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Understanding the Senses: Past and Present

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Understanding the Senses: Past and Present Professors Fiona Macpherson (Philosophy) and Elizabeth Robertson (English Language) of the University of Glasgow in collaboration with Professor Annette Kern-Staehler (Literature) of the University of Bern are running a project on the senses. It will bring experts in the history of the senses in the medieval and Early Modern periods in the fields of linguistics, philosophy, literature and art history into conversation with scholars of contemporary philosophy and disabilities studies and with an award-winning Scottish poet to probe how discourses of the past about the nature, function and affect of the senses from a variety of disciplinary perspectives can inform discourses of the present and vice versa. The ultimate goal is to reach a deeper understanding of the mechanisms, affective dimensions, and subjective experiences of the senses of sight and touch in and of themselves, and in interaction with each other, both in the past and in the present.

In order to facilitate productive interdisciplinary discussion, five workshops will be held to in two meetings held over two years, each with a different primary disciplinary focus: philosophy, linguistics, literature, art history, and disabilities studies. Each of the morning sessions will be led by two experts in that discipline but will include formal responses from members of the team in other fields. Formal presentations will be followed by an afternoon roundtable. A visiting leader from each discipline will attend at least three sessions. In addition, a partially sighted Scottish poet will attend all the meetings and develop a poetic response to the discussions.

The project will bring internationally known scholars of medieval philosophy, art history, literature, linguistics and disability studies to the University of Glasgow who will be introduced to the research of the Glasgow participants in the project including those involved in the production and development of the world-famous Historical Thesaurus for English Language and the research projects currently in place connected to the Thesaurus (Mapping Metaphor and the Samuels project) and Philosophy’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience.


Workshops will consist of the following:

Network Meeting One: 4 June 2015

Workshop One: 10:30–12:30 The Language of Sight and Touch. Workshop led by Professor Mark Amsler (New Zealand) and Dr. Javier Enrique Diaz Vera (Spain) Responses by Professor Annette Kern-Stahler (literature), Dr. Giovanni Gellera (philosophy), and Professor Kirk Ambrose (art history)

Workshop Two: 1:30–3:30 The Philosophy of Sight and Touch. Workshop led by Professors Robert Pasnau (Colorado) and Fiona Macpherson (Glasgow) Responses by Professor Vincent Gillespie (literature), Dr. Mark Amsler (linguistics), and Professor Kirk Ambrose (art history)

Roundtable Discussion: 4:00–6:00. Discussion led by Professors Maura Nolan and Richard Newhauser, and Drs. Marc Alexander, Katie Walter, Nuala Watt and David Bain.

Network Meeting Two: Date TBC

Workshop Three: 9:00–11:00 Literary Representations of Sight and Touch. Workshop led by Professors Kern-Stahler(Bern) , Richard Newhauser (Arizona), and Maura Nolan (University of California, Berkeley).

Workshop Four: 11:30–1:30 Artistic Representations of Sight and Touch. Workshop led by Professor Kirk Ambrose (Colorado) and Dr. Debra Strickland (Glasgow).

Workshop Five: 3:00–5:00 Disabilities of Sight and Touch including Pain. Workshop led by Professor Lennard Davis (University of Illinois at Chicago), Dr. Nuala Watt (Glasgow), Professor Elizabeth Robertson (Glasgow), Professor Kern-Stahler (Bern).

Workshops are free and open to the public. Workshops will take place in the philosophy seminar room. If you would like to attend, please notify Elizabeth Robertson.

Funded by:  Royal Society of Edinburgh

Main contact:  Prof. Fiona Macpherson, Prof. Elizabeth Robertson

Start date:  2015

End date:  2017


Keywords: Art HistoryDisability studiesIlluminated ManuscriptsLiteratureMedieval and Renaissance CulturePerceptionSensesVisual and Material CultureVisual Impairment