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HEADLINES. A historical study of the iconic transverse section of the head and the process of building a scientific consensus about the mind (1400-1550)


‘Headlines’ aims to study the visual cross-section of the head - a specific technique of projecting the inside as well as the outside of our head in a special way of ordering space as a show-box. This picture was developed in the early fourteenth century, was consolidated in scholarly work in the fifteenth and lasted until the seventeenth century, carrying Aristotelian concepts into the modern epoch. This iconic cross-section has been of great epistemological value in the process of disclosing and interpreting cognition in Europe. Why did this specific image and not another become the visual paradigm in natural philosophy? How was the image implicated in consolidating knowledge? And how did the picture affect the working premises of scholarly investigation?
A crucial phase in the history of the head cross-section is its consolidation as a visual paradigm in the early fifteenth century. This picture was installed in the mainstream of contemporary scholarly knowledge by means of the Parvulus philosophiae naturalis, a natural philosophical textbook written by Peter of Dresden between 1405-1420. It is the earliest university textbook featuring rather systematically the head cross-section, which makes this source an obvious point of departure to study the role of an image in the process of ‘scientific’ consensus.
The novelty of the perspective is the inversion of the focus. Instead of questioning how consensus has affected scholarly images, I will turn the question around and ask how the visual paradigm has affected research premises. The angle on education and pedagogy provides a new scope. Studies of the meaning of early modern scholarly images have most often searched for its role in the research of medieval scholars and engineers. The perspective on education opens up an epistemological approach in the history of education towards a history of educational knowledge.

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Rue Michel Ange 3
75794 Paris

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Activity type
Research Organisations
Administrative Contact
Marine Moguen-Toursel (Ms.)
EU contribution
€ 178 048