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Angels and Archaeopteryx: Victorian Paleontology and the Moral Hierarchy of Deep Time
March 28, 2016 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2015-2016)
Art History, UW-Madison
Narratives in which leather-winged demons or dragons face off against bird-winged angels and heroes have millennia of history behind them. In the nineteenth century, however, discoveries of fossil pterosaurs (flying reptiles) and Jurassic birds invited new interpretations of old tales. How did British paleontological texts and visual restorations treat these winged curiosities? By investigating these sources, Caitlin Silberman traces how restorations that place leather-winged, reptilian pterosaurs in conflict with ancient birds like Archaeopteryx lithographica provide an unexpected window into Victorian perspectives on progress, evolution, and humanity’s place in nature.
Caitlin Silberman is a PhD candidate in Art History at UW-Madison. Her research centers on intersections between art, visual culture, and the sciences in nineteenth-century Britain. Her dissertation considers Victorian strategies for visualizing difference between humans and non-human animals. Silberman has taught Art History and History of Science at UW-Madison and worked at a variety of museums, archives, and libraries, including the Stanley Kubrick Archive, London’s Natural History Museum, and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA. Her Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellowship is bracketed by two semesters as a 2015-16 CIC/Smithsonian Institution Predoctoral Fellow, where she is based at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. She is at work on her dissertation entitled “Thinking with Birds in British Art and Visual Culture, 1840-1900.”