December 2015

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In Spring Term 2016 there will be two seminars in the Oxford University series on Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century at St Anne’s College. Drinks will be served after each seminar and all are welcome.


Wednesday 3 February 2016 (Week 3)

Dr Sam Alberti, Director of Museums and Archives, Royal College of Surgeons of England

Casting no doubt: Plaster Heads in Victorian/Edwardian Science and Medicine

Science and medicine rely on extra-textual objects. From within the array of instruments, models, specimens and other material culture this paper will focus on a specific medium (plaster of Paris casts) and a specific anatomy (the human head). Examples from medicine, anthropology and anatomy will illustrate the particularities of the process of casting, the relationships between interior and exterior, between life and death. Museum stores to this day hold thousands of these widely reproduced and circulated casts, their quantity bewildering, their status ambiguous. Unpacking their significance as clinical and scientific records in the decades around 1900 is revealing.

5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College


Wednesday 17 February 2016 (Week 5)

Graeme Gooday, Professor of History of Science and Technology, University of Leeds

Medical and technological limits: exploiting, evaluating and alleviating adult hearing loss in Britain up to the Great War.

While early 19th century otologists claimed they could ‘cure’ most categories of deafness, by the early twentieth century such boasts were more characteristic of opportunist mail order advertisers. Victorian middle class people who experienced significant auditory loss in adulthood could thus not expect much assistance from physicians in attempting to sustain life among the hearing. Some followed Harriet Martineau’s example and declared their ‘deafness’ publicly by sporting a hearing trumpet to aid conversation. The more self-conscious opted for hearing assistance discreetly disguised in, for example, a ladies’ bonnet or a gentleman’s top hat. Those untroubled by myopia could instead learn lip-reading, or occasionally hand signing. These purported ‘solutions’ to hearing loss were much debated alongside many other aspects of deafness in the Deaf Chronicle founded in 1889, and in its successor periodicals.

5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College


For more information, visit

Between fact and fiction: climate change fiction

Fiction Meets Science Workshop

Hanse Wissenschaftskolleg, Delmenhorst, Germany

22 - 23 April 2016



Since global warming seems, almost by definition, hard to imagine (after all, it’s never happened before) it gets short shrift. (…) And here science can take us only so far. The scientists have done their job – they’ve issued every possible warning, flashed every red light. Now it’s time for the (…) artists, whose role is to help us understand what things feel like.

-- Bill McKibben, Introduction to I’m with the Bears, p.3

Novels and short stories that depict research on climate change and/or its ecological and social ramifications have been gaining in prominence. Examples are Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow, Ian McEwan’s Solar, Jeannette Winterson’s The Stone Gods, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital Trilogy. In the U.S. in recent years, fiction that deals with climate change is being discussed in the media under the label “cli-fi” (climate fiction) and billed as a genre somewhere between the new lab-lit genre and science fiction. Cli-fi is moving into university curriculums and generating controversial debates about the function of literature and art in the societal reaction to climate change challenges.

From a sociological perspective, we are interested not so much in the question of literary classification as in the (self-)positioning of cli-fi as a boundary genre that picks up literary, scientific, political, and general societal discourses and articulates them in a new way. The self-representations of authors as well as the comments by reviewers in scientific and literary media reveal a literature that actually aims to elucidate scientific knowledge and even attempts to inspire readers to political action. Thus cli-fi serves as a cultural focal point for re-imagining the future socio-ecological consequences of global warming.

On the one hand, cli-fi exhibits patterns typical of any socially engaged fiction, taking socially significant topics and translating them into individualized, emotionally affecting stories in order to evoke such feelings as compassion or indignation. But cli-fi also dramatizes scientific insights that would otherwise remain within the specialized discourses of scientific disciplines or would become accessible to a wider audience only via classical forms of science communication (i.e. science journalism or popular non-fiction). Can these aspects of clif-fi play a role in understandings of science and its place in society, and if so how? This question has, to date, received little scholarly attention.

Cli-fi often transcends the traditional divide between the sphere of facts (science) and the sphere of fiction (literature/art). Whereas “weather” is directly perceivable, climate – and even more so processes of climate change spanning decades and centuries – is only conceivable through forms of narrative. This narrative quality of climate takes on even more significance when it comes to describing the future ramifications of global warming, which is an essential part of climate change debates. Here, both scientists and literary writers have to rely on fictional narratives in order to project the social and ecological consequences of climate change into the future. Therefore, some scientists have themselves switched to fictional modes of narrative—in at least one case, explicitly so (Oreskes/Conway 2014: The Collapse of Western Civilization)--in order to describe the consequences of climate change on the basis on currently known facts. What sort of crossover is there between these “scientific” and “artistic” fictions, and what similarities and differences do we see, both in the texts themselves and in their effects on readers?

With these events and questions as focal point, this workshop shall address the following issues (the list is open to further proposals):

  • How do literary narratives influence societal perceptions of climate change (or what is their potential for doing so)? What distinguishes the fictional mediation of scientific knowledge from other forms of science communication?
  • What is the position of cli-fi in literary, scientific, and public discourses? How is this position perceived or promoted by the authors, and how is it perceived in different contexts?
  • How is cli-fi related to debates that regard climate change as a “grand challenge“ of contemporary society?
  • Which narrative and aesthetic strategies are pursued in the literary depiction of climate change? How do such strategies affect non-literary discourses on the future of society?
  • Are factual and fictional aspects of the climate change discourse reframed by cli-fi? How are the scientific and literary discourses related?

Submissions: Abstracts of up to 350 words should be sent to before January 10, 2016. Please include (1) your name, (2) affiliation and (3) email address. In order to encourage discussion and brainstorming about this new topic, the workshop format will be relatively small and intimate, with active participation limited to 30-35.

Workshop organization:

Jr.-Prof. Dr. Sina Farzin (University of Hamburg)

Emanuel Herold, MA (University of Bremen)

This workshop is part of the Fiction Meets Science research program. For further information see

Jules Verne workshop

The Commission on Science and Literature are holding a workshop on Jules Verne, his science and his science fiction at the National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, on 17-18 December 2015. To see the full programme, click below:

Programme Verne final

For more details, please contact the Chair of the Commission George Vlahakis (

Reviews that have appeared on the British Society for Literature and Science website in November 2015

A list of books for which we are currently seeking reviewers can be found here.

Please email Gavin Budge on <> if you would like to propose a book for review  - anything published from 2010 onwards will be considered.

This is a list of books that are currently in the process of being reviewed.

A list of books that have already been reviewed on the British Society for Literature and Science website can be found here.


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