Irina Podgorny Former Senior Fellow

Irina Podgorny
October 2013 - March 2014


Irina Podgorny is a Permanent Research Scholar at the CONICET (Consejo Nacional de In-vestigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, since 1995), as well as Professor (ad honorem) and Di-rector of the Archivo Histórico y Fotográfico
at the Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Museo of the Universidad Nacional de la Plata. After having studied anthropology in La Plata (1981-1987), Podgorny passed her graduate studies in Social History and History of Ideas at Uni-versidad de Buenos Aires (1988-1993). In 1994, she received her Ph.D. in Anthropology (cf. bibliography). From 2001 to 2012, Podgorny was Professor of History of Science at the Uni-versidad de Quilmes, Argentina. Podgorny held numerous professorships and scholarships: among others, she received a fel-lowship by the Humboldt Foundation with Friedrich Kittler (2002-2003) and worked as a Visiting Scholar in Berlin (1998; 2009-2011), Paris (1999) and New York (2010). Podgorny was a Visiting Professor in Rio de Janeiro (2000-2001), at Paris 7-Diderot, Paris 1-Sorbonne (2008) as well as the EHESS (2010) and, most recently, held the Lewis P. Jones Professorship at Wofford College in South Carolina (2012). She serves as an assistant editor of the “Earth Sciences History Journal” and as an editorial board member of “Science in Context”. From 2013 on, Podgorny will be the director of a binational research program between CONICET and Université Paris Diderot.

Fields of research

History of science; history of archaeology; social history of medicine; history of paleontology; history of collections (formation of Latin and American collections, e.g. museums, archives, libraries).

IKKM Research Project

Dealers in Old Bones. South American Fossil Mammals and the Emergence of Paleontology (1780-1860)

This project centers on the unearthing and trade of animal bones from South America in the first half of the 19th Century. In a context of commercial rivalry among French, American, Sardinian, and British interests, many individuals, learned societies and patrons from all over the world competed for their possession and ownership. South American fossil mammals attracted the attention of the erudite European world, were shipped to collections in Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, and Berlin, and incorporated into the language of scientific disciplines. Paleontology – a word invented in France in 1822- would emerge as the academic discipline defined by this commerce. Designing these bones into articulated skeletons in anatomical collections stabilized the resulting zoological entities into self-representations. However, these “mighty skeletons,” far from being something found in nature, resulted from the mobilization and reunion of fragments by the commerce and channels of communication existing between the Americas and Europe. South American fossils became pieces scattered amidst the goods and information that circulated through consuls, travelers, merchants, and local residents. Mounting a skeleton meant not only knowing comparative anatomy and zoology: it also meant possessing the skills and resources to articulate trade networks and chains of information. In that specific sense, this project aims to reconstruct the circuits in which data, information, and bones were exchanged as objects of natural history that linked the European and South American worlds, demonstrating how the scientific endeavors cannot be separated from the commerce of local products, nor the material path provided by the post, navigation routes, and merchant houses installed in South America. This project examines three themes that were relevant to the trade of objects of natural history, in general, and bones, in particular: First, it looks at the agents and the dynamics of the mobilization of these objects. After the dissolution of the Spanish colonial bureaucracy and in the absence of a new State, these things became goods of trade to circulate among antiquaries and dealers in natural history, generating new objects of inquiry of controversial existence. Second, it will reflect on the intellectual practices linked to the trade and circulation of bones, especially what I call the “transactional character” of the scientific enterprise. Third, it will describe the bureaucratic procedures that would shape the practice of paleontology. The different protocols of observation and descriptions of nature, traditions of depiction of skeletons, field work, local knowledge, local meaning of bones for industry and ranch administration, correspondence networks, and development of the local press all contributed to the shaping of paleontology in first half of the 19th Century. This project argues that the protocols for observing and recording employed by different bureaucratic departments of state administration contributed to create a matrix that would be fortuitously incorporated into the practices of the new discipline of paleontology.



Dealers in Old Bones: South American fossil mammals and the emergence of paleon-tology, 1780-1860 (Cultural History of the Material World Series). New York/ Michi-gan: Bard Graduate Center, University of Michigan Press (forthcoming). Charlatanes: Crónicas de Remedios Incurables. Buenos Aires: Eterna Cadencia 2012. Guido Bennati: Los viajes en Bolivia de la Comisión Médico Científico Quirúrgica italiana. Santa Cruz de la Sierra: Fundación Nova 2011. El sendero del tiempo y de las causas accidentales: Los espacios de la Prehistoria en la Argentina, 1850-1910. Rosario: Prohistoria 2009. Arqueología de la educación: Textos, indicios, monumentos: La imagen de los indios en el mundo escolar. Buenos Aires: Sociedad Argentina de Antropología 1999 (doctoral thesis).

Edited Books

with M. Achim: Descripción densa, historia de la ciencia y las prácticas del coleccio-nismo en los años de la Independencia Iberoamericana. Rosario: CEISAL, Prohistoria, Universidad del Litoral (forthcoming). with T. Kelly: Los secretos de Barba Azul: Fantasías y realidades sobre el Archivo del Museo de La Plata. Rosario: Prohistoria 2012.


“The Archaeology of ‚New Fossils’ in the decade of 1860. The Great Auk, Game Books, and the Register of Historic Extinctions”. In: N. Dias and F. Vidal (eds.): The Cultures of Endangerment. Chicago: Chicago University Press (forthcoming). “Changing the Dead to Statues of Stone. Synthesis of Fossils, Petrifaction, Photog-raphy, and the Chemistry of the Gorgonean Arts”. In: Nuncius, Vol. 27/2, 2012, pp. 289-308. “Fossil Dealers, the Practices of Comparative Anatomy, and British Diplomacy in Lat-in America, 1820-1840”. In: British Journal for the History of Science, 2012, published online, pp. 1-28. “Neomylodon”. In: S. Azzouni (eds.): Eine Naturgeschichte für das 21. Jahrhun-dert: hommage à, zu Ehren von, in honor of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. Berlin: Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte 2011, pp. 94-96.