The Curious Life of Robert Hooke.

You might think, what kind of books are professors reading nowadays? Last week, The Medium sat down with Professor Bernice Iarocci, an instructor with the Visual Arts department at UTM. She discusses polymath Robert Hook, her fascination with his illustrations, and integrations between science and art—all in Lisa Jardine’s The Curious Life of Robert Hooke.


TM: Tell me about what you’re reading:

BI: “The book is called The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, the Man who Measured London. It’s about Robert Hook [who] was an instrumental figure during the scientific revolution that was happening in Europe. He’s a very interesting figure because he isn’t known for having discovered anything, but he was involved in a lot of different ways in the major discoveries that are associated with the beginnings of modern science. He published a very important book called the Micrographia in 1665 which was very influential and had to do with the use of the microscope. The way I got into him, because I’m interested in images, is that he was a very good draftsmen and he trained with a couple of painters when he was young, and [published] engravings for the Micrographia. They’re beautiful—they’re these highly detailed, very scientific drawings. He did work in chemistry, in astronomy, in microscopy, studied fossils, and came up with ideas that had to do with evolution.


TM: He sounds realty well rounded, then!

BI: Well, the city of London essentially burnt down in 1666, so he and this architect Sir Christopher Wren were in charge of rebuilding the city, so he was also the city surveyor. He did that also while he was doing all this scientific work. One of the things [Jardine] focuses on in the book was how overworked he was […] one of the ways he dealt with this—because he was chronically ill, dizzy, anxious, paranoid, and depressed—was that he would self-medicate.


TM: Is that what drew you to the book?

BI: I wanted to learn more about him, because as I said the way I got into the book was through these illustrations that he did for the Micrographia, but I knew he had worked with Wren. Christopher Wren was a famous architect from seventeenth century England, but I didn’t note to what extent [Hook] was involved with [Wren]. And I’ve become interested in the scientific world of the seventeenth century as well—besides the art history!


TM: Have you read much from Jardine? Or is this the first thing you’ve picked up by her?

BI: This is the first one (I’ve read) by her—she has other books that have to do with this area, with England and the beginnings of science there, so I think I would like to read other things by her. She’s a very good writer. It’s a very fun read besides being very informative. She’s one of these crossover writers, so her work is taken seriously by scholars but it’s also for popular consumption.


TM: What was your favourite thing about it?

BI: The drug taking was very interesting, because there’s the idea that this guy was so productive and high functioning and such a mess physically. I think a real sense of the person comes along which is nice, because that’s not always the case with historical academic material. It is integral to what he produced. It gives hope to those of us who are not super-people!