Pattern Recognition in a Pre-Digital Age: Wallpaper, Crystals, and the Science of Symmetry, 1880–1930

Laurel Waycott

Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of California, San Francisco.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021, 5:30 pm

ONLINE Lecture, hosted by the Warburg Institute.

Free and open to all via Zoom; please book in advance for this event via the Warburg Institute website.

From F. M. Jaeger, 
Lectures on the Principles of Symmetry and its Application in All Natural Sciences, 
1917 (

The concept of pattern recognition is central to our modern conception of scientific practice, but this was not always the case. How did pattern, an aesthetic concept from the world of craft, come to be a tool in the creation of knowledge? In this talk, I explore how wallpaper—a ubiquitous feature of Western interiors in the late nineteenth century—shaped the science of symmetry, and the nascent practice of X-ray crystallography. By investigating the relationship between aesthetics and science, this talk demonstrates how culturally specific notions of beauty have the power to shape the construction of knowledge. 

The Bilderfahrzeuge Lecture series 2021/22: “Pattern Recognition”

The term “pattern recognition” owes its ubiquity across a wide range of sciences to advances in fields like computer programming, statistics and cybernetics after the Second World War. Yet the basic process of ordering raw data or visual images into identifiable structures has existed for much longer, also within traditionally humanistic contexts. Aby Warburg’s multidirectional and nonlinear science of images (Bildwissenschaft) began with the research of patterns and ‘pathos formulas’ in the historical record of European and Near Eastern art. Today, as our interactions with images are increasingly shaped by nonhuman intelligences, the practice of visual pattern recognition offers new ways of historicizing the changing relationships between psychology and technology, intuition and automation, cognition and control. This lecture series explores how pattern recognition has functioned and continues to function as a distinct modality of image-based knowledge production, from the study of global ornaments in the nineteenth century to digital surveillance and profiling in the twenty-first. 

Cite this blog post
Stuart Moss (2021, September 24). Pattern Recognition in a Pre-Digital Age: Wallpaper, Crystals, and the Science of Symmetry, 1880–1930. BILDERFAHRZEUGE. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from

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