Nydia Pineda de Ávila

I work at the intersection of the history of science, the history of the book and art history in early modern Europe and the Americas. In 2018, I completed a PhD in English at Queen Mary, University of London, with a dissertation on maps of the moon as objects of prestige and commodities made through interactions between natural philosophers, cosmographers, astronomers, humanists, intelligencers, artists, and publishers in seventeenth-century Europe. During my postdoc at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, I began researching the material and political aspects of celestial images in the colonial Americas. I am currently completing book manuscript that reveals the changing values of moon maps as visual experiments, rhetorical artefacts and commodities from the early phases of the development of the telescope in European observatories, workshops, courts and shops, through to the intellectual and political settings of the Americas in the late eighteenth century.

Questions regarding the gap between practice and theory in astronomical observation and representation have led me to interrogate the relationship between experience and technical knowledge in geographical exploration, the cultural invention of landscapes and map production. At UCSD I will begin a new project on the representation of terrestrial and celestial environments in the itineraries between Acapulco and California in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With this new study, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of how this turbulent cultural and political space was constructed through the journeys and interactions of pilots, missionaries, civil servants, tradesmen and indigenous people.

I’ve lived in Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Edinburgh, Lyon, Paris, and London. I came to the history of science through creative writing and French literature, and then through early modern and Renaissance studies. I’m a member of the “Groupe d’études de savoirs à la Renaissance” at the École Normale Supérieur in Paris and participate in the “Early Modern Cosmology” group, Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice. As former fellow and invited scholar at the John Carter Brown Library, I am co-curating the digital exhibition “Constellations” which will be launched in the fall of 2020.

I foster working in collaboration and across disciplinary boundaries. My work is informed by practice-based research of lens grinding, life drawing, modelling, engraving and printing, and I have developed projects with visual artists who challenge my historical imagination. I am currently engaged in the construction of a knowledge base of astronomical images and a data visualization project with computer scientists in Mexico. I am also the initiator and coordinator of the international and interdisciplinary research group “Images of the American Skies”, with members in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the U.S, Britain and Italy. Finally, I find that communicating my research beyond academic spaces stimulates ideas through unexpected conversations. I have given seminars to audiences of all ages in public libraries and community centers in Mexico City. I hope to continue developing these projects in bilingual environments in San Diego.