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Professor John Tresch

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

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


John Tresch’s research examines changing methods, instruments, and institutions in the sciences, arts, and media from the early modern period to the present, as well as connections among disciplines, practices, and cosmology. He has published two books on 19th century sciences and their connections to technology, arts, literature, and politics. From 2005-2018 he taught History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; 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


His current book project is Cosmograms: How to Do Things with Worlds (University of Chicago Press, under contract), which approaches the history of natural knowledge through objects used to represent the universe. He is also developing a research project on relations among social forms, cosmologies, and environments, focused on 19th, 20th, and 21st century atlases.


John Tresch is convener of the MA in Cultural, Intellectual, and Visual History. He co-teaches its introductory module, “Reviving the Past,” with Sara Miglietti and Alessandro Scafi. He also teaches “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, both from within and outside the West.

PhD Supervision

Current PhD students:

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

  • Cameron Brinitzer, “Ethnography of the Experimental Psychology of Culture” (in progress)
  • Tabea Cornel, “Sinister Intersectionality: A Left-Handed History of Neuro-Centrisms, 1865–2015”
  • 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”
  • 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: 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 Loughridge; 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.

Selected Publications


The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. Forthcoming in Spanish, Polish, Russian, Serbian.

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.

Selected Chapters and Articles:

"Cosmic Terrains (of the Sun-King, Son of Heaven, and Sovereign of the Seas)." e-flux journal, Exhibition catalog for "We Don't Live on the Same Planet," Martin Guinard and Bruno Latour, curators.

“Leroi-Gourhan’s Hall of Gestures.” In Douglas Kahn, ed. Energies in the Arts, MIT Press, 2019.

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.

Online discussion of The Reason for the Darkness of the Night with Paul La Farge, 192 Books/Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2021.

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.