July 2015

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The BSLS are pleased to announce that this year's winner of the essay prize jointly awarded with the Journal of Literature and Science is Maria Avxentevskaya's essay titled 'The Spiritual Optics of Narrative: John Wilkins's Popularization of Copernicanism'.

We offer our many congratulations to Maria.

The judging panel wrote: "This a thoroughly convincing and exceptionally well-argued essay that is a deserving winner of the 2015 prize. The reading of Wilkins’s Discovery is consistently illuminating as an account of the logic of early modern scientific argument and its appeal to probability according to moral rather than empirical authority. The analysis is meticulous and builds up to an impressively coherent picture. The move at the end of the essay to show how Wilkins remains concerned to establish the truth of the physical world, and not simply to win the rhetorical argument, is an important and salutary reminder that we have to avoid imposing our own standards on early modern modes of argument, as well as grounding Wilkins’s own shift to the position of a founder of the Royal Society. The essay combines these acutely historicized arguments with fine close reading to produce a work of real intellectual achievement."

As in previous years the level of competition was high, with some extremely good essays on a range of literature and science topics submitted for consideration. The judges were impressed by the vitality of the work and by the obvious strength of the field.

Maria's essay will appear in one of the next issues of the Journal of Literature and Science: www.literatureandscience.org 

The University of Roehampton will be holding a colloquium on Erasmus and Charles Darwin on Friday 4th September. To see the full programme and to register, click here. There is a discount on the registration fee for members of the BSLS.

Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities

As part of the Wellcome Trust funded project 'Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities', the BMJ Group journal Medical Humanities will be publishing a special issue.

We invite papers of broad interest to an international readership of medical humanities scholars and practising clinicians on the topic 'Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities'.

Science fiction is a fertile ground for the imagining of biomedical advances. Technologies such as cloning, prosthetics, and rejuvenation are frequently encountered in science-fiction stories. Science fiction also offers alternative ideals of health and wellbeing, and imagines new forms of disease and suffering. The special issue seeks papers that explore issues of health, illness, and medicine in science-fiction narratives within a variety of media (written word, graphic novel, theatre, dance, film and television, etc.).

We are also particularly interested in articles that explore the biomedical 'technoscientific imaginary': the culturally-embedded imagining of futures enabled by technoscientific innovation. We especially welcome papers that explore science-fiction tropes, motifs, and narratives within medical and health-related discourses, practices, and institutions. The question - how does the biomedical technoscientific imaginary permeate the everyday and expert worlds of modern medicine and healthcare? - may be a useful prompt for potential authors.

For further details on call and project

Twitter @scifimedhums
Email: arts-scifimedhums@glasgow.ac.uk

Texts and Contexts: The Cultural Legacies of Ada Lovelace

“That brain of mine is more than merely mortal; as time will show.”

A workshop for graduate students and early career researchers

Tuesday 8th December 2015

Mathematics Institute and St Anne’s College, Oxford


The mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), daughter of poet Lord Byron, is celebrated as a pioneer of computer science. The notes she added to her translation of Luigi Menabrea’s paper on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine (1843) are considered to contain a prototype computer program. During her short life, Lovelace not only contributed original ideas to the plans for this early computer; she also imagined wider possibilities for the engine, such as its application to music, and meditated on its limitations. Lovelace leaves a legacy not just as a computer scientist, but also as a muse for literary writers, a model to help us understand the role of women in science in the nineteenth century, and an inspiration for neo-Victorian and steampunk traditions.


As part of the University of Oxford’s celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of Lovelace’s birth, this one-day workshop will bring together graduates and early career researchers to discuss the varied cultural legacies of this extraordinary mathematician. The day will feature an expert panel including graphic novelist Sydney Padua and biographer Richard Holmes.


The day will conclude with a reception and buffet when there will be opportunities to meet with speakers from the Ada Lovelace 200 Symposium, which will also take place in the Mathematics Institute on the following two days (9th-10th December). Researchers from all disciplines are invited to submit proposals for papers on the influences of Lovelace’s work, on topics including, but not limited to, literature, history, mathematics, music, visual art, and computer science. This might include:


  • Lovelace’s place in the study of the history of science.
  • Lovelace and women in science in the nineteenth century
  • Early nineteenth-century scientific networks, including Lovelace’s relationship with such individuals as Charles Babbage and Mary Somerville.
  • Lovelace and discussions about the role of the imagination in scientific practice in the nineteenth century.
  • Lovelace as translator and commentator.
  • Mathematics and music, and the musical possibilities Lovelace envisaged for Babbage’s engine.
  • Lovelace’s own textual legacies, such as her correspondence, childhood exercises and mathematical notes held in the Bodleian.
  • Lovelace’s technological legacies, from her seminal work on Babbage’s Analytical Engine to her impact on computer programming today.
  • Lovelace’s role in the steampunk tradition, from Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine to Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, and neo-Victorian fashion.
  • Efforts and activities to commemorate and memorialise Lovelace, from the recent Google Doodle to the annual Ada Lovelace Day.


Proposals, not exceeding 250 words, for 15-minute papers should be submitted to adalovelaceworkshop@ell.ox.ac.ukby 5pm, Friday 28th August 2015. Those who are accepted to speak at this graduate workshop will also be offered free registration for the Ada Lovelace 200 Symposium taking place on the following two days. For more information, please visit https://adalovelaceworkshop.wordpress.com.