University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > 'It is indeed a thing ominous for a Toad to be born of Woman': taking experimental frogs and toads seriously

'It is indeed a thing ominous for a Toad to be born of Woman': taking experimental frogs and toads seriously

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During the final months of his life, Jan Swammerdam spent a great deal of time with frogs, making their description the grand finale of his posthumously published Bybel der Natuure (1679/1737). Histories of biomedicine often portray Swammerdam’s experiments as the first step in a soon-to-unfold discipline of neurophysiology. But what did Swammerdam himself, without this benefit of hindsight, think that he was doing? Frogs, this paper argues, were not neutral laboratory tools for experimenters, but entities sticky with cultural connotations. In particular the frog had a status, ongoing from the medieval period, as a creature that could be generated by putrefaction. Such beliefs required considerable theological and experimental untangling in the early-modern period, not least by Swammerdam himself. Swammerdam’s frogs are shown to occupy a crucial pivot-point in his rhetoric, linking the lower insects with God’s greater creation – even humans themselves.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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