Monday, 23 January 2012

 Science and Literature 1800-Present: Two Cultures or Co-evolution? 

Postgraduate conference at Keele University, 12th May 2012

Key note speakers: Prof. Joanna Verran (MMU), Prof. Sharon Ruston (Salford) & Prof. David Amigoni (Keele)

‘As in the changed impression on the wax, we read a change in the seal; so in the integration of advancing Language, Science, and Art, we see reflected certain integrations of advancing human structure, individual and social.’
- Herbert Spenser First Principles (1862)

‘The purpose of Science and Art is one: to render experience intelligible’
- Leslie A White The Science of Culture (1949)

‘Literary intellectuals at one pole - at the other scientists…Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension…’        
          - C. P. Snow The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959)

The long nineteenth century saw the cultural foundation for a dialogue between the Sciences and the Arts which continues to this day. Despite the lacuna that is traditionally posited between these two subjects, from the Romantic beginning of the nineteenth century and throughout the Victorian period, artists, writers and scientists alike were conscious of the confluences between their disciplines. The Victorian fashion for reading cutting-edge scientific articles alongside, for example, philosophical poetry or serialized novels in magazines and journals was preceded by / inherited from the Romantic tendency to blur the boundaries between scientific and artistic study, and set a precedent for the mutual evaluation of these two fields. Indeed, the periodical itself was a product of the increasing impact of science and technology on literary culture; these developments shaped the material texts and the practices of production and reception.
       In addition, scientists often employed literary tropes and epigraphs to reiterate their messages; indeed scientific theories could frequently trace their origins back to literature (Herbert Spencer, for example, drew on both Coleridge and Goethe to formulate his theory of evolution). The advancement of science throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries lead to an increased concern with social anxieties about science. This manifested itself as a penchant for science fiction novels which purported to explore the possibilities that science was yet to realize.
      This legacy can be traced well into the twentieth century. The exploitation of science and technology in the world wars revived a literary preoccupation with science represented in post-war fiction, such as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (1942-1950), Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957), or Harlan Ellison’s short story I have no mouth and I must scream (1967). Today it emerges in phrases like the portmanteau ‘Franken-foods’, which borrows Mary Shelley’s eponymous 19th century protagonist to highlight the fears of contemporary scientific applications. This conference will explore those intimate relationships between the two cultures of science and literature, and will examine the ways in which anxieties of the long nineteenth century have continued to express themselves in the present day.

Call for papers – applicants might consider, but are not limited to, the following areas: 
- Darwinism and social anxiety 
- Medical pandemics in literature
- The dissemination of science (including the impact of technological innovation on the material text)
- Representations of physical and mental illness
- Access to science for women and children
- Fears of technological advancement (e.g. Ludditism)
- Reflections on the science of warfare
- Apocalyptic visions
- Critical approaches to the two cultures (including modern opposition between arts and sciences)
- Popular Science – the third culture

We welcome proposals of 200-300 words for 15 minute presentations. Please send proposals and any queries to Emilie Taylor-Brown, Jo Taylor and Katie McGettigan at: The deadline for proposals is 31st March 2012. 

No comments:

Post a Comment