STS Seminar Series continues with exploration of science, empire and romanticism

The 2020-21 Research Seminar Series in Science & Technology Studies (STS) continues on Jan. 19 with a virtual talk examining 19th-century explorer and naturalist Friedrich Parrot’s 1829 expedition to climb Mt. Ararat, the first ascent of the famous Turkish mountain in recorded history. The talk, titled “Climbing Mt. Ararat: Science, Empire, Romanticism and Something Lost in Translation,” takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. via Zoom and features Ernst Hamm, associate professor of science and technology studies at York University.

Now in its 27th year, the series features seminars on a wide range of STS-related topics and has hosted hundreds of experts from across Canada and around the world. The talks are free and open to the public, and STS majors are especially encouraged to attend.

The 1829 ascent of Mt. Ararat – then considered the most famous mountain in the world – by Friedrich Parrot, professor of natural philosophy at the University of Dorpat (Tartu), attracted considerable attention in its time, and there is much that makes it of continuing interest today. Ararat is fertile ground for thinking about the interactions of nature and culture, of natural history and human history. The Turkish mountain is traditionally thought to be the resting place of Noah’s ark, although this remains unconfirmed today. Parrot was not searching for Noah’s ark in 1829, as many would later, but he was keenly aware of the symbolism and prestige that climbing Ararat would lend to his expedition, a scientific undertaking with imperial sponsorship.

Ernst Hamm

Ernst Hamm

In his talk, Hamm will enrich our understanding of Parrot’s 1829 expedition and explore how science can become intertwined with politics, imperialism and romanticism. In proposing his journey, Parrot declared: “it is commonly known that mountain journeys greatly support the sciences, indeed that they are their essential nourishing source.” The “commonly known” calls for caution – commonplaces need no articulation to contemporaries, yet they are easily misread or ignored by those who come later. A closer look at what Parrot was up to shows that one of the things he was looking for was the snowline, a point largely lost in the 1846 English translation of Journey to Ararat – Parrot’s account of the expedition that was first published in German in 1834 – but one crucial for understanding the larger aims and scales of Parrot’s science and changing views of the relation of climate and geography. Similarly, a closer look at the expedition’s connections with Estonia and Armenia, both then parts of the Russian imperium, challenges received views of the relations of metropole and periphery.

The talk will conclude with a discussion of the connection between Parrot and Armenian writer Kachatur Abovian, who accompanied Parrot on the 1829 expedition. Abovian would become one of Armenia’s leading literary figures and, by a remarkable route via Ararat and an encounter with Romanticism, a founding figure for modern Armenia.

To receive a Zoom link for the seminar, contact the seminar series coordinator, Conor Douglas, at cd512@yorku.ca.

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