coming up event:


« L’âme sensitive en texte et image : l’enseignement de la science de l’âme (Fin XVe siècle) ».

Une partie de l’âme est immortelle et immatérielle, mais l’âme médiévale a aussi des parties inextricablement dépendantes des organes. Dans cette intervention, Annemieke Verboon parlera des sièges physiques de l’âme, le cerveau, le foie, et le tissage entre l’âme et corps, conçus à la frontière de la philosophie naturelle (la science de l’âme), des doctrines chrétiennes et la médecine, à travers une série de textes et des images des étudiants à la faculté de Leipzig (XVe siècle). Ces étudiants apportent surtout l’attention à «l’âme organique» – le principe responsable des fonctions vitales inextricablement dépendantes des organes des êtres vivants. Ces fonctions allaient des opérations vitales de la digestion et de la reproduction, à la sensation et l’émotion, aux fonctions cognitives supérieures de l’imagination et de la mémoire. Ils ont exclu de « l’âme organique » l’intelligence et la volonté, qui navaient pas besoin d’organes physiques.


International Conference: Shaping the brain 06/12/2014

affiche-programme Shaping the brain(1)Shaping the Brain in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period

The brain has, throughout history, been considered an important achievement in the creation of man, although often secondary to the soul and the heart. Our knowledge about how the brain has been conceived in the past is, however, very fractional, especially for the late Medieval and early modern periods. This conference looks to re-situate the question of knowing the brain anew in a dialogue between medicine (anatomy, physiology and pathology) and natural philosophy (inter alia physics, biology and psychology). To this end, we seek to unite contributions concerning Medieval and early modern knowing-making of the brain from several perspectives.

The brain has become an object of great importance in Western culture, and also a very complex one, for it stands in a polemical space occupied by the cultural dimensions of human nature, on the one hand, and a biological dimension on the other.

Traditional peripatetic psychology explains movement, sensory perception and cognition as an operation of the soul and not of the brain. The internal senses processing sense data are, however, in the cerebrum’s ventricles, leaving it nonetheless unclear whether – and to what extent – the brain intervenes between the sensory organs and the soul. The intelligible power of the soul – although inorganically so – was closely related to these internal senses located in the brain. It was a problematic construction, interlacing physics and metaphysics.

The Medieval and early modern periods are of particular interest in this polemic, for during this period the brain was ‘extracted’ from the skull and, as such, objectified. Anatomical knowledge of the brain stems from the increasing practice of the dissection of human corpses in Europe from the 13th century onwards. The decomposition of the body urged the dissector to accelerate his demonstrations – in the order of decay, the brain was the last thing left on the table. Trusting their eyes and their fingertips, these anatomists described what they saw and felt, following also the artists in their turn to naturalism. The decaying nature of the object of study encouraged the anatomists to think about conservation, mostly for demonstration. Books with plates were commissioned, cranes were prepared, and wax models were manufactured. The segmented brain was, however, exempt from internal senses.

Anatomical preoccupations were framed by natural philosophy as well as by medicine. How do these knowledge-frameworks intersect, superimpose and challenge one another? Studying the brain at the crossroads of these different settings raises new questions. How much anatomy, for example, is needed to understand the philosophy of the soul? In what way are the internal senses in the ventricles? How did the soul disappear from the scope of anatomy? How do the methodological and explanatory structures that physicians have developed relate to those of natural philosophers? How did the brain become an ‘objective’ research object, outside of our heads?

We are especially – but not exclusively – interested in:
The extent to which natural philosophy, physics, anatomy and medicine share a common history and practice in the shaping of knowledge about the brain and its functions, as well as the extent to which they operate within different strata.
The inference of knowledge about the functioning of the living brain from the observation of dead tissue.
The methods, instruments and techniques by which the object was studied, as well as its effect on knowledge-making.
How objectivity, as a scientific category, encouraged the objectification of the brain, as well as how it relates to other learned cultures of knowing, such as philosophy and theology.
The process by which the brain became an isolated object from the rest of the body, independent of its functions.

Among the confirmed speakers are Danielle Jacquart, and Tanja Klemm, Sander de Boer, and Pauline Koetschet. Participation is free. Thank you for letting us now if you’re coming for organizational reasons.

Where: Paris
When: December 6th, 2014. From 10H — 17H.
Contact: Dr. Annemieke Verboon (
Dr. Rafael Mandressi

Visualizing the brain vs thought

Vesalius, the great anatomist of the sixteenth century, insisted in De humani corporis fabrica, that the physician had to do investigations in the physical realm of the human body. He criticized Scolastics to say say things about for example the brain, about which they knew nothing. Scholastic natural philosophers, dealing with the brain in the context of De Anima, however, also wanted to stay in the physical realm. But how different was their notion of how to investigate the materiality.

Caput physicum: top left. Basel F VI 19

Caput physicum: top left. Basel F VI 19

The scholastic images visualize the external and internal senses, cooperating to obtain and process sensorial information. The sensory powers are in the organs of the ear, eye, tongue, skin, and nose, transporting spirits filled with information to the first of the inner senses, the common sense. The inner senses are situated in the ventricles, and are organic. The title caput physicum in several manuscript diagrams remind us that the draughtsman insisted on staying within the physical realm. He thus neglected the inorganic intellect.

Vesalius' de corporis humani fabrica. fig. 4. creative commons

Vesalius’ de corporis humani fabrica. fig. 4. cc.

Vesalius also insisted in staying within the physical realm, and had the brain tissue and a topography of the different organic parts visualized. Although he announced the brain as the seat of the sensitive faculty and the sensory organs (introduction to Book 7), he refused to say anything about which might be in the ventricles (Book 7, chapter 6: about the ventricles), and what their function is — dismissing cognitive functions as out of his jurisdiction. He does however speak about spirits into the cavities, coming from the heart — a scholastic (antique even) notion responsible for communicating between the heart and the faculties, and movement.

Both draughtsmen visualized the physical part of brain, but they do not have the same approach, nor the same topic, or the same artistic style.


14-15 June: Conference “Uses of knowledge”

Next conference I will participate is at Woudschoten 5 “Uses of Knowledge”, in the Netherlands, 14-15 June 2013.

Conference subject: “‘Uses of Knowledge’. Why have individuals sought or spread knowledge of any kind, be it theoretical insights, practical skills, or a mystical understanding of nature. For whom did they do it, and to what end? How did these ends feed back into the meaning and nature of the knowledge itself? How have particular purposes affected the credibility or legitimacy of different kinds of knowledge? What kinds of discourse have producers of knowledge developed with respect to the end?”

Title and abstract of my paper at this conference:

Using diagrams to learn about cognition in Central-European universities, 15th-17th century.

Quite a large corpus of medieval diagrams feature the cognition functions in a man’s head. These diagrams were used in the study of philosophical psychology in the 15th century and from there also spreading to anatomy education in the early 16th. In this period students studied mainly by text books, rather than reading Aristotle’s De anima directly, presenting overviews, problematic points, discussions, to train and prepare them for exams.

Diagrams, texts and students/professors partake in this reflexive dimension of orality, writing and books. Students were to appropriate the readings presented in these textbooks, initially presented as formal lectures. In their appropriation of the content they create new meanings, manipulating and adapting the contents to their belief, expressed in accompanying glosses and commentaries of local professors. The diagrams likewise demonstrate this reflexivity between orality, writing and its material disposition, its meaning and appearance having changed by alternative and competitive commentaries.

In this paper I will present my file about this corpus of cognition diagrams, manipulated and appropriated by students and professors, diffused in a geo-political space of connected central-Europe universities of the 15th and 16th century. By introducing a narrative framework in which the user of knowledge is at the center, I aim in my work to knit a fabric with the materiality of the book on one pin and the immateriality of thought on the other.

Annemieke Verboon (Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris)




This blog presents a research in the humanities, medieval intellectual history in a general sense, more precisely on the topic of medical and philosophical psychology, with as main sources diagrammatic visualizations.

This blog will be about my research of diagrams featuring the human processes of cognition. These diagrams were developed in the 14th century, installed in mainstream knowledge in 15th century, and still there in 16th and 17th century. These diagrams then were an important vehicle in transporting Aristotelian cognitive theories into the modern epoch. The objective of this research is to understand how something “marginal” as a diagram can become paradigm for research in the centuries to come.

The main scientific object of this blog will to publish my corpus of about 40 medieval diagrams, for which I received permission for web-publication. With this blog I intend to present ongoing research, presenting a corpus of not otherwise available manuscript material.

The resulting book-historical biased corpus of cognition diagrams provide in a basis for further research on the intersection of the history of ideas, of education, of universities and schools, of philosophical and medical psychologies, and of visual culture.

This corpus opens a way to study the circulation of the Parvulus philosophiae naturalis over Central-european towns, as a result of the Kuttenberg-decret. This corpus also gives the opportunity to study several concrete cases of diagrams in the Parvulus philosophiae naturalis-manuscripts, dated and signed by students or professors of an identified university, for its doctrinal position of its teaching, for the connection between manuscripts. These concrete cases provide in a unique documentation of fifteenth century university learning and teaching in general, on the one hand, and on the other, for Central-Europe in particular.

In a next phase, it would be of interest to study the relation between the diagrams in the corpus of natural philosophical manuals and the diagrams in the medical realm, pathology in particular, in manuscripts copies from, probably, the thirteenth century onwards. And also, to study alternative visualizations, like horizontal cuts of the head, and how they have disappeared.

In yet another phase, it would be of great interest to study how the philosophical diagram has been adapted to illustrate anatomical discourse in early sixteenth century printed texts, its technical differences, the aesthetic conception of the diagram between the growing number of naturalistic drawings.