Peter L. Galison Home

Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison


(Click here to purchase on

Objectivity has a history, and it is full of surprises. Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison chart the emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences — and show how the concept differs from alternatives, truth-to-nature and trained judgment. This is a story of lofty epistemd how to look at it. Aic ideals fused with workaday practices in the making of scientific images.
From the eighteenth through the early twenty-first centuries, the images that reveal the deepest commitments of the empirical sciences — from anatomy to crystallography — are those featured in scientific atlases: the compendia that teach practitioners of a discipline what is worth looking at antlas images define the working objects of the sciences of the eye: snowflakes, galaxies, skeletons, elementary particles. Galison and Daston use atlas images to uncover a hidden history of scientific objectivity and its rivals. Whether an atlas maker idealizes an image to capture the essentials in the name of truth-to-nature or refuses to erase even the most incidental detail in the name of objectivity or highlights patterns in the name of trained judgment is a decision enforced by an ethos as well as by an epistemology.
As Daston and Galison argue, atlases shape the subjects as well as the objects of science. To pursue objectivity — or truth-to-nature or trained judgment — is simultaneously to cultivate a distinctive scientific self wherein knowing and knower converge. The point at which they visibly converge is in the very act of seeing — not as a separate individual but as a member of a particular scientific community. Embedded in the atlas image are the traces of consequential choices about knowledge, persona, and collective sight. Objectivity is a book addressed to any one interested in the elusive and crucial notion of objectivity — and in what it means to peer into the world scientifically.

“Historically brilliant, philosophically profound, and beautifully written, Objectivity will be the focus of discussion for decades to come. At one and the same time a history of scientific objectivity and a history of the scientific self, rarely have rigor and imagination been combined so seamlessly and to such deep effect. No one who opens this book can fail to be engaged and provoked by its energy, ideas, and arguments. One emerges from reading it as if from a series of intellectual earthquakes — sound but no longer safe.”
— Arnold Davidson, author of The Emergence of Sexuality: Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts

“This richly illustrated book deeply renews the meaning of accurate reproduction by showing how many ways there have been to be ‘true to nature.’ Art, science, and reproduction techniques are merged to show that ‘things in themselves’ can be presented with their vast and beautiful company. This splendid book will be for many years the ultimate compendium on the joint history of objectivity and visualization.”
— Bruno Latour, author of Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy

“Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison is not just a fine book, it is that rare thing, a great book. It is almost shockingly original, genuinely profound, and amazingly learned without ever being pedantic. It should force everyone interested in science and its history or in objectivity and its history to think more deeply about what they think they already know. It gives me great satisfaction to learn that thinking and writing of this brilliance and depth are still going on, even in this age of consumerism and mass markets.”
— Hilary Putnam, author of Ethics without Ontology

Reviews of Objectivity in English


Reviews of Objectivity in German


Reviews of Objectivity in French


Lorraine Daston is director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany. She is the author of Classical Probability in the Enlightenment and coauthor(with Katharine Park) of Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750.


Peter's Work