Past Small Grant Awards: Reports


Gemma Curto, The University of Sheffield, Research Stay at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.

As a visiting doctoral student at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich this July, I have had the opportunity, through funding from the BSLS and my department, to work on my research project, which comes from a thesis chapter that explores how pesticides and vegetation growth were seen in Rachel Carson’s and in Margaret Atwood’s works (from Surfacing and Survival [1972] to Oryx and Crake[2003] and The Year of the Flood [2009]). Having access to their library, which houses a one-of-a-kind collection in the environmental humanities has been extremely helpful to start this project. As well as working on my research, I have made the most of this exciting opportunity, attending weekly Works-in-Progress forums, a lunchtime colloquium, and even German lessons. I’ve discussed my research with the Center Director, Prof. Dr. Christof Mauch, and I have presented my work at the Synergic Symposium. This Symposium ended in a performance in which I played the keyboards and Huiying Ng (who is a current doctoral candidate) and Olusegun Stephen Titus sang, premiering some of music in the book entitled, ‘African Ecomusicology: Blood and Oil’. The feedback I received from fellows and PhD candidates after sharing my work was very positive, and I had some interesting questions that have inspired me to develop some aspects of my work further. It has been an incredible experience to be able to be surrounded by such a welcoming group of scholars and to be able to share research within the interdisciplinary fields of literature and science and environmental humanities.


Catherine Charlwood (Swansea University / University of Liverpool) and Laura Ludtke (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford), for LitSciPod: The Literature and Science Podcast series 2 (awarded £300).

The second series of LitSciPod: The Literature and Science Podcast continues the work we began in the first series of engaging a more general audience in ideas, research, and projects from the field of literature and science. However, as the scale of global pandemic became apparent, this work became more important, as the intersection between literature and science offersan important and unique response to and, indeed, respite from COVID-19.

We were incredibly fortunate to receive a BSLS small grant to aid the travel expenses incurred by running LitSciPod. Weare committing to interviewing in-person where possible, as this produces the best quality of interview. We had intended travel to:

  • the Science Museum (London), to interview scholars working on modernist science and collaborating with museums

  • Cardiff University, to interview scholars working on ScienceHumanities,

  • the University of Glasgow, to interview scholars working on the relationships between literature, science, medicine and maths, and

  • the University of Strathclyde, to interview scholars working on nineteenth-century working class engagement with literary and scientific ideas

However, plans changed. Our last in-person interview happened in Oxford, and as such we have used but little of our travel expenses funding (though Catherine is still extremely grateful of the train fare!).

The switch to interviewing remotely rather than in person may have put certain interviews on hold for the foreseeable future, but it has enabled the scope of the podcast to become more international and to feature guest scholars from the US (Dr Kari Nixon) and Canada (Dr Robert Engen). This has widened our listening audience and gained a greater North American awareness of the UK research happening in literature and science and vice versa. Ever keen to highlight the relevance of literature and science research, Series 2 makes more of the links between literature, science, and medicine, as well as the overlap for some scholarship between literature and science and medical humanities.

Undeterred by the pandemic, the second series of LitSciPod has dropped five episodes thus far. In this series, we go further into both literary and scientific history; interviewing features early modernist Dr Olivia Smith (University of Oxford) and Romanticist Prof Sharon Ruston (Lancaster University). Our commitment to showcasing younger scholars has continued with interviewing Dr Emilie Taylor-Pirie, who—since our interview—has found out she has been awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship for a research project on Ronald Ross.

Follow @LitSciPod on Twitter.


Jerome de Groot (University of Manchester), for Genetics and Creativity: Writing, Identity and Heritage (awarded £300).

This was postponed due to the pandemic. It was scheduled to include workshops on writing poetry, as well as poet Michael Symons Roberts talking about genetics and creativity (and reading his poems). The afternoon was also to feature the MRI’s printed copy of the Human Genome and a workshop given by the Manchester Human Genome’s ‘writer in residence’

Jordan Kistler (Keele University), for 'Labelling the Museum' outreach event (awarded £400).

‘Labelling the Museum’ (generously funded by the Keele Institute for Social Inclusion and the BSLS) brought sixth form students to the Potteries Museum and Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent to explore museum design and education.

Museum labels might strike the average sixth former as a boring topic, but I wanted to draw the students’ attention to the ways in which labels affect who can use collections and how collections are understood. Students participated in activities that challenged them to think about the strategies employed by museums to present information, and the opportunities available to ‘open up’ museums to new voices and new perspectives—including their own.

The project drew on the expertise of a number of colleagues across Keele University, in order to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to the multi-disciplinary museum (the Potteries collection includes local history, natural history, ceramics, fine art, design, and archaeology). Rachel Frigot, a lecturer in the school of medicine and a trained palaeontologist, introduced students to methods of species classification and then asked them to classify fantasy animals, from Lewis Carroll’s jabberwocky to Borges’ squonk. Linda Anagu, a doctoral student in life sciences, asked students to redesign the natural history gallery to tell the story of the climate crisis. Students, who had considered the museum to be about the past, saw how these collections could address the present and the future. Addressing such a pressing and contentious issue also forced the students to consider how museums can mobilize emotions as well as information. Stephen Seabridge (Stoke-on-Trent’s poet laureate) took this one step further in his poetry workshop. The students wrote alternate labels for the collection, which recorded how the objects made the students feel, but also how the objects themselves might feel, collected and on display. Finally, Yaar Dagan, a doctoral student in Law, confronted students with museum ethics. They put the ivory collection on trial, arguing for and against displaying these controversial objects (notcurrently on exhibit at the Potteries). The defence suggested that the items could be re-narrativized to tell environmental stories, while the prosecution countered that stories of poaching and human rights violations could be told throughphotographs, doing away with the need for the objects entirely. Beyond ethics, then, these teams debated the very natureof the museum—do we even need objects to tell stories?

Arthur Rose and Daniel Finch-Race (University of Bristol), for the 'Enviro-Medical Approaches to Modern Francophone Culture', 10-11 May 2019 (awarded £400).

Thanks to the support of the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the University of London (@IMLR_News), the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France (@asmcf), the British Society for Literature and Science(@TheBSLS), and the Centre for Environmental Humanities at the University of Bristol (@UoBrisCEH), we were able to hold a workshop for early career researchers working on French and Francophone contexts (day one), followed by a widening participation event for teachers and A-Level students (day two). Day one involved the speakers and four participants, which provedto be advantageous for focussed discussion of the papers as work-in-progress for a forthcoming special issue edited by DanielFinch- Race, which will be the primary academic publication from the event. On day two, four workshops were delivered to nine teachers and A-Level learners: close readings of literary texts (session one) and films (session three) bracketed parallel workshops on translation (session two).

Day one began with a panel on nineteenth-century French texts. James Illingworth approached George Sand’s volcanicimagery as an instance of eco-feminism avant la lettre. Sarah Jones considered Emile Zola’s interest in madness and hysteria. Arthur Rose returned to Zola’s Germinal as a source text for thinking about coal use in the Anthropocene. After a short break,Keir Waddington delivered an excellent keynote on trends in French environmental historiography as part of an argument that sought to recover the role of topography in thinking about environmental health.

After lunch, there were two presentations on twentieth-century francophone writing. Joe Ford’s close reading of key passages in Albert Camus’ L’Étranger showed how the narrative plays with subject positions to problematize the protagonist’s agency. HollyLangstaff reflected on the animal presence that persists across Maurice Blanchot’s oeuvre, particularly his ‘mouche importune’. In the final session, Frances Hemsley considered how contemporary Rwandan testimonial writing demonstrates the entwinement of insect- eradication campaigns with the forced displacement of groups during the late colonial period. Kasia Mika introduced us to the ‘cholera chronotope’ as a mode for considering time and place in activist documentaries about UN peacekeepers introducing cholera into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

On day two, Langstaff, Illingworth, Ford, Rose and Finch-Race delivered four one-hour workshops on how the environmental humanities and medical humanities can be used in teaching A-Level French. The close-knit audience was exceptional: each of the ECRs delivering the workshop commented upon the engagement of the teachers and learners. At the end of the day, the audience’s feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with several people referring to how the sessions provided the means and motivation to develop their work.

Sarah Spence (University of Glasgow), for Public Health, Private Illness: ECR Medical Humanities, 8-9 April 2020 [postponed due to COVID-19] (awarded £200).

Public Health, Private Illness was a two-day interdisciplinary medical humanities conference aimed at early career researchers but open to anyone - patients, practitioners, policy-makers or more established academics were all welcome. It took place online on Thurs 3rd and Fri 4th September, 2020.

The conference was free to attend and we welcomed attendees from all over the world.

Our keynote speaker is Dr Chisomo Kalinga. Chisomo couldn't make it on the day but gave her paper entitled '"No man is an island": Understanding Indigenous and African perspectives of personal wellbeing within Global Health Studies' online in November as a continuation of the conference. The talk featured a Q+A session with Dr Laura Kelly (Strathclyde).

Public Health, Private Illness is organised by the University of Glasgow’s Medical Humanities ECR Group and generously funded by the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts and the British Society for Literature and Science.


Greta Perletti, University of Trento, Italy, for a seminar series on literature and science to be held in June/July 2019 (awarded £400).

Working across Literature and Science: The Methods, Practices and Challenges of an Interdisciplinary Approach

Although the research field of Literature and Science is well-established in Anglophone academia, in Italy it is still relatively little-explored, even in English Studies. In particular, while the importance of scientific concepts and theories in literature has been widely recognised, there’s still some resistance against the acceptance of a real ‘two-way traffic’ between literary and scientific discourse. The tendency is still, to use Gillian Beer’s image in Open Fields, to look for the ‘translation’ of concepts from science to literature rather than allowing for the fruitful ‘transformation’ that may emerge from the complex cultural encounter of literature and science. For this reason, I would like to thank the BSLS for awarding me a Small Grant to organise the seminar “Working across Literature and Science: The Methods, Practices and Challenges of an Interdisciplinary Approach” at the University of Trento in April and May 2019. Thanks to the financial support of both the BSLS and the Department of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Trento, it was possible to invite four distinguished scholars in the field of Literature and Science, both from the UK and Italy. The speakers were Clark Lawlor from Northumbria University, who gave a talk on “Writing Doctors: Representation and Medical Personality, ca. 1660-1832” (2 April); Sally Shuttleworth from St Anne’s College, Oxford, whose lecture was titled “Crossing Disciplines: The Challenges of Working Across Literature, Science and Medicine” (7 May); Roger Luckhurst from Birkbeck, University of London, who spoke about “Knots and Crosses:Disciplinary Entanglements” (14 May); and Alessandra Violi from the University of Bergamo, who concluded with the talk “Turning the Screw: Interfacing Literature and Science at the Visual Turn” (28 May). All speakers engagingly illustrated their research methodology and gave practical examples of the extent to which working across literature and science can enrich our understanding of cultural discourse and our study of the literary text (the lectures addressed especially the 18th, 19th and 20thcentury). I am very grateful to the BSLS for supporting the organisation of this seminar, which stimulated questions and interesting discussions among MA and PhD students as well as among colleagues from Trento and other universities in Italy.

Saskia McCracken, University of Glasgow, towards the 'Beastly Modernisms' Conference, to be held on 29-30 August 2019 (awarded £200).

Beastly Modernisms 2019, a conference held at the University of Glasgow on 12-13 September, aimed for a symbiotic approach to literary studies. Organised by PhD candidates whose work traverses the realms of animal studies, modernism, and the environmental humanities—Peter Adkins (University of Kent), Saskia McCracken (University of Glasgow), Maria Sledmere (University of Glasgow) and Caitlin Stobie (University of Leeds)—the event quickly grew from a planned symposium to an international conference, with guest speakers flying in from Paris, America, Poland, Russia, and beyond. Such is the appetite for a more beastly scholarship, whose commodious bounds proliferate in animate metaphors, puns and sightlines of future critical thought.

The conference came together from a shared feeling that ‘the animal question’ was at a critical point within modernist scholarship, and that it deserved a platform of its own. With funding secured from The British Society for Literature and Science, The Vegan Society, British Comparative Literature Association, and the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts, we were able to explore what this question of modernism’s ‘beasts’ might entail.

Papers were given on myriad themes of a spirited, beastly nature: the multiple ‘lives’ of nature documentary (Amy Cutler), modernism’s telluric depths (Cathryn Setz), cosmic cats (Molly Gilroy), animal artists (Kirsten Strom), the queer and comic nonhuman (Maureen O’Connor), and modernist jellyfish (Rachel Murray). Throughout the conference, our speakers challenged us to think of modernism not just in archival or literary-historical terms but also as a mobilising set of culturaland critical tendencies, with unique questions to ask continuously of language, ontology and coexistence.

We were extremely lucky to have two keynotes whose work has been essential to the emergence and development of our field, hive, habitat, tropics, or indeed ocean of study (there was a distinctly transatlantic, borderless and porous flavour to many of the talks). Derek Ryan concluded day one with ‘Beastly Bloomsbury’ which argued that the animal turn in modernist studies ‘demands new readings of the most familiar modernist texts’; becoming close readers of the metaphors that structure animality, hierarchyand difference; noticing aspects of ‘the animal’ which elude human understanding. Kicking off day two, keynote Kari Weil(Wesleyan University) gave a vivid talk on animal magnetism: ‘the force that one animal body can have on another’. By moving through recent art (Berlinde de Bruyckere), French feminist philosophy, and ideas from poststructuralism, Weil’s talk questioned the boundaries, entanglements and representations at stake in animal relationality. She considered the force of spectatorship, of contact and touch, of memory, narrative and trauma, as well as the alien qualities within language itself that rub against our animalbeing.

Jana Funke, University of Exeter, for a special BSLS panel at the ‘90 Years Since The Well of Loneliness: A Radclyffe Hall Symposium’, Birkbeck, July 2018 (awarded £150).

90 years ago, on 27th July 1928, Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness was first published in the UK. The book was famously banned as obscene in Britain due to its lesbian content. To mark this anniversary and to reflect on Hall’s life, work and legacies, Dr Elizabeth English (Cardiff Metropolitan Universi- ty), Dr Sarah Parker (Loughborough University) and Dr Jana Funke (University of Exeter) organised a one-day symposium at Birkbeck, University of London, on 27thJuly 2018. The event brought together international scholars and included a panel on Hall’s engagement with sexual science, generously sponsored by the BSLS. The aim of the panel was to reconsider how Hall used sexual scientific concepts in The Well of Loneliness, a book that was published with a preface by British sexologist Havelock Ellis. The panel comprised of three papers that examined different aspects of Hall’s negotiation of scientific ideas in The Well of Loneliness: Holly James Johnston (University College, London) explored how Hall’s use of the sexological concept of sexual inversion in the novel opens up non-binary possibilities of gender identification. Dr Jennifer Mitchell (Union College, New York) investigated Hall’s engagement with sexological conceptualisations of masochism. Dr David Shackleton (University of Exeter) concluded the panel with a comparative reading of Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Olive Moore’s Spleen (1930), arguing that both authors drew on sexual scientific ideas and articulated a common project of queer ecology. At the end of the panel, all three speakers reflected on the ways in which Hall and other modernist authors engaged with scientific understandings of the natural and the normal and how they negotiated the sexological concept of the sexual type. The organisers and speakers are very grateful to the BSLS for supporting the symposium.

Rhys Kaminski-Jones (Wales) and Erin Lafford (Oxford), for student/ unwaged bursaries for the ‘Change of Air: Atmosphere, Health, and Locality in the Romantic Era’ conference, Oxford, September 2018 (awarded £200).

The pursuit of a ‘change of air’, and its supposed effects on mental and physical health, is one of the most recognisable forms of environmental awareness in the long eighteenth century. However, it has yet to be fully incorporated into our understanding of place and locality in Romantic-era culture. This interdisciplinary symposium, organised in association with the Oxford Environmental Humanities research network, will demonstrate how air’s significance as a medical and environmental influence can take us beyond M. H. Abrams’ influential concept of the Romantic ‘Correspondent Breeze’, exploring how atmosphere was also an important medium of local, regional, and national difference.

Confirmed Speakers include: Rowan Boyson (KCL) [Keynote], Harriet Guest (York), Tim Fulford (DMU), Mary-Ann Constantine (University of Wales), Jennifer Wallis (QMUL), and William Tullett (IHR).

Emily Alder, Edinburgh Napier, for costs towards ‘The Age of Frankenstein’ event at Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Edinburgh, November 2018 (awarded £250).

Staging Frankenstein: Nick Dear in conversation

November 26 2018

Playwright Nick Dear discusses his 2011 Frankenstein adaptation for the National Theatre. This widely seen production starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller in alternating roles as Victor and the Creature and was directed by Danny Boyle. Join us for conversation and questions chaired by playwright and scholar Dr Donna Soto-Morettini (Edinburgh Napier University) as the final event for The Age of Frankenstein project.

Keep up with all the latest news from the project by following @200Frankenstein


Sharon Ruston, Lancaster University, towards the Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy project (awarded £378.61).

The Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy

I would like to thank the BSLS for awarding The Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy a small grant in October 2017 to assist with the cost of reproducing images in the edition. The grant from the BSLS paid specifically for images reproduced from the British Library and Tyne and Wear Archives and comprised a number of important sketches Davy included in his letters, such as illustrations for the production of his miners' safety lamp. These images show that Davy continued to develop the lamp even after his initial, important decision to use wire gauze. The edition is to be published in 2019 in four, print volumes and contains fully annotated transcriptions of Davy's correspondence (much previously unpublished) with such figures as André-Marie Ampère, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Michael Faraday, Lord Liverpool, Hans Ørsted, Sir Robert Peel, Mary Somerville, and William Wordsworth. 

Caitlin Stobie, University of Leeds, to fund student travel bursaries for the 'Animals and Borders' project (awarded £150).

“Animals and Borders”, the second meeting of the Northern Animals research collective, took place at Leeds DiscoveryCentre on 13 October 2017. The one-day public engagement event was organised by Leeds Animal Studies Network to explore links between taxidermy, storytelling, and natural science. It featured a collaboration between academics, curators, a South African novelist, and a Leeds-based walking group.

Overall, the workshop investigated an open question: what are the borders that separate humans and animals, and in what ways if any are these barriers overcome through storytelling? Crucially, the Discovery Centre houses a collection of taxidermic objects that have been confiscated by UK Border Agency. The Centre’s stores therefore served as a fascinating case study for thinking about animals and borders.

Following a theoretical session with the Northern Animals collective in the morning, we were joined by the New Wortley Community Centre’s Walking Group. The group meets weekly to explore urban and natural environments and to tell stories about the city and their lives. We explored the two groups’ mutual interests in storytelling by walking the taxidermy stores with Curator of Natural Science, Clare Brown. After discussions over a vegan lunch, we continued the conversation by making collaborative, creative responses (including group-written stories or ‘exquisite taxidermies’).

The day concluded with a public reading and Q&A with Henrietta Rose-Innes, whose latest novel Green Lion was recently published in the UK and explores taxidermy, ecological anxieties, and bereavement. LASN are grateful to the BSLS for their generous support in the form of travel bursaries for early-career researchers; they helped us host a ‘roaring’ success.

Lina Minou, Loughborough University, 'Malice and Malignancy in Early Modern Culture' project (awarded £201).

This is a project that proposes to study the meanings of the term ‘malignancy’ in early modern context with the purpose of exploring further its recognized affinities to both medical and cultural senses. It stems from the fact that the term denoted both a state of physiological abnormality and also a broader sense of ill will. It was, moreover, imbued with political connotations as the action of a malignant disease on the physical body was likened to the action of ‘malevolent’ groups on the wholeness of the body politic. In short, early modern ‘malignancy’ was a term that straddled the boundaries ofscience and culture. Its study, therefore, necessarily involves a great variety of sources from medical to literary to political texts. It was the generous support of the Society that enabled me to access some of the rarest of these. More specifically, I was able to consult early-modern manuscript letters that provided political commentary on events of the civil war era by using the term. I was also able to gather critical information on the nature of disease -- especially of malignant disease -- in the early modern period by visiting specialist libraries, such as the Wellcome library. I am now working to unpack the nosological and other connotations ofmalignancy found in these primary sources and to better understand its uses -- including its connections to the morally laden term ‘malice’. A journal article on the subject is anticipated later this year. I am grateful to the Society for helping me initiate research onthis project and, quite importantly, for bolstering my position as an early career researcher.

Chisomo Kalinga, University of Edinburgh, 'Medical Humanities in an African context' symposium, 24-25 August 2017 (awarded £300).

On behalf of the Malawi Medical Humanities Network and the University of Malawi, I would like to extend my extreme gratitude for this grant which enabled 22 conference attendees, 17 of whom were economically disadvantaged Malawians, to participate in the first medical humanities conference in Malawi. 

On 24 August 2017, the Department of English at Chancellor College, University of Malawi and welcomed guests from across Africa and around the world to attend the first Wellcome-funded medical humanities conference in Zomba, Malawi. The small grant covered transportation costs for 3 lecturers from Mzuzu University, which is an 8-hour drive from Zomba. It also provided funds for a Lilongwe-based digital archivist and an NGO coordinator from Thyolo, which is 2.5 hours from the university. The most significant contribution went towards supporting the transport for 13 Theatre for Development actors from the Mpwelembwesu community-based organization near Zomba, who prepared a theatre performance on the closing event about AIDS and stigma in their village; this was organized by Sharifa Abdulla, lecturer of Fine and Performing Arts at Chancellor College. The funds also supported the attendance of 4 actors from the Make Art Stop AIDS documentary, which was featured on the first day of the conference. This was organized by the Art and Global Health Center Africa, a Malawi-based NGO ( The actors also coordinated a performance and Q&A session with the conference participants about the lived experience of the HIV epidemic.

This award enriched the event by allowing ordinary citizens to participate and present their artistic representations of health issues affecting their communities. It exposed academics to ideas and concepts pertaining to how citizens use art at a grassroots level to discuss and educate others on the lived-experience of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This grant enabled us to show how these ideas originate from concerned citizens through their engagement of art at the community level.

Anna Burton, University of Liverpool, ‘The Memory of Trees’ conference, 20 April 2017 (awarded £300).

‘The Memory of Trees’ one-day conference took place at the University of Liverpool on 20 April 2017. The event was held in affiliation with the Literature and Science Hub, and was facilitated with the generous contributions of the School of the Arts and the BSLS Small Grants Scheme. The event focussed on the cultural representation, study, and conservation of trees and woodlands. As such, this theme allowed for a diverse day of interdisciplinary conversation, and a celebration of the immutable and branching record of our ongoing relationship with trees and their memory.

Matt Larsen-Daw from The Woodland Trust opened the conference with a presentation on the campaign he is currently leading, The Charter for Trees, Woods and People, which aims to protect the public’s right to access trees and woodland spaces, to collect people’s memories of these sites, and to influence future policy making in relation to the preservation of these environments.

The day comprised of four main panels. Firstly, ‘Trees, Localised Identities and Historical Continuity’ examined the histories of specific (rural and urban trees) and how these spaces have influenced their surrounding terrains and inhabitants (and vice versa). Whilst the panel on ‘Evelyn Onwards’ took a look at the intersection of scientific, literary, and artistic examinations of trees across the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Meanwhile, the session on ‘Woodland Writings and Intertextuality’ scrutinised literary representations of trees as a physical and psychological phenomenon. Lastly, ‘Arboreous Languages and Visual Representation’, looked at the usage of trees as a form of communication, from theconstruction of ancient runes to the manifestation of woodland space in the digital age.

In addition to this, we had a presentation on ‘Not Being Able to See the Symbolism for the Trees: A Scientist's View of Woods and Forests’ from Hugh McAllister; McAllister was a lecturer in Integrative Biology and the resident botanist at Ness Gardens until his retirement in 2010. In his talk, he explored the disparity in the perception of ‘man-made’ and ‘natural’ forests, and explored the valuable (and ancient) ecologies of woodlands in Russia, Tibet, Japan, Scotland, Wales, and North America.

The day concluded with a key-note lecture from Fiona Stafford, Professor of English at the University of Oxford, and author of the acclaimed The Long, Long Life of Trees (2016). Stafford’s lecture on ‘The Memory of Trees’ focussed on how trees as physical and memorial objects can “connect scattered moments of experience”. In using examples from the works of William Blake, Paul Nash, Seamus Heaney, William Wordsworth and more, she ex- plored the idea of how our multi-sensory associations and responses to these environments can be seen to be rooted in our childhood experience of them.

The money from the BSLS paid for four postgraduate travel bursaries and fee waivers for the event. 


Manon Mathias, University of Aberdeen,Gut Feeling: Digestive Health in Nineteenth Century Culture, 26-27 May 2017 (awarded £400)

This multi-disciplinary, international workshop was held at the University of Aberdeen on 26–27 May 2017 in association with the University’s Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine. The twenty participants camefrom Australia, France, Norway the UK, and the US, and included postgraduate students, early- and mid-career researchers, established scholars, and a range of medical practitioners and clinical research- ers. There was no plenary lecture as the event aimed to foster a close-knit, collaborative environment in which an intellectually ambitious yet highly focused programme of talks could act as a springboard for further work on the topic.

Five panels were held over the two days, examining digestion in relation to politics; medical history; emotions and spirituality; literature; and metaphor. Speakers fo- cussed on digestive health in Australian, American, French, German, Italian and Norwegian history. Several key concepts ran through the papers, including the essen- tial connections between body and mind; the complex relationships between civilization and health; and intersec- tions between digestion and gender, identity, colonialism, political control, and ecology. Some of the issues dis- cussed included the importance of distinguishing between literal and metaphorical digestion, and the problems which arise when the distinction is unclear; the negotiation be- tween digestion and other cognate topics including hun- ger, consumption, and appetite; and the possibility of ex- tending the inquiry into other directions including non- human digestion, post nineteenth-century perceptions, and digestion in eastern cultures. Delegate engagement was very high, and a network on this area of research will shortly be established. There was a strong sense that key forgotten concepts in the understanding of digestive health in this period could usefully be reconsidered by today’s medical community, such as the focus on an inter- connected body (demonstrated in diagnoses of ‘neurasthenia gastrica’), or the strong emphasis on ‘the balanced body’ in bestselling health manuals. One of the aims of the network will be to articulate the valuable in- sights gained by studying the history of digestion and to engage in meaningful discussion with practitioners in this area including gastroenterologists and neurogastroenterol- ogists. Plans are also currently underway to publish a vol- ume of essays based on the conference papers.

Funding for this event was gratefully received from the British Society for Literature and Science; the Society for the Study of French History; the Society for French Studies; the University of Aberdeen School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture; the British Society for the History of Science; and the British Academy.


Pat Beesley, Newcastle University, The Body and Pseudoscience, 18 June 2016. (awarded £325).

The conference was launched by Dr. James Mussell, Leeds University, who gave the keynote presentation on ‘Print Presence in the Electrical Age: Oliver Lodge and the Pseudoscience of Media and Mediation’. This focused on the way Lodge negotiated the pseudoscientific spaces of late nineteenth and early twentieth century culture, look ing at the complementary relationship between body and spirit, form and content. Although Lodge believed in the uniting potential of spirit, this rested on the properties of matter as exemplified in his publication, Raymond (1916), which was his way of keeping his dead son alive. This stimulating presentation set the scene for a day that con- sidered the different ways that the scientific and pseudoscientific were negotiated through the body.

The interdisciplinary nature of the conference was evident by the mix of papers from English Literature, Art History, History of Science, Philosophy and the Wellcome Library. The first panel of the day, ‘Scientific Credibility and the Human Body’, included papers on the pseudoscientific treatment of ‘milk leg’, Victorian fad diets, and the literary representation of ways in which phrenology and physiognomy were used to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor. These papers addressed issues of how the body was read in the nineteenth century and the different ways in which scientific ‘truths’ emerged. The panel, ‘Affective Responses to the Visual’, considered the intellectual exchanges of the worlds of art and fiction with science, highlighting the problem of ascribing meaning to visual changes in the body as well as the dynamic of the visual and the verbal in the pursuit of sympathy. ‘(In) Corporeality and Nineteenth-Century Forces’ was a panel comprising papers on the representation of mesmerism in periodicals and in fiction and William James’sexperiments with anaesthesia. These papers emphasised the slippery nature of what was deemed ‘scientific’ or ‘pseudoscientific’ and how the latter contributed to knowledge about the human mind and body. The final panel, ‘Medical(Pseudo)Science: Mind and Body’ explored the hinterlands of chemistry and medical science in Edith Nesbit’s short stories and the ‘science’ of phrenology as a tool for self-improvement, raising questions about the role of the mind and body in the construction of scientific knowledge.

The plenary session was led by Dr. Edmund Richardson, Durham University, with a case study of the famous nineteenth-century medium, Daniel Dunglas Home. This generated lively discussion on the distinction between the scientific and the pseudoscientific, and why so many eminent scientists were prepared to risk their reputations in the search for knowledge and truth. That nineteenth- century pseudoscience remains a fruitful area of research suggests that it can still contribute to discourses on knowledge of the self through reading the body.


Nina Engelhardt and Julia Hoydis, University of Cologne, Doing Science: Texts, Patterns, Practices, 20-21 November 2015 (awarded £220).

The conference took place at the University of Cologne. Scholars from Germany, Denmark, Poland, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain presented research ranging from medical studies and history of science to theatre studies, art history, and literary and sci- ence studies. The diverse disciplinary perspectives in the group greatly contributed to the engaging discussions and also to lively informal exchanges over coffee and dinner. The rallying points of ‘doing science’ and the terms ‘texts’, ‘patterns’, and ‘practices’ ensured that disciplinary variety did not lead to a dispersal of the discussion but illuminated a common complex of questions from various perspectives.

The keynote by Professor Norbert Schaffeld from the University of Bremen provided insight into the narrative of emergent scientific discourse and the historical science novel that both provided the participants with a common point of reference and sparked critical discussion. In the panel on interactions between the sciences and the arts, Oliver Hochadel focused on the relationship between paleo-anthropological research and paleofiction from the perspective of a historian of science. Julia Boll reported from the ‘field’, reflecting on an experimental lecture series. Based on her experience of holding lectures in dialogue between a literature/theatre scholar and a scientist, with performers and dancers, Boll examined more general questions about the nature of the stage as a laboratory and of the usability of theatre to think through notions of the experimental and reassess conceptions of scientific facts and scientific evidence. In a session on mediating science, Kanta Dihal presented her research on scientific conflict in astrophysics popularisations, and Moritz Ingwersen explored the trickster figure as a mediator in thescience fiction by Neal Stephenson and the science philosophy of Michel Serres. A panel on literature, featuring talks byHarald Pittel on the evolution of an ethic of science, with a focus on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Maxim Shadurski on Huxley’s eugenics in Brave New World, closed the first day.

Anna Rasokat opened Day 2 with a talk on Graham Greene’s imagining of leprosy, followed by Pia Heidemeier’s presentation on genetically modified food in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, discussing implications for the conceptualisations of posthuman identities and ethics. The final panel featured three talks with a historical perspective. Adi Efal focused on the ‘birth of science’ in the seventeenth century and explored the role of figures and figuration in Descartes’s construction of scientific method, addressing questions as to the relation of the figure to imagination and to physical reality, as well as the limits of figural knowledge. The introduction of these key terms and categories opened up avenues of discussion with Laura Søvsø Thomasen’s research at the intersection of the fields of literature and science and of visual culture of sciencewith a focus on the visual and textual strategies in works by Alexander von Humboldt and Erasmus Darwin. Ana DuarteRodrigues reported on a recent project aimed at increasing sustainability and heritage identity of Algarvean gardens byrecovering practices found in historical texts and traditional sources. She addressed the project’s negotiations of demands and expectations of diverse stakeholders and its conscious use of historical text and tradition to popularise its aims. This last paper opened up a broader discussion on the ethical dimension in doings of science as well as in the doings of interdisciplinary research that may yield practical recommendations and consequences.

All speakers participated in a final roundtable discussion that specifically addressed questions of interdisciplinarity,disciplinary preconceptualisations, and challenges in communicating across disciplines.  We look forward to making available the fruits of the conference and of the roundtable discussion on disciplinary, thematic, and methodological concerns in the special issue 42.3 (September 2017) of the journal Interdisciplinary Science Reviews.


Ryan Sweet and Betsy Lewis-Holmes, University of Exeter, Exwhirr ‘The Human-Technology Relationship through the Ages’ (awarded £400).

Conceived as a ‘seeding event’ that would bring together academics from different departments and various types of artists all interested in the human-technology relationship, Exewhirr took over the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, on the afternoon of Sunday 12 July. The event featured two performances, three poetry readings, a mini- exhibition of specially commissioned artwork—including prints, paintings, and sculptures—and a programmed series of talks from museum curators and notable academiics, including Michael Hauskeller (Exeter), Francesca Stavrakopoulou (Exeter), Matt Hayler (Birmingham), and fellow BSLS member Jason Hall (Exeter).

BSLS members will be interested to know about the literature and science related aspects of the day. To get everyone in the mood for the afternoon’s contributions, my introductory speech began with a reading of the satirical Punch poem “To Lydia’s Glass Eye” (1881). I ruminated briefly on the cultural significance of this poem in terms of its engagement with the human-technology trope before linking the themes of the poem to the afternoon’s other contributions. In Jason’s talk, he introduced his new project to restore the Eureka, a Victorian machine for making Latin verses. Jason linked the device and the wider nineteenth-century education penchant for making schoolboys “manufacture” Latin verses to contemporary anxieties surrounding thepotential for humans to become automated. Continuing with the medium of poetry, local poets Isabel Galleymore, Sharanya Murali, and Wei Hsien Wan took to the stage to read from Isabel, Wei, and Mike Rose-Steel’s Exewhirr-commissioned poetry pamphlet Paraphernalium. Using verse as a means to ruminate on themes such as personal relationships with technological devices, techno-eroticism, and the ways that technologies shape our perceptions of the world, the poets enchanted the Bike Shed auditorium with their mellifluous and, at times, touching readings.

Though by no means an event purely about literature and science, Exewhirr showcased the diversity and importance of literary texts as means through which to understand, consider, and problematise the ways that we interact with technology. Highlighting the intersections between our area of study and the work of researchers in departments such as sociology, theology, and philosophy, as well as artists working with various materials, I hope that Exewhirr will provide inspiration for further multidis- ciplinary and public engagement work involving literature and science.

Many thanks to the BSLS, who along with the Wellcome Trust, generously sponsored this event.

Joanne Parsons, Bath Spa University, Biomedical Sciences and the Maternal Body. (awarded £300).

On Saturday, 21 February 2015, the Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network Symposium organised a symposium on ‘Biomedical Sciences and the Maternal Body’ at the University of Southampton with kind support from The British Society for Literature and Science. There were four short talks by postgraduate students and early career researchers and a keynote, ‘Maternal Impressions,’ by Professor Clare Hanson of the University of Southampton, followed by a spirited discussion by participants from disciplines including obstetrics, bioethics and medical law, philosophy, and literature.

Fran Bigman juxtaposed interwar and contemporary reprodystopias by British women writers in which the oppression of the state is symbolised by the denial—by male-controlled technology—of women’s right to mother. Laura-Jane Devanny discussed Jane Rogers’s The Testament of Jessie Lamb (2011) used Susan Bordo’s concept of pregnancy as an other within oneself to discuss the novel, in which a virus attacks pregnant women and the teenage protagonist volunteers to be a ‘Sleeping Beauty’, or sacrificial foetal incubator. Discussion focused on examples of nature and technology working together in these novels, the marginal role of fathers in these dystopian narratives, and the return of biological essentialism in 21st-century feminism.

Philosopher Elselijn Kingma contrasted the ‘foetal container’ model of pregnancy with the idea that foetuses are part of a pregnant organism and that birth can be likened to splitting or budding; it follows that one organism becomes two only at birth.She discussed the incompatibility of the views that the pre-birth foetus is a human entity and the idea that human entities have certain characteristics such as separateness and autonomy. Charlotte Stroud discussed the work of A.S. Byatt in relation to Iris Murdoch’s and the biological turn in New Materialist feminism, demonstrating the influence of biological form on her novelistic form: stories mutate and people interact like cells. Stroud illustrated how Byatt’s prose explores her character’s bodies on the level of cells and organisms, allowing her to explore the mind-body problem from new angles. Discussion of these two papers covered topics such as the idea of multiple possible futures, which might help the law distinguish between foetal tort cases and abortion, and Byatt’s problematic appropriation of Darwin.

Professor Clare Hanson’s keynote highlighted the rise of epigenetics, or the renewed focus on environmental factors instead of genetic determinism. Epigenetic discourse, she argued, is used to blame the problem mother, usually the working-class mother, for not providing her child with the right (home or foetal) environment— pregnant women who are overweight(obesogenic), experience stress or are exposed to certain chemicals or smoke are held responsible not only for the impaired health of their child, but their grandchildren and even further on.


Roisin McCloskey, University of Durham, Abnormality and the Abnormal in the 19th Century. (awarded £200).

The ‘Abnormality and the Abnormal in the Nineteenth Century’ postgraduate conference opened with an engaging keynote address by Professor Martin Willis (Cardiff University) entitled ‘The Case of the Soho Sleeper: Catalepsy, Care, and the Politics of Seizures’. Professor Willis used a high-profile case of catalepsy from 1887, known to the Victorian press as the Soho Sleeper, to argue that such conditions produce conceptions of the abnormal, and also of the normal from which the cataleptic was understood to have moved away.

Professor Willis’s talk initiated a productive conversation ranging from the ethics of care to the methodology of research. The first panel of the day, ‘The Social and Political Function of Abnormality’, featured three methodologically diverse papers, which each dissected various ways in which a concept of abnormality can be created in the service of a particular ideology. The second panel, ‘Abnormality and the Body’, offered literary, archaeological, and philosophical analyses of bodily and mental deviations from a norm in terms of an implicit association between normalcy and morality. The last panel of the day, ‘Gender and Sexuality’, addressed a topical nexus between embodiment and social norms; each paper offered an analysis of the construction, communication, and celebration, of a particular instance of gendered or sexual abnor- mality.

All three postgraduate panels generated stimulating and wide-ranging discussion; the continuity between contemporary and nineteenth-century ideas about abnormality, and the connections between abnormality, morality, and power were recurrent themes. Despite a programme which endeavoured to maximise opportunities for conversation, the conference ended with many more questions than answers. The Abnormality Research Network, launched at this conference, will facilitate the continuation of this conversation; this postgraduate-led initiative will explore conceptualisations of abnormality across disciplines from the early modern period to the present day.


Laura Dietz, Cambridge Festival of Science, ‘Science as the Spark’, March 2014 (awarded £280).

Science as the spark: literature inspired by scienceAnglia Ruskin University, Thursday 20 March, 7:00pm – 8:30pm

How has scientific inquiry lead to literary works? Why is the literary presentation of science relevant to scientists and society?  John Holmes will be discussing these questions at a panel sponsored by the British Society for Literature and Science, including Chris Beckett, Dave Clements, Laura Dietz and Kelley Swain. We will skirt the ‘inspiring science!’ cliche to ask why scientists and historians who can communicate in any genre, and artists who can draw on any inspiration, choose to structure their work at the intersection of these fields.

Farah Mendelsohn, Anglia Ruskin University, 'What Scientists Read’ at the 72ndWorld Science Fiction Convention, 2014 (awarded £300).

This award supported Farah Mendelsohn in hosting a talk by Sarah Dillon (University of St Andrews) on ‘What Scientists Read: How Does Literature Influence Scientific Thought and Practice’ as part of the Loncon 3 (World Science Fiction) convention in London, 14-18th August.

We were delighted to host Dr Sarah Dillon at the World Science Fiction Convention in London this summer. There were 1200 programme items and 70 exhibits. The convention attracted 8000 people and more than a hundred turned up at Sarah's talk. The convention is a science and arts festival, so we had artists, writers, comics writers and artists, alongside astronomers, cell biologists, zoologists and architects. It was the perfect place for Sarah's talk and poster session on What Scientists Read.

Laurence Talairach-Vielmas, Centre Alexandre Koyré (Paris) and the University of Toulouse (UTM),Exhibiting Human Remains, London’s Hunterian Museum, 4th June 2013. 

The one-day conference, ‘Exhibiting Human Remains’, was the last part of a research project aimed at providing a comprehensive study of the history of the exhibition of human remains and their cultural representations. The three-part project dealt with the crossings between medical knowledge and the constitution of medical museums on the one hand, and literary and artistic representations on the other, and had a view to developing interdisciplinary approaches to literature and the arts. The three interdisciplinary conferences were held alternatively in the Natural History Museum of Toulouse, at the National Academy of Medicine in Paris and at the Royal College of Surgeons in London (Hunterian Museum), gathering scholars working at the interface of medical science and the wider humanities so asto offer an overview of the cultural reception of the exhibition of human remains.

The last event, hosted by the Hunterian Museum in London, started with a keynote presentation by the director of the Hunterian Museum, Dr Sam Alberti, who took the audience straight into the world of medical museums. Alberti not only presented the collections and the objects on display in the museum, but introduced as well the people behind the stage. This presentation was followed by 8 papers. Two of the papers focused on very particular medical specimens (such as the Taunt Child (Adrian Young) or a pair of preserved conjoined twins (Fiona Pettit)), and analysed medical professionals’ rhetoric of display, by contrasting, for example, medical journals with popular publications. Other papers examined tattooed human skins, like those included in Sir Henry Wellcome’s Museum in 1929 (Gemma Angel).The meaning of the corpse in Navajo culture was the object of Nausica Zaballos’s paper; the work of the seventeenth-century Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch, famous for his wet preparations, was presented by David Mazierski, while three papers focused more particularly on literary representations of human remains (David Punter on Gothic fiction, Laurence Talairach-Vielmas on Victorian fiction and Peter M. McIsaac on Gottfried Benn).

The conference was coupled with another event: a performance of poems from Kelley Swain’s award-winning verse drama Opera di Cera, followed by a discussion with historical experts and a wax modelling demonstration with waxworker Eleanor Crook at the Gordon Museum of Pathology. The organising committee wouldlike to thank BSLS for supporting this highly stimulating and very successful day. The conference was fully booked weeks before the event, with many people coming from France, the Netherlands and North America especially to attend. We would also like to thank the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, especially Dr Sam Alberti, who welcomed this project enthusiastically, as well as the whole staff of the Museum for their kindness and professionalism.

Joanne Ella Parsons (Bath Spa University) and Sarah Chaney (UCL), ‘Body and Mind: Mesmerism in Nineteenth-Century Culture and Literature’, 17th October 2013, held at St. Bart’s Hospital in London.

Sarah Chaney and Joanne Parsons organised a public seminar at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum on ‘Body and Mind: Mesmerism in Nineteenth Century Culture and Literature’. The event brought together speakers on nineteenthcentury literature and the history of science. Building on previous ‘Damaging the Body’ events, we reached an audience of 139, consisting of academics, museum visitors, and the general public. Professor William Hughes (Bath Spa University) spoke about early Victorian newspaper accounts of mesmerism in ‘The Theatre of His Beastly Exhibitions: The Erotic Nature of Early Victorian Magnetism’. Dr Andreas Sommer (University of Cambridge) then gave a detailed account of the role of mesmerism and hypnotism in the formation of modern psychology in Germany.

The Damaging the Body seminar series is an established interdisciplinary network, which aims to open up discussion of the ways in which histories of bodily damage in medicine and literature might open up our understanding of body-mind relations more generally. This event explored a field which has remained strikingly absent from study: the relationship between the sciences and Victorian and Edwardian mesmerism, psychical research and parapsychology.


Harriet Briggs, Newcastle University, a one-day postgraduate symposium, 'Moving Toward Science', run by the North-East Postgraduate Research Group for the Long Nineteenth Century (NENC), 12 September, 2012.

The day consisted of keynote presentations and several postgraduate panels. The opening keynote address, from Professor Jennifer Richards and Dr Anne Whitehead (Newcastle), explored literary and medical discourses, and queried how nineteenth-century thought impacted on twentieth and twenty-first century concepts in the medical humanities. The second keynote presentation, given by Dr Peter Garratt (Northumbria), drew upon a range of Victorian and contemporary texts to question whether the complementary study of literature and science was as harmonious amongst nineteenth-century writers as is sometimes perceived. Particularly illuminating was the paper’s interrogation of ‘literary Darwinism’, an aspect keenly followed up during quest-ions. Professor David Knight (Durham) gave the final keynote focusing upon the Royal Institution and the career of Sir Humphry Davy. Davy, whose achievements in chemistry were under-pinned by an artistic temperament, suggests for Knight that the two disciplines could be seen as originating from the same kind of inspiration.

The postgraduate papers further considered the various moves towards science evident in the long nineteenth century, with discussions of scientific pedagogy and grammar, the relationship between hypochondria and literature, concepts of science and nationhood, parallels between poetic form and studies into the mind, the issue of scientific correspondence during the Napoleonic blockade, and the influence of neurology upon ideas of morality and race.

The organising committee would like to thank BSLS for supporting what was an extremely rewarding and stimulating day, and for making it possible to cover the travel of several postgraduate presenters who attended from beyond the region. A full report can also be read on the NENC website.


Hannah Star Rogers, the University of Virginia’s ‘Intersections in Science and Literature Speakers Series’, 26 April 2012.

On 26 April 2012 the Science, Technology, & Society Department at the University of Virginia hosted the Intersections of Science and Literature Speaker Series, which received the support of a BSLS small grant. The first speaker was novelist Ros Berne who read from her forthcoming nano-fiction novel Waiting in Silence. In addition to fiction writing, Berne has been involved with nanotechnology research and reflects on this work and complications for imagined futures in her novel. A lively discussion followed Berne’s reading which included conversations both about her narrative devices and about the ways that fictional accounts of nano influence public perceptions.

The second speaker, Barri Gold, travelled to us from Mulhenberg Colelge discussed her book Thermopoetics. Gold drew a variety of scholars and students, both graduate and undergraduate. Her talk was given in the Engineering School and drew English, French, Romance Studies, Physics, Computer Science, Science Technology and Society, and Art History professors, as well as a museum curator, who heard more about the relationship between nineteenth-century physics and fiction. The organiser, Hannah Rogers, notes appreciatively that the financial support of the BSLS covered Gold’s travel and accommodation, and allowed for publicity to promote both speakers.