TECHNOLOGIES OF VISION IN LATE IMPERIAL CHINA
Professor Burkus-Chasson’s project involves learning about (a) optical devices, such as the telescope, that were used in China during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and (b) contemporaneous theories of visual perception with which the devices might be associated. Although the sights of the telescope were appreciated in military and pornographic contexts, it is unclear whether its lenses were drawn into other arenas. Her objective is to learn how visual information was collected, valued, and used.
One source for investigation is evidence of the use of optical devices found in the production of paintings and woodblock prints, along with visual representations of looking. A second source is comments about the nature of seeing and optical devices, found in fiction, scientific treatises, and philosophical essays. A third is medical treatises that describe the mechanism of the eye. The interdisciplinary nature of this project lends itself to collaboration with specialists in the history of science and technology, literature, religion, and philosophy. Ultimately an international conference will help to situate the historical peculiarities of vision and visuality in late imperial China.