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Feather Wings, Leather Wings: Victorian Geology and the Moral Hierarchy of Deep Time
September 10, 2014, 3:00 pm
Caitlin Silberman, Ph.D. candidate in art history, University of Wisconsin.
Narratives in which membranous, leather-winged demons or dragons face off against feather-winged angels and heroes are hardly original to the Victorians. However, discoveries of fossil pterosaurs (flying reptiles) and Jurassic birds in the nineteenth century opened up new spaces for wings to perform their cultural work. In this presentation, Silberman argues that the cultural connotations attached to different types of wings conditioned the framing of flying creatures by early anatomists, geologist, and paleontologists. Further, paleontological restorations that contrast leather-winged, reptilian pterosaurs with ancient birds like Archaeopteryx illuminate nineteenth-century British perspectives on progress, evolution, and humanity’s place in nature.
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