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Watching the fireworks: Early modern observation of natural and artificial spectacles

Werrett, S; (2011) Watching the fireworks: Early modern observation of natural and artificial spectacles. Science in Context , 24 (2) 167 - 182. 10.1017/S0269889711000056.

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Abstract

Argument Early modern Europeans routinely compared nature to a theater or spectacle, so it makes sense to examine the practices of observing real spectacles and performances in order to better comprehend acts of witnessing nature. Using examples from the history of fireworks, this essay explores acts of observing natural and artificial spectacles between the sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries and suggests these acts of observation were mutually constitutive and entailed ongoing and diverse exchanges. The essay follows the changing ways in which audiences were imagined or expected to react to fireworks and shows how these also shaped experiences of natural phenomena. Both natural and artificial spectacles were intended to teach morals about the state and nature, yet audiences rarely seemed to take away what they were expected to learn. The essay examines how performers thus sought to discipline audience observation, before exploring, in conclusion, how spectacle provided a vocabulary for discerning and articulating new natural phenomena, and sites for the pursuit of novel experiments. Copyright © 2011 Cambridge University Press.

Type:Article
Title:Watching the fireworks: Early modern observation of natural and artificial spectacles
DOI:10.1017/S0269889711000056
UCL classification:UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Science and Technology Studies

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