Thurs Jan 15: Paula Findlen, “What is a Fossil? The Rediscovery of Nature in Seventeenth-Century Sicily,” Oecologies Speaker Series at Green College, UBC

Please join us for the first talk of the new semester in the Oecologies Speaker Series at Green College:

Dr. Paula Findlen
(Department of History, Stanford University)
“What is a Fossil?  The Rediscovery of Nature in Seventeenth-Century Sicily”
5-6:30pm, Thurs Jan 15, Coach House, Green College, UBC
Wine and cheese reception to follow

Summary: In 1670 the Messina painter, antiquarian, and naturalist Agostino Scilla published an important interpretation of the fossils of Sicily, Malta, and Calabria. This talk explores Scilla’s Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense as a case study in how nature became an object of special inquiry in seventeenth-century Sicily. The concerns of Sicilian and more generally southern Italian naturalists were not about nature in general but about the particular and local circumstances of nature in the world they inhabited. The history of Sicily and southern Italy was fundamentally a history of a dynamic, changing nature that periodically threatened to swallow up the human populations that inhabited this volcanic region of the world. This project explores why and how the experience of living on an ancient Mediterranean island shaped the outlook of its inhabitants and ultimately inspired some of them to become active interpreters of nature in the age of the Scientific Revolution. Reconstructing this Sicilian moment in the history of science is also an opportunity to reflect on how local nature shapes global interpretation of the natural world.

FindlenSpeaker Information: Paula Findlen is Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History, Department Chair, and currently Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University. She is the author of many publications on the relations between science, society, and culture in the early modern era, with a particular interest in natural history and collecting. Her publications include Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (1994); Merchants and Marvels (2002, coedited with Pamela Smith); Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything (2004) and most recently Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (2013). She is completing a study of Agostino Scilla and his fossils.

All those attending talks in this series are invited to stay for dinner at Green College with the speaker. Those interested in attending dinner are asked to make a reservation at least by noon the business day before. Contact 604-822-8660 or visit the Green College website for details.

“Oecologies: Histories of Sustainability” is a Speaker Series sponsored by Green College that gathers scholars from the humanities living and working along the North American Pacific coast to investigate the idea of “oecology,” an older spelling of the modern concept “ecology.” For event details, abstracts, and speaker information, please visit or view the event poster. Also follow us on Twitter (@Oecologies) and “Like” us on Facebook (! If you have other questions about Oecologies, please do not hesitate to contact me ( or our assistant, Sarah Crover (

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