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Spring 2024


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Wellmann biological motion cover

History of Science

Biological Motion: A History of Life

Janina Wellmann

Translated by Kate Sturge

336 pp

27 black and white illus.

Published: 2024

6 x 9



ISBN: 9781942130819

Biological Motion studies the foundational relationship between motion and life. To answer the question, “What is Life?,” prize-winning historian of science Janina Wellmann engages in a transdisciplinary investigation of motion as the most profound definition of living existence.

For decades, information and structure have dominated the historiography of the life sciences with its prevailing focus on DNA structure and function. Now more than ever, motion is a crucial theme of basic biological research. Tracing motion from Aristotle’s animal soul to molecular motors, and from medical soft robotics to mathematical analysis, Wellmann locates biological motion at the intersection of knowledge domains and scientific and cultural practices. She offers signposts to mark the sites where researchers, technologies, ideas, and practices opened up new paths in the constitution of the phenomenon of motion. An ambitious rethinking of the life sciences, Biological Motion uncovers the secret life of movement and offers a new account of what it means to be alive.

Biological Motion is a remarkable book providing a unique view into the history of biology.”—Hannah Landecker

“Motion has been the mark of life ever since scientific observation began. In this visually striking and beautifully written book, Wellmann retells the history of biology by tracking vital motions from Aristotle to right now. In the process, she educates the eye to see the kind of motion we call life in ever new ways.” —Lorraine Daston, Director emerita, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

“As science becomes ever more specialized and arcane, the work of science historians has a growing urgency, for the public and for scientists alike. As we struggle to understand a dynamic and ever shifting world, Wellmann’s fascinating Biological Motion is a salve to minds ‘taxed by the question of how to capture, freeze, pick motion out of flux.’” —John B. Wallingford, Mr. and Mrs. Robert P. Doherty, Jr. Regents Chair in Molecular Biology, University of Texas at Austin

“Wellmann’s attention to the epistemological longevity of biological motion is used to open out novel historical materials for original analysis and to revisit, with new eyes, well-trodden stories such as the development of the microscope. This is not, however, simply a set of new case studies, but a rigorously analyzed set of experimental encounters with biological motion in which each case informs the other. Biological Motion is a remarkable book providing a unique view into the history of biology.” —Hannah Landecker, Professor of Sociology, UCLA

Biological Motion is a highly original work that is certain to be of keen interest to scholars in both the history of science and media studies (among others).” —Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History, Harvard University