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The Spirit of the 'Isle': The Making of an Isolated Playground for Biomedical Research in the German Baltic Sea

Talk: Christof Sendhardt 6 April 2017, 9 am, Harvard University, Barker Center
  • When Apr 06, 2017 from 09:00 to 10:30 (Europe/Berlin / UTC200)
  • Where Harvard University, Barker Center
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Christof Sendhardt presents his paper "The Spirit of the 'Isle': The Making of an Isolated Playground for Biomedical Research in the German Baltic Sea" at the conference 'Technical Landscapes: Aesthetics and the Environment in the History of Science and Art' at Harvard University.

 

Further information:

http://www.techlandscapes.com/

 

 

Abstract

This talk takes an historical perspective on the concept of the island as an isolated landscape. It takes foot and mouth disease (FMD) research on the German Isle of Riems in the first half of the twentieth century as a case study to examine how the concept of isolation was both supported and at the same time undermined through the use of delimiting practices and connective technologies. At the end of the nineteenth century FMD was one of the most widespread diseases with millions of pigs and cattle suffering from it. This situation prompted the Prussian State to incorporate the field of bacteriology with its promising achievements into the search for a cure. When the Ministry of Agriculture advocated the transfer of FMD research to Riems in 1907 in order to avoid dangerous outbreaks, the island in the German Baltic Sea became the object of a transformation process that led to the establishment of an exclusion area, the development of a modern research infrastructure and the integration of hitherto agricultural spaces into a scientific landscape. I argue that the Isle of Riems not only underwent a significant reconfiguration, but also shaped FMD research in turn: the island provided enough space to become a playground for the scientist’s desires for up-to-date laboratory buildings, but not enough to ensure autonomous food production for the laboratory animals, which led to constant exchange with its surroundings. Moreover, the perceived isolation formed the basis of an identity that the later director Otto Waldmann termed ‘Riems spirit’ (Riemsgeist), denoting that far-off Riems provided the common ground for living, working and recreation. Since this triad as well as the ideal of the scientific laboratory were urban, their displacement onto a remote, rural island and the back and forth between isolating and de-isolating processes thus contest clear cut dichotomies between ‘culture’ and ’nature’, between ‘remote’ and ‘central’ – revealing the landscape of the ‘research isle’ as ambiguous.