civet cats were involved in, and the successes and failures of the trade – all of which are linked to the materiality of scents and paper, and to questions of locality and globality. The latter leads to the final question of whether we are dealing with an exotic matter – or not – and how this has fatally affected the history of the study of scents and animals.