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John Tresch

Mellon Professor in Art History, History of Science and Folk Practice

Research Interests: History of Science | Science, Technology, and the Arts | History of the Human Sciences | History of Philosophy/ Anthropology | Philosophy of Science and Technology


John Tresch is Professor and Mellon Chair in History of Art, Science, and Folk Practice at the Warburg Institute. Trained in History and Philosophy of Science and in Anthropology, his work focuses on changing methods, instruments, and institutions in the sciences, arts, and media; connections among disciplines, cosmology, social order, and ritual; and shifting definitions of the rational and real. He has held fellowships at the New York Public Library, the Institute for Advanced Studies, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and has been visiting researcher at King's College London and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

Ph.D., History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University
Ancien élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, concours B'/L
D.E.A., Sciences Sociales, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales/ ENS-Ulm
B.A., Anthropology, University of Chicago


John Tresch is working on two books: The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2020), and Cosmograms: How to Do Things with Worlds (University of Chicago Press, under contract). He is also developing a research project on the relationships among ascetic practices, knowledge, and health, within and beyond the walls of monasteries.


In Term 2, John Tresch will teach “Cosmological Images: Representing the Universe,” examining the specific objects and settings through which religions, arts, and sciences have described and communicated the order of the universe. The course will consider examples from the medieval to the modern periods, both from within and outside the West, developing a philosophical approach to the question of how to do things with worlds. 

In 2019 he will help teach the introduction to cultural and intellectual history, “Reviving the Past.”

PhD Supervision

At Warburg Institute:

  • Valentina Cacoparda, on Ars Memorativa of the 15th century, with Charles Burnett

At University of Pennsylvania, Department of History and Sociology of Science:

  • Tabea Cornel, “Sinister Intersectionality: A Left-Handed History of Neuro-Centrisms, 1865–2015” (in progress)
  • Cameron Brinitzer, “Ethnography of the Experimental Psychology of Culture” (in progress)
  • Matthew Hoffarth, “Building the Hive: Corporate Personality Testing, Self-Development, and Humanistic Management in Postwar America, 1945-2000” 
  • Nadia Berenstein, “Flavor Added: The Sciences of Flavor and the Industrialization of Taste in America”
  • Ruth Rand, “Orbital Decay: Space Junk and the Environmental History of Earth's Planetary Borderlands” 
  • Whitney Laemmli, “The Choreography of Everyday Life: Rudolf Laban and the Making of Modern Movement.” 
  • Peter Collopy, “The Revolution Will Be Videotaped: Making a Technology of Consciousness in the Long 1960s” 
  • Member of Ph.D. committee (in History and Sociology of Science, History, Art History, Music, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, English, Architectural History): Ekaterina Babintseva; Josh Berson; Nese Devenot; Kathryn Dorsch; Allegra Giovine; Martin Hershenzohn; Andrew Hogan; Isabel Gabel; Andria Johnson; Michael Joiner; Prashant Kumar; Elaine Lafay; Mary X. Mitchell; Deirdre Kelly; Sang Pil Lee; Adam Leeds; Samantha Muka; Rui Morais e Castro; Tamar Novick; Jason Oakes; Thomas Patteson; Joanna Radin; Sarah Ray; Alexis Rider; Will Schmenner; Brit Shields; Michelle Smiley; Jesse Smith; Kristoffer Whitney; Jason Zuzga.

MA Supervision

  • Emma Stevenson, ‘We are what we read’: The embodied soul, the body politic & the physiology of reading in Early Modern England.
  • Megan Whitworth, Between fiction and folklore: Revenant lore in the British Isles during the Middle Ages

Selected Publications


The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012 (Winner of Pfizer Award for Outstanding Book in History of Science, History of Science Society, 2013; Named one of the best Books of 2012 by The New Museum (NYC).Council for European Studies 2014 Book Award, Honorable Mention).

Edited collections:

Bibliotechnica: Humanist Practice in Digital Times. Venice: Fondazione Cini, 2018. In press.

Aesthetics of Universal Knowledge. Collection co-edited with Simon Schaffer and Pasquale Gagliardi, Palgrave, 2017.

Audio/Visual. Special Issue of Grey Room Quarterly on media studies and history of science, co-edited with Mara Mills (NYU), 2011.

Chapters and Articles:

“Leroi-Gourhan’s Hall of Gestures.” In Douglas Kahn, ed. Energies in the Arts, MIT Press, in press.

Every Society Invents the Failed Utopia It Deserves.Public Domain Review, 2016.

"'Matter No More': Edgar Allan Poe and the Paradoxes of Materialism.” Critical Inquiry (43), 2016. (Winner of 2016 of Gardano Award for outstanding article on Poe.)

“Des natures autres: Hétérotopies de la science du XIXe siècle.” In Une Nouvelle histoire des sciences: Vol 2, le XIXe siècle, edited by Dominique Pestre, Kapil Raj, Otto Sibum. Translated by Franck Lemonde. Paris: Seuil, 2015.

“Cosmologies Materialized: History of Science and History of Ideas.” In Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History, edited by Darrin McMahon and Sam Moyn, 153-172. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

 “Toward a New Organology: Instruments of Music and Science.” With Emily Dolan. Osiris, Vol. 28. Special issue: “Music, Sound, and the Laboratory during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” eds. Myles Jackson, Alexandra Hui, Julia Kursell. 2013.

“The Prophet and the Pendulum: Popular Science and Audiovisual Phantasmagoria around 1848.” Grey Room Quarterly 43 (2011): 16-42.

"Experimental Ethics and the Science of the Meditating Brain." In Neurocultures: Glimpses into an Expanding Universe, Francisco Ortega and Fernando Vidal, eds..  Frankfurt: Peter Lang, pp. 45-64, 2011.

“Technological World-Pictures: Cosmic Things, Cosmograms.” Focus Section on “Thick Things, ed.: Ken Alder, Commentator: Bruno Latour. Isis, 98: 84-99, 2007.

"On Going Native: Thomas Kuhn and Anthropological Method." Philosophy of the Social Sciences 31(3): 302-322, 2001.

"Heredity is an Open System: Gregory Bateson as Descendant and Ancestor." Anthropology Today, 14(6): 3-6, 1998.


Editor-in-Chief, History of Anthropology Newsletter, open-access online journal with essays, news, reviews.

We Have Never Known Mother Earth.” Review of Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climate Change Regime by Bruno Latour. Public Books. December 2017.

“So Many Pictures of Food.” Berlin, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Dictionary of Now. 

“There Are No Religions, and Science is One of Them.” Public lecture at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; published as “Anthropotechniques for the Anthropocene,” in Technosphere Magazine.

Ecologies of ‘Mind’.” In conference: Buddhism, Mind, and Cognitive Science. UC Berkeley, 2014.

"Fiat Lux and Earth's Answer."  Video lecture and interview on artificial lighting, William Blake, the Anthropocene, and the Beach Boys:  Sonic Acts, Amsterdam, 2015.

"Buddhify Your Android." Tricycle, Dec. 2015.

"Gilgamesh to Gaga." Lapham’s Quarterly, "Celebrity," Vol IV, No.1., pp.185-192, 2011.

Podcast discussion of The Romantic Machine with  Simon Critchley at New York Public LibraryOctober 2012