fbpx STS Circle: Whitney Laemmli on "‘Alien Gesticulations’: Movement Science in Germany, 1928-1936" | Harvard Kennedy School
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Date and Location

September 28, 2020
12:15 PM - 1:15 PM



In 1928, the German choreographer Rudolf Laban announced the
creation of a notation system that could “objectively” record human movement on
paper. Called “Kinetographie,” it was hailed by the arts community as a tool to
preserve dance for future generations. Laban himself, however, saw the
notation as a technology for manipulating human physiological response, and he
deployed it in a series of efforts to scientifically engineer a new kind
of German nation. This talk explores the roots of Kinetographie’s appeal in
both in the Weimar period and later, when Laban served as the Nazi Minister of
Dance.  It argues that the system simultaneously promised two things:
first, that movement could be a source of psychological health, emotional
connection, and personal expression; and, second, that this expressive
potential would never go too far. Movement would be continually monitored and
put in the service of the modern state.

Speakers and Presenters

​Whitney Laemmli is a historian of science and
technology and Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Carnegie
Mellon University. Her work has focused on the study and control of the human
body, and she is currently completing a book manuscript titled Measured
which explores how and why movement became a central object of
scientific, political, and popular concern over the course of the twentieth
century. Laemmli has received fellowships and awards from the SSRC, the
ACLS/Mellon Foundation, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and
the Forum for the History of the Human Sciences, and she was the recipient of
the 2018 Abbot Payson Usher article prize from the Society for the History of
Technology. Before joining Carnegie Mellon, she spent 2016-2019 as a member of
Columbia University’s Society of Fellows.


Additional Organizers

Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; Gradaute School of Arts and Sciences; School of Engineering and Applied Sciences