steiger


Joan Steigerwald

Photo of Joan Steigerwald

Department of Humanities

Associate Professor

Office: 215 Vanier College
Phone: 416-736-2100 Ext: 70417
Email: steiger@yorku.ca

Accepting New Graduate Students


I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities, and in the Graduate Programs of Humanities, Science and Technology Studies, and Social and Political Thought, at York University. My research interests explore the intersections of the history of the life sciences and environmental history, German idealism and romanticism, and science and technology studies.

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My recent book Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life: Organic Vitality in Germany around 1800 examines attempts to develop a science of biology. It explores how the endeavor to delimit experimentally the organic from the inorganic blurred the boundaries of life, and how instrumental investigations of organic vitality acted as media shaping the understandings of life. These epistemic concerns were also central to the philosophies of nature developed at the turn of the nineteenth century, from those of Kant to Schelling. Reading German philosophies of nature against the grain of many idealist expositions, I argue that the material and contingent conditions of life opened critical judgments of organic phenomena to dialectical irresolution and boundary concepts. Romantic figures, such as Goethe and Novalis, also took up these experimental and epistemic concerns in their own practical investigations and figurative representations of natural phenomena. The book is concerned with how life became a problem in the years around 1800, and argues for reconsidering the significance of the ways that problem was explored at the time for our subsequent understandings of life.

My new book project, A Romantic Natural History, explores how historians, philosophers and writers drew upon contemporary natural histories, even as their works inspired a reimagining of nature and history. The turn of the nineteen century was marked by a complex interface between human and natural histories. Because natural history was occupied with questions of origins and transformations, with the generation and degeneration of not only plants and animals but also human beings, its projects of investigating the natural world and improving the natural economy were inseparable from questions of social, moral and religious import. A Romantic Natural History is interdisciplinary in method. It draws upon the works of naturalists and scientists, writers and artists, and philosophers and historians during the Romantic period. It is informed by recent scholarship in the history of science, history of philosophy, cultural history, studies in romanticism and material cultural studies. The book is organized as a series of essay on specific natural history objects and their larger significances. The objects are selected because of their amphibious character. They do not fit neatly into simple categories of plants, animals and mineral. They are not simply understood as natural, artificial, historical or cultural. They are material entities with semiotic significance. They were regarded at the time as crossing the boundaries of kinds of things and opening up broad epistemic and cultural questions.

Degrees

PhD, King’s College London
MA, University of Manitoba
BA, University of Manitoba

Research Interests

, History of the Life Sciences and Environmental History, German Idealism and Romanticism, Science and Technology Studies and History of Science, Critical Theory

Current Research Projects

A Romantic Natural History

    Summary:

    My SSHRC Insight Grant, A Romantic Natural History, explores the relationships between material entities and cultural transformation. The Romantic period was a time of tremendous changes in both the natural and human sciences that shaped many of our views of the modern world. In its attention to material entities, the proposed research project addresses tensions in modern scholarship in the humanities and social sciences between recent concerns with the material and the non-human world, on one side, and long-standing concerns with historical, social, and cultural framings of human understandings of the world, on the other. It questions oppositions between material objects and subjective perspectives, the nonhuman and the human. The project focuses on material entities newly encountered through natural historical inquiry in the Romantic period that cannot be simply individuated as objects and that cannot be understood as distinctly natural, artificial, or cultural. Examples include: the infusoria found in experiments and speculations on the origins and elements of life; sensitive plants crossing the plant-animal divide; living instruments such as frog legs and human sensory organs; racialized “Caucasians” and their others; hieroglyphs as natural languages. At the time, such hybrid material entities were regarded as crossing the boundaries of kinds of things, as at once unsettling and exciting, and as thus opening broad historical, cultural, and epistemic questions. Case studies will act as sites for fostering interdisciplinary research, examining the interplay of the study of material entities, cultural values, scientific inquiry, philosophical problems, and literary genres. Case studies of material entities provide a means to stage encounters between the different modes of inquiry, the different perspectives, the different kinds of texts and creative works seeking to comprehend them, reading each through and against its others.

    See more
    Funders:
    SSHRC
Books

Publication
Year

Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life: Organic Vitality in Germany around 1800. University of Pittsburgh Press.

2019

Entanglements of Instruments and Media in Investigating Organic Life. Focus Section of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 57 (2016).

2016

Kantian Teleology and the Biological Sciences. Special Issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37: 4 (2006).

2006

Book Chapters

Publication
Year

“Schelling’s Romanticism: Traces of Novalis in Schelling’s Philosophy.” In Freedom, Nature, and Systematicity: Essays on F.W.J. Schelling, ed. G. Anthony Bruno, 32-50. Oxford University Press, 2020.

2020

“Degeneration: Inversions of Teleology.” In Marking Time: Romanticism and Evolution, ed. Joel Faflak, 270-99. University of Toronto Press, 2017.

2017

“The Subject as Instrument: Galvanic Experiments, Organic Apparatus and Problems of Calibration.” In The Uses of Humans in Experiment: Perspectives from the 17th Century to the 20th Century, eds. L. Stewart and E. Dyck, 81-110. Brill, 2016. View

2016

“The Ethos of Critique in German Idealism.” In Objectivity in Science: Approaches to Historical Epistemology, eds. F. Padovani, A. Richardson and J. Tsou, 79-99. Boston Studies in Philosophy and History of Science. Springer, 2015. View

2015

“Treviranus' Biology: Generation, Degeneration and the Boundaries of Life.” In Gender, Race, and Reproduction. Philosophy and the Early Life Sciences in Context, ed. S. Lettow, 105-27. SUNY, 2014. View

2014

“The Antinomy of the Teleological Power of Judgment and its Significance for the Critical Project.” In Objectivity After Kant: Its Meaning, its Limitations, its Fateful Omissions, ed. B.Demarest and G. Van de Vijver, 83-97. Olm Press, 2013. View

2013

“Rethinking Organic Vitality in Germany at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century.” In Vitalism and the Scientific Image in Post-Enlightenment Life Science, 1800-2010, eds. S. Normandin and C.T. Wolfe, 51-75. Springer, 2013. View

2013

“Natural Purposes and the Reflecting Power of Judgment: The Problem of the Organism in Kant’s Critical Philosophy.” In Romanticism and Modernity, eds. Robert Mitchell and Thomas Pfau, 29-46. Routledge, 2011. Originally published in European Romantic Review 21:3 (2010): 291-308.

2011

“Figuring Nature, Figuring the (Fe)male: The Frontispiece to Humboldt’s Ideas Towards a Geography of Plants.” In Figuring it Out: Science, Gender and Visual Culture, ed. by Anne Shteir and Bernhard Lightman, 54-82. University Press of New England, 2006. View

2007

“Kant and Organic Life.” In Kant and the Feeling of Life, ed. Jennifer Mensch. SUNY, in press.

“Schelling and Science.” In The Palgrave Schelling Handbook, ed. Sean McGrath and Kylie Bluff. MacMillan Palgrave, in press.


Monographs

Publication
Year

Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life: Organic Vitality in Germany around 1800. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019.

2019

Journal Articles

Publication
Year

“An Ethnographer as Historian.” Essay Review of Stefan Helmreich (with contributions from Sophia Roosth and Michele Friedner). Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond (Princeton University Press, 2016), in Biosocieties 12:2 (2017): 309-15.

2017

"Ground and Grounding: The Nature of Things in Schelling's Philosophy." Symposium 19:1 (2015): 176-97. View

2015

“Natural Purposes and the Reflecting Power of Judgment: The Problem of the Organism in Kant’s Critical Philosophy.” European Romantic Review 21:3 (2010): 291-308. Reprinted in Romanticism and Modernity, eds. Robert Mitchell and Thomas Pfau. New York: Routledge, 2011, 29-46.

2010

“Figuring Nature: Ritter's Galvanic Inscriptions.” European Romantic Review 18:2 (2007): 255-63. Expanded version in Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire et d'Epistémologie des Sciences de la Vie, 2 (2008).

2007

“Kant’s Concept of Natural Purpose and the Reflective Power of Judgment.” Special Issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37: 4 (2006): 712-34.

2006

“The Dynamics of Reason and its Elusive Object in Kant, Fichte and Schelling.” Memorial Edition of Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science in honor of founding editor Gerd Buchdahl, 34:1 (2003): 111-34.

2003

"Goethe’s Morphology: Urphänomene and Aesthetic Appraisal." Journal of the History of Biology 35 (2002): 291-328.

2002

"Epistemologies of Rupture: The Problem of Nature in Schelling’s Philosophy." Studies in Romanticism 41 (2002): 545-84.

2002

“Instruments of Judgment: Inscribing Organic Processes in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 33 (2002): 79-131.

2002

“The Cultural Enframing of Nature: Environmental Histories in the German Romantic Period.” Environment and History 6 (2000): 451-96.

2000

Approach to Teaching


My teaching reflects the different areas of my research. I teach the graduate courses Essays on the Philosophy of Freedom and Organisms as Instruments. At the undergraduate level I teach the courses Nature in Narrative, Visual Cultures and Natural Worlds and the first year general education course Science and the Humanities.


Current Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Fall 2022 AP/HUMA3226 3.0 B Visual Cultures and the Natural World ONLN
Fall 2022 GS/STS6001 3.0 A Intro. to Science & Technology Studies SEMR


Upcoming Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Winter 2023 AP/HUMA4228 3.0 M Nature in Narrative SEMR
Winter 2023 GS/SPTH6105 3.0 M Master's Practicum: MRP Development SEMR


I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities, and in the Graduate Programs of Humanities, Science and Technology Studies, and Social and Political Thought, at York University. My research interests explore the intersections of the history of the life sciences and environmental history, German idealism and romanticism, and science and technology studies.

My recent book Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life: Organic Vitality in Germany around 1800 examines attempts to develop a science of biology. It explores how the endeavor to delimit experimentally the organic from the inorganic blurred the boundaries of life, and how instrumental investigations of organic vitality acted as media shaping the understandings of life. These epistemic concerns were also central to the philosophies of nature developed at the turn of the nineteenth century, from those of Kant to Schelling. Reading German philosophies of nature against the grain of many idealist expositions, I argue that the material and contingent conditions of life opened critical judgments of organic phenomena to dialectical irresolution and boundary concepts. Romantic figures, such as Goethe and Novalis, also took up these experimental and epistemic concerns in their own practical investigations and figurative representations of natural phenomena. The book is concerned with how life became a problem in the years around 1800, and argues for reconsidering the significance of the ways that problem was explored at the time for our subsequent understandings of life.

My new book project, A Romantic Natural History, explores how historians, philosophers and writers drew upon contemporary natural histories, even as their works inspired a reimagining of nature and history. The turn of the nineteen century was marked by a complex interface between human and natural histories. Because natural history was occupied with questions of origins and transformations, with the generation and degeneration of not only plants and animals but also human beings, its projects of investigating the natural world and improving the natural economy were inseparable from questions of social, moral and religious import. A Romantic Natural History is interdisciplinary in method. It draws upon the works of naturalists and scientists, writers and artists, and philosophers and historians during the Romantic period. It is informed by recent scholarship in the history of science, history of philosophy, cultural history, studies in romanticism and material cultural studies. The book is organized as a series of essay on specific natural history objects and their larger significances. The objects are selected because of their amphibious character. They do not fit neatly into simple categories of plants, animals and mineral. They are not simply understood as natural, artificial, historical or cultural. They are material entities with semiotic significance. They were regarded at the time as crossing the boundaries of kinds of things and opening up broad epistemic and cultural questions.

Degrees

PhD, King’s College London
MA, University of Manitoba
BA, University of Manitoba

Research Interests

, History of the Life Sciences and Environmental History, German Idealism and Romanticism, Science and Technology Studies and History of Science, Critical Theory

Current Research Projects

A Romantic Natural History

    Summary:

    My SSHRC Insight Grant, A Romantic Natural History, explores the relationships between material entities and cultural transformation. The Romantic period was a time of tremendous changes in both the natural and human sciences that shaped many of our views of the modern world. In its attention to material entities, the proposed research project addresses tensions in modern scholarship in the humanities and social sciences between recent concerns with the material and the non-human world, on one side, and long-standing concerns with historical, social, and cultural framings of human understandings of the world, on the other. It questions oppositions between material objects and subjective perspectives, the nonhuman and the human. The project focuses on material entities newly encountered through natural historical inquiry in the Romantic period that cannot be simply individuated as objects and that cannot be understood as distinctly natural, artificial, or cultural. Examples include: the infusoria found in experiments and speculations on the origins and elements of life; sensitive plants crossing the plant-animal divide; living instruments such as frog legs and human sensory organs; racialized “Caucasians” and their others; hieroglyphs as natural languages. At the time, such hybrid material entities were regarded as crossing the boundaries of kinds of things, as at once unsettling and exciting, and as thus opening broad historical, cultural, and epistemic questions. Case studies will act as sites for fostering interdisciplinary research, examining the interplay of the study of material entities, cultural values, scientific inquiry, philosophical problems, and literary genres. Case studies of material entities provide a means to stage encounters between the different modes of inquiry, the different perspectives, the different kinds of texts and creative works seeking to comprehend them, reading each through and against its others.

    Project Type: Funded
    Funders:
    SSHRC

All Publications


Book Chapters

Publication
Year

“Schelling’s Romanticism: Traces of Novalis in Schelling’s Philosophy.” In Freedom, Nature, and Systematicity: Essays on F.W.J. Schelling, ed. G. Anthony Bruno, 32-50. Oxford University Press, 2020.

2020

“Degeneration: Inversions of Teleology.” In Marking Time: Romanticism and Evolution, ed. Joel Faflak, 270-99. University of Toronto Press, 2017.

2017

“The Subject as Instrument: Galvanic Experiments, Organic Apparatus and Problems of Calibration.” In The Uses of Humans in Experiment: Perspectives from the 17th Century to the 20th Century, eds. L. Stewart and E. Dyck, 81-110. Brill, 2016. View

2016

“The Ethos of Critique in German Idealism.” In Objectivity in Science: Approaches to Historical Epistemology, eds. F. Padovani, A. Richardson and J. Tsou, 79-99. Boston Studies in Philosophy and History of Science. Springer, 2015. View

2015

“Treviranus' Biology: Generation, Degeneration and the Boundaries of Life.” In Gender, Race, and Reproduction. Philosophy and the Early Life Sciences in Context, ed. S. Lettow, 105-27. SUNY, 2014. View

2014

“The Antinomy of the Teleological Power of Judgment and its Significance for the Critical Project.” In Objectivity After Kant: Its Meaning, its Limitations, its Fateful Omissions, ed. B.Demarest and G. Van de Vijver, 83-97. Olm Press, 2013. View

2013

“Rethinking Organic Vitality in Germany at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century.” In Vitalism and the Scientific Image in Post-Enlightenment Life Science, 1800-2010, eds. S. Normandin and C.T. Wolfe, 51-75. Springer, 2013. View

2013

“Natural Purposes and the Reflecting Power of Judgment: The Problem of the Organism in Kant’s Critical Philosophy.” In Romanticism and Modernity, eds. Robert Mitchell and Thomas Pfau, 29-46. Routledge, 2011. Originally published in European Romantic Review 21:3 (2010): 291-308.

2011

“Figuring Nature, Figuring the (Fe)male: The Frontispiece to Humboldt’s Ideas Towards a Geography of Plants.” In Figuring it Out: Science, Gender and Visual Culture, ed. by Anne Shteir and Bernhard Lightman, 54-82. University Press of New England, 2006. View

2007

“Kant and Organic Life.” In Kant and the Feeling of Life, ed. Jennifer Mensch. SUNY, in press.

“Schelling and Science.” In The Palgrave Schelling Handbook, ed. Sean McGrath and Kylie Bluff. MacMillan Palgrave, in press.


Books

Publication
Year

Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life: Organic Vitality in Germany around 1800. University of Pittsburgh Press.

2019

Entanglements of Instruments and Media in Investigating Organic Life. Focus Section of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 57 (2016).

2016

Kantian Teleology and the Biological Sciences. Special Issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37: 4 (2006).

2006

Monographs

Publication
Year

Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life: Organic Vitality in Germany around 1800. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019.

2019

Journal Articles

Publication
Year

“An Ethnographer as Historian.” Essay Review of Stefan Helmreich (with contributions from Sophia Roosth and Michele Friedner). Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond (Princeton University Press, 2016), in Biosocieties 12:2 (2017): 309-15.

2017

"Ground and Grounding: The Nature of Things in Schelling's Philosophy." Symposium 19:1 (2015): 176-97. View

2015

“Natural Purposes and the Reflecting Power of Judgment: The Problem of the Organism in Kant’s Critical Philosophy.” European Romantic Review 21:3 (2010): 291-308. Reprinted in Romanticism and Modernity, eds. Robert Mitchell and Thomas Pfau. New York: Routledge, 2011, 29-46.

2010

“Figuring Nature: Ritter's Galvanic Inscriptions.” European Romantic Review 18:2 (2007): 255-63. Expanded version in Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire et d'Epistémologie des Sciences de la Vie, 2 (2008).

2007

“Kant’s Concept of Natural Purpose and the Reflective Power of Judgment.” Special Issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 37: 4 (2006): 712-34.

2006

“The Dynamics of Reason and its Elusive Object in Kant, Fichte and Schelling.” Memorial Edition of Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science in honor of founding editor Gerd Buchdahl, 34:1 (2003): 111-34.

2003

"Goethe’s Morphology: Urphänomene and Aesthetic Appraisal." Journal of the History of Biology 35 (2002): 291-328.

2002

"Epistemologies of Rupture: The Problem of Nature in Schelling’s Philosophy." Studies in Romanticism 41 (2002): 545-84.

2002

“Instruments of Judgment: Inscribing Organic Processes in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 33 (2002): 79-131.

2002

“The Cultural Enframing of Nature: Environmental Histories in the German Romantic Period.” Environment and History 6 (2000): 451-96.

2000

Approach to Teaching


My teaching reflects the different areas of my research. I teach the graduate courses Essays on the Philosophy of Freedom and Organisms as Instruments. At the undergraduate level I teach the courses Nature in Narrative, Visual Cultures and Natural Worlds and the first year general education course Science and the Humanities.


Current Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Fall 2022 AP/HUMA3226 3.0 B Visual Cultures and the Natural World ONLN
Fall 2022 GS/STS6001 3.0 A Intro. to Science & Technology Studies SEMR


Upcoming Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Winter 2023 AP/HUMA4228 3.0 M Nature in Narrative SEMR
Winter 2023 GS/SPTH6105 3.0 M Master's Practicum: MRP Development SEMR