Science and Performance Conference

The Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University presents

Imagineers in Circus and Science: Scientific knowledge and creative imagination

Tuesday 3 - Thursday 5 April 2018


Scientists seek to investigate the ways in which nature works and to ask how humanity can best comprehend different aspects of the universe. By challenging conventional wisdom, scientists can act as rebels against the status quo and common sense. In cultural and fictional contexts, they may appear and behave like artists: creative, skilled craftsmen; ‘imagineers’ and bewildering performers. These fictional scientists do not merely domesticate the unknown and the uncanny, they also invent and stage it.

One of the most productive breeding grounds for the invention, amalgamation, and staging of scientific knowledge and creative imagination has been the circus and related cultural phenomena, such as freakshows, carnivals, and 19th-century ‘scientific’ museums. These sensational, kaleidoscopic institutions present(ed) manifold wondrous exhibits, including automatons, wax figures, and mummies, but they also presented scientific discoveries. Barnum’s American Museum, for example, made hundreds of previously unseen specimens accessible to a broad audience.

Exhibitions and shows of this type united science with mystery, acted as mediators of knowledge, and were often the primary public source of information about the current state of scientific research. They are reminders that science and its pursuits are matters of perspective, and the product and producer of good stories. What do these stories tell us about the “two cultures” of the humanities and science?

Conference speakers

  • Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Emory University) (Provisional)
  • Professor Jane Goodall (University of Western Sydney)
  • Professor Richard Weihe (Accademia Teatro Dimitri/SUPSI Verscio, Switzerland)

Call for papers

We welcome proposals for individual, 20-minute papers addressing any aspect of science and the circus (and related phenomena) including:

  • Cultural and literary studies
  • Circus studies, Theatre and performance studies
  • Indigenous literatures from around the world and their relation to science and performance
  • Posthumanism
  • Zoopoetics, animal art and critical animal studies
  • Intersections of aesthetic and scientific treatments of cultural issues
  • Imaginaries of technology and performance (e.g. in films)
  • Museology, and applied art and science

While this conference is concerned primarily with culture and literature, we envisage it as a multi-disciplinary event and will welcome proposals from any disciplinary perspective.

The conference will be held at the Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, from the 3rd to the 5th of April, 2018. Please submit an abstract (200 words max.) and a brief bio (100 words max.) as Word documents by 31 July 2017 to the conference convenor, Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens, at

Accepted papers will be announced by 1 September 2017. Selected papers from the conference will be published in a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal.


For inquiries about the conference, please email Dr Jürgens or