September 2014

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Biological Discourses: The Language of Science and Literature around 1900

A two-day conference at the University of Cambridge, 10-11 April 2015

The decades around 1900 are a crucial period for the impact of biological thought on the intellectual cultures of the western world. The impulses of Darwinism were taken up by intellectuals, writers and artists from the 1860s onwards, and both Darwinian and anti-Darwinian currents of thinking exercised a powerful influence on the intellectual climate of the early decades of the twentieth century. It was a period that saw major developments in cell biology and the establishment of genetics as we know it, the movement of medical science and psychiatry beyond mechanistic conceptions of illness, and the emergence of psychoanalysis and sexology as new disciplines. “Biological Discourses”, a student-led conference to be held in Cambridge on 10-11 April 2015, is part of a collaborative venture between the Cambridge Department of German & Dutch and the Institute for Modern Languages Research, London, investigating the interplay and the forms of mediation between literary and biological discourses in that period.

The conference builds on the substantial body of research literature that has evolved in the last few decades both in English and other languages on the ‘hermeneutic potential’ of Darwin’s thought (Gillian Beer) and the interrelationship between biological thought and literature and the visual arts more broadly. Recent work has also brought out the senses in which the historical emergence of such biological terminology as ‘heredity’ and ‘genealogy’ should be seen as part of European cultural history (e.g. Sigrid Weigel, Genea-Logik (2006); Staffan Müller-Wille and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, A Cultural History of Heredity (2012)). Key issues relating to these and other strands of inquiry were reviewed at an initial workshop hosted by the collaboration partners in London in March 2014. The conference in April 2015 is intended to provide an opportunity to explore certain of those issues more closely, homing in particularly on the processes and potentials of mediation between biological science and literature, and to extend the inquiry to countries beyond the German-speaking world. The themes on which the organisers particularly wish to invite contributions are these:

  • What kinds of relationship do we see between the discourses of biological science and literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Are there senses in which we find them sharing models, metaphors, and elements of each other’s discourse?
  • How are developments in biological and medical thinking reflected in the print media of the time, both verbally and visually?
  • How are the emerging discourses of sexology and psychopathology reflected in the literary writing of this period, and what insights arise from comparisons between writings of the early 20th century and the critical perspectives of the present day (e.g. gender theory)?
  • How do the developments in biological thinking inform the world-views and ethical values of western societies in the period, and what evidence of this do we find in literary and other writings?
  • To what extent do we find the discourse of German writings on biological issues taken up and developed in other European languages, and with what implications?

Proposals (no more than 500 words please) should be sent to by 30 November 2014.

Institute of Art and Ideas video debate.

According to Richard Dawkins 'Science is poetic, ought to be poetic and has much to learn from poets'. Can poetry really contribute to the progress of science or is the poet's eye 'in fine frenzy rolling' no more than an imaginative flourish?

Mathematician and game theorist Ken Binmore, moral philosopher Mary Midgley, and award-winning poet, novelist and great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin Ruth Padel, examine the nature of science and art.

Professor Jay Labinger (California Institute of Technology) is visiting the Oxford English Faculty to speak on "Metaphoric vs. Literal Uses of Science: Entropy as Time's (Double-Headed) Arrow in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and other Recent Literature". His talk will be at 2 p.m. in the Faculty Senior Common Room on 20 October.

Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies at Birkbeck
Birkbeck College, University of London
July 16-18, 2015
Deadline: January 9, 2015

“The Arts and Feeling in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture”

Keynote Speakers: Professor Caroline Arscott (Courtauld Institute of Art, London); Professor Tim Barringer (Yale University); Meaghan Clarke (University of Sussex); Professor Kate Flint (University of Southern California); Professor Michael Hatt (University of Warwick); Professor Jonah Siegel (Rutgers); Alison Smith (Tate Britain)

“She saw no, not saw, but felt through and through a picture; she bestowed upon it all the warmth and richness of a woman’s sympathy; not by any intellectual effort, but by this strength of heart, and this guiding light of sympathy…” (Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1860)

This conference will explore the ways in which nineteenth-century authors, artists, sculptors, musicians and composers imagined and represented emotion and how writers and critics conceptualized the emotional aspects of aesthetic response. How did Victorian artists represent feeling and how were these feelings aestheticized? What rhetorical strategies did Victorian writers use to figure aesthetic response? What expressive codes and conventions were familiar to the Victorians? Which nineteenth-century scientific developments affected artistic production and what impact did these have on affective reactions?

The conference will consider the historically specific ways in which feeling is discussed in aesthetic discourse. It will also, however, encourage reflection about the limits of an historicist approach for understanding the emotions at play in nineteenth-century aesthetic response and the possibility of alternative methodologies for understanding the relation between feeling and the arts.

Possible topics might include:

Languages of emotion (affect; feeling; sympathy; empathy; sentimentality)
Theories of feeling (psychologists; art critics; philosophers; authors)
The arousal of specific emotions (pain; joy; anger; grief; tenderness; anxiety; disgust) and the aestheticisation of the emotions
The physiology and psychology of aesthetic perception (Physiological aesthetics; empathy; the nervous system; head v. heart)
The arts and religious feeling (biblical painting; sacred music)
Artists, museum visitors and concert-goers in fiction
The gendering of aesthetic response
The codification of artistic expression
Museum Feelings (boredom; fatigue; the museum as a site of affect; the regulation of feeling)
Curating feeling
The art of feeling(how to feel the right thing in response to music, art, sculpture)
Feeling and touch
The role of emotion in ekphrasis; translating feeling
Proposals of up to 400 words should be sent to Dr. Vicky Mills at by January 9, 2015. Please also attach a brief biographical note. Proposals for panels of three papers are also welcome, and should be accompanied by a brief (one-page) panel justification.

For more information visit:

Sunday 28 September, 2pm

Double the Stars, a historical novel based on the life and adventures of astronomer Caroline Herschel, written by Kelley Swain (poet and former BSLS Secretary), will be being launched in the Octagon Room of Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London! All welcome – click here for details.

The reading group on Pseudo/Sciences of the Long Nineteenth Century is a collaborative venture between Newcastle University and the Literary and Philosophical Society. The group is open to scholars, students and researchers as well as members of the public with an interest in nineteenth-century science, pseudoscience and literature. For each session we read a combination of primary and critical material which is introduced by an invited guest. Topics range from phrenology and mesmerism to hysteria and Freudian psychoanalysis, from transcendental fiction, pseudoscience in ghost stories to the impact of scientific discoveries on art and literature. The group welcomes expression of interest from people who would like to present readings at one of the sessions.

The 2014-2015 programme begins on Monday 13 October when Dr Stacy Gillis from Newcastle University School of English will be considering ‘Sexual Desire, Transcendence and the Edwardian Novel’. Readings will be posted on the website where you will also find more information about the group and forthcoming events.

The tenth annual conference of the British Society for Literature and Science will take place at the University of Liverpool, on 16-18 April 2015. Keynote talks will be given by Professor Keith Barnham (Imperial College London), Dr Patricia Fara (University of Cambridge), and Dr Claire Preston (Queen Mary University of London).

The BSLS invites proposals for twenty-minute papers, or panels of three papers, on any subjects within the field of literature and science. In addition, ‘flash talks’ of up to 7 minutes on any topic are invited for a special plenary session. Other formats are also welcomed, but please email your suggestion to the organisers (via for consideration, well in advance of the submission deadline.

This year the organisers would particularly welcome proposals addressing the themes of light, optics, vision and colour, and proposals for papers, panels or roundtables on engaging the public with literature and science research. However, the BSLS remains committed to supporting and showcasing work on all aspects of literature – including comparative literature and European and world literatures – and science, medicine and technology.

Proposals of no more than 250 words, together with the name and institutional affiliation of the speaker, and a biographical note of around 50 words, should be sent in the body of messages (not in attachments) to Proposals for panels should include a separate proposal and biographical note for each paper. The closing date for submissions is Friday 5 December 2014.

The conference fee will be waived for two graduate students in exchange for written reports on the conference, to be published in the BSLS Newsletter. If you are interested in being selected for one of these awards, please mention this when sending in your proposal. To qualify you will need to be registered for a postgraduate degree at the time of the conference.

Accommodation: please note that those attending the conference will need to make their own arrangements for accommodation. Information on local hotels will be made available soon on the forthcoming conference website.

Membership: conference delegates will need to register as members of the BSLS (annual membership: £25 waged/ £10 unwaged). It will be possible to join the BSLS when registering for the conference online.

For further information and updates about the conference, please contact Greg Lynall ( A conference website will be available in due course.

As part of this year's Oxford Open Doors programme, BSLS Chair John Holmes will be giving a talk explaining how the Pre-Raphaelites became involved in the design of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in the 1850s, and how the Museum itself encapsulates in stone, iron, and glass its own scientific conception of the truth of the natural world. The talk will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday 13th September at the Museum. The event is free, but you can reserve a seat by through this website.

Location: Progress Theatre, the Mount, off Christchurch Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5HL  (

Performance dates: September 8th to 13th, 7.30pm (doors at 7pm)

**Please note there will be a gala reception on the final night, where ticket-holders will enjoy a wine and canapé reception, followed by a Conversation with the playwright Juliet Aykroyd, – start time 5.30pm, doors at 5pm. Tickets £20 (limited numbers).**

Info no: 0118 384 2195

Tickets: £10/£8 conc
Phone booking: 0333 666 3366
(Please note there is a booking fee)


One was the father of evolution; the other the father of meteorology. Both men changed the world - but while one man is revered, the other is forgotten.

Set during the voyage of the Beagle and in later years, Darwin & FitzRoy plots the friendship and tension between Charles Darwin and the Beagle's captain, Robert FitzRoy. Both men of science and men of faith, Juliet Aykroyd's witty and poignant play charts the relationship between two giants of modern science on their celebrated voyage around the world, and catalogues the demons besetting both.

Darwin & FitzRoy is a joint production between Progress Theatre and WAM, the Festival of Weather, Arts and Music.

Commissioned by Lord Hunt, ex-director Director General and Chief Executive of the British Meteorological Office, for a one‐off performance on the 150th anniversary of the publication in 1859 of Darwin's seminal work On the Origin of Species, Progress Theatre is proud to be performing the play as the centrepiece of the week.

Uniquely, every performance of this play will be preceded by an event exploring FitzRoy's life, life scientific under sail, the music inspired by the Sea and the use of old ship's logs in modern climate research. Accompanying the play and the events will be an exhibition of weather-inspired art by two Reading artists, Julia Rogers and Roxana Tohaneanu-Shields.

This production of DARWIN & FITZROY is by special arrangement with Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. (

WAM events Sept 8-13 at Progress Theatre

Monday 8th September: Admiral FitzRoy, Founder of the Met Office
FitzRoy expert Gordon Tripp introduces Robert FitzRoy and examines his role as the Founder of the modern Met Office
Tuesday 9th September: Science at Sea and Under Sail
Prof. Tony Rice brings us as close as we can probably stomach to what it meant to be a scientist aboard a sailing ship
Wednesday 10th September: Sea Fever
Songs of the sea and inspired by the sea, performed by singer Pierrette Thomet and guitarist Gerard Cousins
Thursday 11th September: oldWeather - New Science
Dr Philip Brohan of the Met Office talks about his citizen science project oldWeather, digitising old ships' logs - such as the Beagle log
Friday 12th September: Faith in Science
Join Prof Brian Golding OBE of the Met Office as he considers the thorny issue of faith and its meaning in science
Saturday 13th September: Sea Fever and Gala Reception
A drinks and nibbles reception featuring Juliet Aykroyd, author of Darwin & FitzRoy.
This will be followed by Sea Fever, songs of the sea and inspired by the sea, performed by singer Pierrette Thomet and guitarist Gerard Cousins, and the play.
A limited number of tickets are available which will include drinks and canapes, "meet the playwright", Sea Fever and the play.



A One Day Interdisciplinary Conference at the University of Warwick.

With Keynote Addresses from Dr. Charlotte Sleigh and Dr. Kate Tunstall

Saturday 7th March 2015

There are around 800,000 species of insect. From the honey on our breakfast cereal, lice infesting our hair to cockroaches invading our homes: insects are, and always have been, implicated in our everyday lives. Insects were fashioned into jewellery, imprisoned in amber, eaten, dissected, collected, revered, reviled and fictionalised. From the sacred scarabs of Ancient Egypt, or the Renaissance dung-beetles used to symbolise Jesus Christ, to our modern systems of pest control, insect-human relations have been subject, and contributed, to the forces of human history. Our conference proposes to examine the pre-eminence of invertebrate life in the period 1700-1900, including literary, historical, linguistic and scientific perspectives. This subject offers a large scope for theoretical engagement, challenging conventional ways of thinking about human history and culture. In line with developments in the burgeoning field of animal studies and more generally in the environmental humanities, invertebrates have a lot to teach about some of the most burning questions facing scholarship today: what can these seemingly insignificant creatures tell us about man’s place in ‘nature’? What does it mean that the only species more successful than humans in colonising the planet are also those considered the most disgusting? This conference seeks to showcase the exciting research being carried out by scholars from diverse fields on the vast topic of insects and other invertebrate animals. It will be of relevance to, not just those working directly with invertebrates, but also to those carrying out projects that intersect, however briefly, with these concerns. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

- Invertebrates in literatures (insects as metaphors; as teaching tools)
- Insect ‘economy’ / insects and economy (e.g. in advertising)
- Natural History (taxonomic problems, collecting/collections, microscopy)
- Origins and spontaneous generation
- Disease (vectorism, book-worms, tooth-worms, death, medicine)
- Alternative foodsources, sustainability and eco-criticism
- Flea circuses, insects and performance
- Insect spaces (Uexkuell’s concept of Umwelt)
- The social lives of insects
- Insects as political criticisms

The organisers invite abstracts of 250 words for 20 minute papers. Abstracts, along with a short biography, should be sent to by 19th December 2014.

For further information please visit:

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