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Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Institut d'Història de la Ciència

Global History of Science Seminar (GHOSS)

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Detalls de l'event

Agustí Nieto-Galan (iHC-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

"From Science to Hype: Giovanni Succi and the Land of Hunger Artists"



Scholars agree that in his short story Ein Hungerkünstler (1922) (A Hunger Artist), Franz Kafka reproduced his own experience as a witness of public fasts – a popular source of entertainment in European (and American) cities around 1900. In earlier times, public fasting had been an act of religious abstinence and mystical asceticism, but it progressively became a commodity in the urban marketplace, which could be exploited for amusement and profit, but also as an appealing subject for scientific study. Although they could not compete with opera, animal menageries, freak shows, panoramas or early cinema, hunger artists’ performances attracted considerable interest. In spite of frequent suspicion of fraud, their shows were reported in newspapers, popular leaflets, but also in academic textbooks, scientific periodicals and medical journals

The paper discusses how professional fasters populated the “land of hunger artists”, a “strange” territory, which does not fit into national containers, standard biographies, narratives of scientific progress and modernity, or into traditional approaches to scientific experiments and medical specialities. The land of the hunger artists grew in a very large, loosely defined territory, which transcended cities, regions, nation-states and continents. Although the specific places in which fasting performances took place were mainly cities, the geography of hunger artists was much broader and idly defined.


Succi et son comité : [photographie, tirage de démonstration] / [Atelier Nadar] 1900

Agustí Nieto-Galan és Catedràtic d’Història de la Ciència a la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB),  investigador “ICREA Acadèmia” (2009 & 2018) i director de l’Institut d’Història de la Ciència (IHC) de la UAB.  Ha estat investigador de la Modern History Faculty de la Universitat d'Oxford i del CNRS a París. Les seves publicacions s'han centrat en la història de la química (segles XVIII-XX), la història de la divulgació científica i la història urbana de la ciència (segles XIX-XX), i les relacions entre ciència i política al segle XX. El seus dos últims llibres són: The Politics of Chemistry (Cambridge University Press, 2019) i Tóxicos invisibles (Icaria, 2020; editat amb Ximo Guillem-Llobat).