April 2020

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The materials from our 2020 conference, which was moved online after the pandemic forced us to cancel the Sheffield event, have now been taken down. This was always the plan: the exec wanted members to be able to access materials at their own pace, but we also wanted to preserve some of the ephemerality of an in-person meeting. Contributors, too, wanted to feel confident sharing work in progress.

During the two weeks the conference was online, there were 894 visits to the site, peaking on April 17th - the day we hosted our online AGM and live keynote from Martin Willis. Video presentations (not including Martin's) were viewed a total of 319 times during this period. These numbers give only a vague sense of how many people were actually using the site, but at the very least they suggest that a healthy number of the c.110 prospective delegates to Sheffield visited at least fleetingly - and that some of the wider membership, who were not planning to travel to Sheffield, have also taken advantage. We hope that the papers, discussions, and live events - poor substitutes for the real event - were nonetheless useful and stimulating.

Our thanks are due to the thirty-six delegates who prepared and sent in presentations against a background of global turmoil; to Martin Willis for delivering a graceful keynote under pressure; to the University of Liverpool for hosting our Teams discussions; and, of course, to the organising team at Sheffield, led by Katherine Ebury and Helena Ifill. The programme of the conference-which-never-was is here, and the programme of our online offerings can be read here.

Delegates who did not send presentations in - please hold on to your abstracts! The BSLS is planning future ways of giving you a platform for your research, possibly this winter. The BSLS remains committed to its annual meeting, and the 2021 gathering at Edinburgh Napier is currently being planned. But we have also been delighted by the uptake of the digital conference, and are thinking about ways for our future events to incorporate more online elements.

Over the next few months, I will be assembling ideas about what the society could offer to members via its site and its vimeo channel, thinking both about enhancing our research events and adding separate content. Anyone who wants to contribute to this thought process is encouraged to contact me!

Will Tattersdill
Communications Secretary

Following our brief announcement at the BSLS conference AGM last week, we are now delighted to announce that we have appointed three new Assistant Review Editors:

Iro Fillippaki (Johns Hopkins), who will have a responsibility for US presses, Joan Passey (Bristol) to assist with UK publications, and Leonie Rowland (Manchester Metropolitan) for continental European & Australasian Presses.

If you have any queries about reviews, please email bslsreviews@gmail.com

The number of applications, which were all excellent, far exceeded our expectations – and we are thrilled to see so much enthusiasm for participation in the BSLS. DO keep an eye out for positions for the executive committee which will become vacant in 2021!

The winner of the BSLS Book Prize for 2019 was announced yesterday at the Society's online conference: it is Gerard Passannante's Catastrophizing: Materialism and the Making of Disaster (University of Chicago Press)

Gerard Passannante’s timely study brings together literature, visual art, and the history of science to provide rich insights into catastrophic thinking and the history of materialist thought. His accounts of analogy and of the juxtaposition of incompatible scales will be stimulating to readers working across a wide range of periods. His key idea is that the image of disaster renders the imperceptible perceptible. The book takes in Lucretian materialism, Leonardo da Vinci, John Donne, the idea of interpretation ‘anything out of anything’ (quidlibet ex quolibet), Shakespeare, Robert Hooke and microscopes, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and – in a suggestive Afterword – our current climate crisis. It has foundations of precise historical scholarship, but is informed by a wider range of historical knowledge, such that Sergei Eisenstein can inform a discussion of Leonardo da Vinci, or Samuel Beckett provides the opening to a chapter on Shakespeare.

Further details of the book prize, and of past winners and shortlisted titles, are given here.

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In place of the Sheffield conference, which was to have started today, we have collected a large number of presentations onto a special part of the website. You can access the confauxrence here.

Please note that you must be logged in for this link to work, and that the materials will be viewable only until April 30th.

On the site you'll find:

  • 35 presentations, loosely divided into 11 theme areas. Some are videos, some are transcripts, and some are narrated PowerPoint files.
  • Details of our two live events (including a streamed keynote this Friday, 17th).
  • Publisher links, including discounts and free trials for BSLS members.

The live and discussion elements of the conference use Microsoft Teams. You should already have received an email from Greg Lynall, the society's Chair, about how to access Teams.

We understand that this provision will only be an echo of the meeting we had all planned for, but we hope it will be better than nothing! If you have any problems accessing the material, contact the communications secretary.

We hope all members are safe and well at this uncertain time.

It was a huge disappointment to the Society not to be staging its annual conference in Sheffield 15-17th April, and we were especially sad for this year’s organizers, Dr Katherine Ebury and Dr Helena Ifill, who we thank once again for their hard work over many months.

We are aware that our members have many commitments and concerns at this present time, but even so we thought it appropriate to try to do something which would replace the annual conference in the best way we could, given the circumstances and the short notice.

The executive committee has therefore decided to host an online version of the conference from Wednesday 15th April, on the BSLS website, and with a couple of live events via Microsoft Teams.

Speakers have been encouraged to make short videos of their presentations, or PowerPoints with audio narration, or pdfs, and they will be placed in the Members section of the website, and ready to view from Wednesday 15th.

We encourage members to leave comments and questions on each paper in the Members section, and also to tweet responses, using the hashtag #bsls2020 (and any handles or unique hashtags mentioned in the papers themselves).

The videos and pdfs will be made available until the end of April (at least in the first instance), but we hope delegates will view as many of them as possible 15-17th April, to emulate the immediacy of a face to face conference.

To open the conference formally, there will be a short live video stream Welcome via Microsoft Teams at 3pm BST on Wednesday 15th April. We urge everyone to join this event, to bring us all together and as a way of troubleshooting the platform.

At 3pm BST on Friday 17th, the Society will use Microsoft Teams to stream its AGM and one of the planned keynote talks, from Professor Martin Willis (thank you so much for agreeing to do this Martin!). We hope that the timing of this synchronous element will enable our international members to participate.

A week before the conference, all members should receive an email invitation from me (Greg Lynall) to join the BSLS2020 Microsoft Teams site, hosted by the University of Liverpool. You should download and install the MS Teams app, and log in to the Teams site, prior to Wednesday 15th. You will see ‘Welcome’ and ‘AGM and Keynote’ channels where those separate meetings will be held – please ‘Join’ the meetings, which will start at 3pm precisely on 15th and 17th. There are plenty of online guides to installing and troubleshooting MS Teams should you encounter any problems.

It is possible that the 2020 Winter Symposium will serve as a supplementary replacement to our annual conference, but it is too early to confirm this, or to say whether this will be hosted by a UK HE institution or run online. Nevertheless, we hope that hosting a virtual version of the annual conference on the original dates will allow our international members to be involved, whatever is eventually decided regarding the Winter Symposium.

The BSLS executive committee hopes that members will be able to embrace this alternative way for us to come together, and we look forward to reading your comments and seeing you over MS Teams very soon.

Best wishes, and take care,
Greg Lynall (BSLS Chair)

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