Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Art and Science Are Inseparable for IUPUI's Rosenberg

Release Date: 
Aug 7 2009

Rosenberg, an associate professor of Earth Sciences at IUPUI, has been elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, an honor that is reserved for the best in his discipline. Members of the society are elected to Fellowship in recognition of distinguished contributions to geosciences.

Gary Rosenberg, an associate professor of Earth Sciences at IUPUI

In his nomination of Rosenberg, Dr. Steve Rowland of the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, wrote, "Gary D. Rosenberg is a very innovative scholar whose research on the history of art and geology has shone light on cultural influences on the visual perception of the Earth. Especially significant also is his editorship of GSA Memoir 203, The Revolution in Geology from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment."

The memoir was published at nearly the same time that Rosenberg was elected a Fellow.

The GSA honor is well-deserved, said Gabriel Filippelli, professor and chair of the Department of Earth Sciences in the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI. Dr. Rosenberg has been at the forefront of integrating scientific thought with art history. His work has ranged from the European development of perspective and geological realism in parallel with the Italian Renaissance to idealized and geologically-rare landscapes in Chinese art. Dr. Rosenberg has also taught on this topic here at IUPUI, and is considered an international leader in this area with his own publications as well as the seminal monograph that he recently edited.

There are several criteria under which a member of GSA may be nominated for election as a Fellow. In Rosenberg's case, he was recognized for his accomplishment in the areas of dissemination of geologic knowledge contributing to the advancement of the science and his leadership of professional organizations, particularly GSA.

At IUPUI, Rosenberg's research includes the study of art history for clues that shed light on the origin of modern geologic thought in Western Europe. He has compared the geometric representation of spatial relationships in nature that European Renaissance artists developed with the meditative images that eastern cultures produced.

"I believe these different ways of viewing nature help to explain why the Scientific Revolution took place first in Europe and not in the East," he said.

Rosenberg also maps the distribution of trace elements in shells, teeth, and bone with digital electron microscopy to determine how both physiology and environment influence skeletal form, crystallography, growth, and composition. A long-term goal is to develop a generalized model of shell growth integrating skeletal composition, metabolism, and shape. He has also studied the microstructure and chemistry of teeth and bone in order to understand various afflictions of mineralized tissues.

Rosenberg regards all of Indianapolis as a resource for teaching and research. Especially relevant is the White River Parkway and corridor where he takes students. The Indianapolis Museum of Art along the White River has proved exceptionally important because it has several significant collections and because the entire staff generously advised and shared their expertise, Rosenberg said.

The 20 chapters in the GSA Memoir, The Revolution in Geology from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, explore how modern geology began to take shape during a momentous period of Western civilization when a revolution in understanding spatial relationships transformed the paradigm of nature and the affairs of humankind, ultimately leading to the Western experiment in democracy. Rosenberg is the author of the memoir's introduction and one of the memoir's chapters.

Rosenberg's chapter explores how Renaissance artists' knowledge of anatomy facilitated the conceptualization of landscape. He asserts that explains how Nicholas Steno, a Baroque anatomist, could have discovered the founding principles of modern geology with his geometric studies of the hills of Tuscany. Other papers reveal that Isaac Newton's organic alchemy was a forerunner to modern geochemistry, and that Jesuit scholar, Athanasius Kircher's biologic analogies of Earth presaged the writing of British naturalist James Hutton who is generally credited with the first extensive writing in modern geology. . Papers on Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson's geological and paleontological studies, on British resistance to French evolutionary theory, and on Darwin's refutation of the argument that natural laws require a lawgiver reveal that, from the Enlightenment on, this spatial reorganization of nature facilitated the idea of evolution and of the individual's potential for change in the new social order of democracy. Other papers explore how anatomist, artist, and astronomer, Galileo's "il lume naturale" inspired Charles Peirce's modern essays on historical science that bring geologic thought to the debate over the anthropic principle in cosmology.

Rosenberg says the idea and encouragement for this volume stemmed from a sabbatical in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he met many of the scholars devoted to the life and accomplishments of Nicholas Steno, "preeminent 17th century Danish polymath and founder of modern geologic thought." Rosenberg's goal was to pursue the connection between Steno and art history. "Within art history," says Rosenberg, "lie clues that explain the breadth of Steno's accomplishments in fields that we now consider unrelated, anatomy and geology, but which were then considered integral exemplars of the same geometric paradigm of nature."