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Gowan Dawson’s excellent review article in the recent JVC of the ‘state of the union’ of literature and science is especially welcome to all of us committed to the new British Society for Literature and Science, and to me personally as the Society’s Membership Secretary. I hope, indeed, that it brings me a significant amount of work over the next few months as more scholars interested in the field join what is already an active group. In my view, Gowan is particularly well-placed to offer such an analysis as he is one of an increasing number of academics in the field of literature and science who are continually engaged in that difficult interdisciplinary project of sustained scholarly involvement in both fields and their communities simultaneously.

One of the central themes of Gowan’s argument is the necessity of appropriate interdisciplinarity; the crucial specificity of understanding that comes only from a prolonged engagement with whichever field one feels less expert within. Although Gowan suggests that attention to historiographic (and more importantly historical) accuracies may seem like ‘hair-splitting pedantry’ (308) it is, he goes on to argue, vital for ‘literary critics ... to recognise’ (308) the processes of cultural formation through which the sciences have developed. At the first BSLS conference Gowan and I discussed this very topic, agreeing that this model of thoroughgoing interdisciplinarity – in which history of science scholarship was often to the fore – was most recognisable, and for us, the most admirable of the available work in the field.

Unsurprisingly, then, I am in agreement with the majority of Gowan’s arguments. I do think, however, that there are one or two aspects of work in the field of literature and science to which he might have given a little more space. Read the rest of this entry »