Vera Keller will be speaking at the Paul and Irene Hollister Lectures on Glass on Tuesday, October 19, at 6:00 pm. Her talk is entitled “Hyalomania: Early Modern Glass Research between the Disciplines.”
As one writer confessed in 1685, he and his peers had fallen prey to hyalomania, or a glass craze. Hyalomaniacs were scholars obsessed with researching many properties of glass, such as its flexibility, porosity, malleability, or the unusual ways in which it could break (such as with the mere sound of a human voice). Glass came under such scrutiny during a period when the power of human art to compete with nature was a major topic of debate. The making of sparkling glass out of crude, friable ingredients like sand and ash almost proved the human ability to perfect nature, except that glass was fragile. Through glass, humans came as close as they could to perfection, only to have those ambitions shatter in the ultimate symbol of vanity. This was why so many utopias of the period that imagined stronger, brighter, more powerful human civilizations boasted malleable or unbreakable glass. This was also why hyalomaniacs spilled so much ink investigating the possibility of rendering glass malleable, which, alongside turning lead into gold, was one of the vaunted powers of the philosophers’ stone. Erudite and craft traditions were merged in the study of glass using new, interlinked research tools and platforms including wish lists or research agendas, journal articles, academic seminars, and archaeological digs. By exploring how hyalomonia integrated varied forms of knowledge, this lecture shows how glass became a shared focus of attention spanning varied geographies, communities of expertise, and emergent scientific disciplines. It asks what difference it makes when an object, even an imagined one like unbreakable glass, serves as the subject of inquiry.