November 2013

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The University of Bristol is inviting applications to a full-time permanent Lectureship (Lecturer B) in English Literature (Literature and Medicine). If you are interested in applying for this post, click here for the job description and further particulars.

There are three talks taking place this week on literature and science at Oxford University. Here are the details:

Monday 18th November: Victorian Graduate Seminar (History of Book Room, English Faculty): 17.15 onwards.
Gowan Dawson (Leicester): ‘“Working the Public Up for Science”: Thomas Henry Huxley and the Problems of Popularization.'

Tuesday 19th November: Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford, OX2 6UD. 17.30-19.00.
David Amigoni (Keele): 'Writing lives, inscribing familial distinction: inheritance, science and culture in life writings by the Darwins, the Huxleys, and the Batesons.'

Friday 22nd November: Literature and Science Seminar (Seminar Room A, English Faculty). 14.00-15.30.
Peter Fifield (St John’s College, Oxford), ‘Imagining Pain: Language and bodily suffering.’

The Oxford Literature and Science seminar meets on Friday 15 November, 2pm, in Seminar Room A, the English Faculty, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford. All are welcome.

Friday 15 November, 2pm
Dr Cathryn Setz (St Anne’s College), ‘Stone Age Science: Contra-Darwinian Discourse in Modernist Magazines.’

Guardian Post

My recent Guardian blog post on Mary Wollstonecraft and natural history might be of interest to BSLS members.

Sharon Ruston (Lancaster University)

The University of Sussex is hosting a one day interdisciplinary conference on 19 June 2014 to explore and interrogate cultural cross-currents between nineteenth-century visual culture, science and social practice, particularly where these concern attitudes to, and instances of, the supernatural and horrific. To download the call for papers, click below:

Sights and Frights CFP

Here is a new, fuller call for papers for the International Conference on Science and Literature, 10-11 July 2012, Athens, Greece.
The call for papers closes on January 31st 2014. For any further questions please send an email to

The 9th meeting of STEP (Science and Technology in the European Periphery) will be held in Lisbon, Portugal, 1-3 September 2014. It is organized by the Interuniversity Center for the History of Science and Technology (CIUHCT), a research centre associated with the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon and the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the New University of Lisbon. To find out more about the conference and to read the call for papers, click here.

The 9th annual Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reproduction at Cambridge will be held on Friday Nov. 15th from 9AM-7PM. (Registration closes Friday Nov. 8th @ 3PM!)

Presentations this year range from oocyte preservation, to the emerging meanings of cells, to the role of motherhood. This year's aim is to consider how reproduction is constructed and communicated within academic institutions and broader society.
Follow the dialogue on Twitter #Communicatingreproduction! For a full programme list see:

The student fee is £10.00 and full fee is £12.00. Please register via the following link:

P R I M E R by Katy PriceChain Reaction is an attempt to combine science and art in a way that embodies approaches taken by historians of science.

On a simple level, it celebrates a simple piece of experimental procedure, the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which is 30 years old in 2013.  This process is carried out in the lab by automated machines, thermocyclers (or PCR machines).  By rapidly multiplying fragments of DNA into the kind of quantities necessary for experiment, the PCR machine has made possible all of the genetic science of the past generation.

And yet the PCR machine is an incredibly humble and simple piece of kit, essentially a water bath – a boiler – with a cycling thermostat.  As such, PCR challenges many common assumptions about science.  Science is not all about fancy ideas or extraordinary outcomes; simple and basic graft is a vital part – the biggest part – of it.  This, then, is a show not about the products, but about the processes of science.

One way in which historians of science think about the processes of science is to open up its ‘black boxes’.  Popularised by the sociologist of science Bruno Latour, a black box is any piece of technology where everyone agrees that the input reliably leads to output, and no-one questions this process even when things go wrong.  For example, imagine if I’ve received a letter from my boss saying that my contract will not be renewed; I won’t wonder whether perhaps his printer has inserted the word ‘not’ into that sentence.  I assume (alas) that the printer reliably outputs whatever was sent to it.

One can productively broaden the notion of the black box beyond material technologies.  We could think, for example, of the journal Nature as a kind of black box; we assume that any paper published in it has been put through a reliable system of checking by qualified peer reviewers.  Only in extreme circumstances do black boxes get reopened.  Historians of science, on the other hand, like to open black boxes all the time, to discover how they were put together.  They like to see how and why a piece of science has come to be trusted, which is to say how and why certain human/mechanical processes come to be relied upon.

Chain Reaction aims to open at least three black boxes.

First, of course, there is the box that is the PCR machine itself.  OK, it’s beige or cream, not black, but in other respects it’s a classic black box.  No one questions that what goes in comes out of the PCR machine – except in extreme cases like in court, where DNA evidence may be challenged on the grounds that the scientists sneezed into the test tube.  Annie Halliday’s work opens it up for us, showing us the components of the machine and visualising the process of exponential replication that occurs within it.  And yet despite the machine’s apparent reliability, there is still room for doubt and superstition, as in the case of the lucky rabbit, explored by Stig Evans in his work on ritual.

Secondly, the laboratory is a box: a room full of people who know what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to behave.  They move around and do things, and out of the room comes scientific knowledge.  But for the general public, its workings are as mysterious as the inside of a computer.  What goes into the box, and how does it work, to output things like the ancestry of humankind, or the identity of a father?  Three of our artists engage with such themes.  Andy Birtwistle’s film both reveals and re-enchants the generally unseen spaces of the laboratory, showing them to the public for the first time yet in such a way that they are defamiliarised for their usual occupants.  Sarah Craske’s extensive lab practice over the project has immersed her in the culture and workings of a lab, and, curiously, her product has come out as self-contained and apparently sui generis as a piece of science – rendering the processes of its production almost invisible.  Meanwhile, Katy Price’s cut-up art problematises the many steps between lab and public, over the course of which data becomes ‘science’.

Finally, the human mind is also a black box: we learn things, have experiences (including experiments), and out come ideas and conclusions.  But what goes on inside?  Does it work the same for artists and scientists?  These days we tend to assume that scientists’ minds are tidier and more rational places than artists’, but that’s a historically local assumption.  At other times, creativity and romanticism have been highly rated in scientists.  Tony Stallard’s piece interrogates these thought processes, provoking us to wonder what will be the future relations between creativity and science.

Charlotte Sleigh, Centre for the History of the Sciences, University of Kent

Sidney Cooper Gallery

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Modern Fiction Studies

Call for Papers: Upcoming Special Issue

Neuroscience and Modern Fiction
Guest Editor: Stephen J. Burn
Deadline for Submissions: 1 February 2014

The Editors of MFS seek essays that consider how modern fiction has evolved in dialogue with the neuroscientific revolution. In the aftermath of the so-called “Decade of the Brain” (the 1990s), a new wave of accessible surveys of brain research propounded a neuro-rhetoric that increasingly presents itself as the authoritative mode for addressing the total constellation of experience that once constituted the novel’s natural territory. But while scholars have drawn on the new sciences of mind to retool narratological studies and to facilitate Cognitive Historicist readings of classic literary texts, literary critics have rarely explored the ways that modern fiction has absorbed or contested the influence of neuroscience thought. What implications does the fertile intersection of neuroscience and narrative carry for fiction’s traditional building blocks (character motivation, plot structures, narrative architecture)? How does the novel’s language evolve in response to neuro-rhetoric? In terms of the broader conceptual issues, how is the neuroscientific conception of the self challenged or explored in fiction? What are the epistemological consequences of neural determinism for the novel’s fascination with contingency? How do our notions of genre evolve in a neurocentric age?

Such examples are indicative not exhaustive, and we invite essays that explore how modern fiction has engaged with the new sciences of mind. Essays on individual writers and works are welcome, as well as essays on broader trends and issues raised by literature’s cross-fertilization with neuroscience.

Essays should be 7,000 - 8,500 words, including all quotations and bibliographic references, and should follow the MLA Style Manual (7th edition) for internal citation and Works Cited. Please submit your essay via the online submission form at the following web address:

Queries should be directed to Stephen J. Burn (

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