Reading Nature, Observing Science: Examining Material Practices in the Lick Observatory Archives and Kenneth S. Norris Papers

Reading Nature, Observing Science

This digital exhibition is the culmination of a year spent processing and researching the archives of the Lick Observatory and the papers of UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies Professor Ken Norris. 

The exhibit considers these two collections through the historical construct of the “book of nature”; we are interested in how science has treated nature as a text that can be understood through objective practices of “reading” and which must be carefully reproduced and analyzed through objective modes of graphic representation. In these archives, we witness the genesis of new technologies and methodologies for reading and recording the book of nature. We can see how scientists respond to the capacities and limitations of these new technologies and methodologies for observing and representing the natural world. In the two archives, we also see two very different understandings of the natural world and the place of humans within it.

In addition, these archives help us to account for an alternate historiography of scientific observation, which considers objectivity as a constructed ideal rather than a natural capacity. We are particularly interested in how new technologies and different modes of observation generate new aesthetic ideals and knowledge formations that give shape to practices of scientific observation. As we observe astronomers and naturalists at work in these collections, we can see how objectivity is negotiated by aesthetic considerations and material practices.

Lastly, the focus on material practices allows us to consider the work of these scientists in context: in relationship to changing technologies and ideologies, and in relationship to students, animals, amateur scientists, laborers, diplomats, and craftsmen who all contributed to the knowledge produced.

About the Authors

We are doctoral students at UCSC and the 2015-2016 Fellows for the Center for Archival Research and Training at UCSC Special Collections. Danielle Crawford and Christine Turk are in the Literature program, and Alex Moore is in the History of Art and Visual Culture program. 

About the Center for Archival Research and Training 

The Center for Archival Research and Training (CART) integrates primary source materials more fully into the teaching and research mission of the university by providing hands-on experience for graduate students, while enhancing access to archival collections. CART has been generously supported by the Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor.


Property rights for all images and works contained in this exhibition reside with the University of California. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. The digital copy of these works is intended to support research, teaching, and private study. The publication or use of any work protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use for research or educational purposes requires written permission from the copyright owner. Responsibility for obtaining permissions, and for any use rests exclusively with the user. For more information on copyright or to order an image, please visit


  1. Introduction to the Lick Observatory Archives
  2. The Lick Observatory: Imaging the Cosmos
  3. The Lick Observatory: Eclipse Expeditions
  4. Introduction to Kenneth S. Norris Papers
  5. Kenneth S. Norris Papers: Natural History in Practice
  6. Kenneth S. Norris Papers: Pedagogy and Conservation
  7. Connections: In Relation to Nature
  8. Connections: Materials of Observation
  9. Visualization of the Connections
  10. Reading Nature, Observing Science

This page has paths: