Friday, September 13, 2019

The Science and Literature Reading Group will be taking a break for the 2019-20 academic year, but we hope to organise some one-off events - watch this space!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Davy Notebooks Project

Join in the Davy Notebooks Project and help transcribe these important sources for anyone interested in science and literature.

About the project:


Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was perhaps the most famous chemist of the nineteenth century. This project aims to transcribe five of Davy’s early notebooks, which show his experiments in both chemistry and poetry.

The notebooks selected for this pilot run reveal how Davy’s mind worked and how his thinking developed. Containing details of his scientific experiments, poetry, geological observations, travel accounts, and personal philosophy, Davy's notebooks present us with a wide range of fascinating insights. Many of the pages of these notebooks have never been transcribed before. By transcribing these notebooks, we will find out more about the young Davy, his life, and the cultures and networks of which he was part.

The transcriptions produced by Zooniverse participants, and images of the manuscript pages, will later be published online on a custom-built, open access website, providing unprecedented access to these important historical documents. All individual participants will be given the option to be listed in the Acknowledgements section of the Davy Notebooks Project website. This is entirely optional, and at the sole discretion of each individual participant.
We hope that transcribers will also take part in the next run of our FutureLearn Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) ‘Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp’. You will be able to sign up to this course at the end of July and the four-week course will begin on 28 October 2019.

Davy’s Notebooks in the RI

The RI holds an important collection of seventy-one unpublished notebooks written by Davy. Davy held several positions at the RI (Director of the Laboratory, 1801-25; Professor of Chemistry, 1802-12; Honorary Professor, 1813-23) and did his most important research there. The current run of the Davy Notebooks Project is intended as a pilot: we aim to transcribe five notebooks between June-September 2019. If successful, the project will later be expanded, and further notebooks will be transcribed.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Cavendish film screening


The Cavendish Research Staff Committee presents:

Free screening of the Award-Winning Film:


Along with a discussion with expert panelists:

Dr Maurice Chiodo - Centre for Mathematical Sciences 
Dr Jennifer Cobbe - Cambridge University's Trust & Technology Initiative
Dr Kanta Dihal - Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence
Friday, July 12th, 18.30
Small Lecture Theater, Cavendish Laboratory 

This is the first event in a series which will address topics concerning ethics in science and how new technologies might impact society.

On our opening event, we will start by trying to tackle some of the more general and thorny questions such as: "Is it the scientists' responsibility to consider the ethical implications of their work?", "Have scientific progress and technological developments failed us?", and "How do we decide what is good for society?"

We will explore these questions with the help of guest panelists, the screening of the Award-winning docufilm Three Identical Strangers by DogWoof productions, and interactive audience participation.

Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free food will be provided. Please email us at if you have any other dietary restrictions.

Guests and family members are welcome!
You are encouraged to register for the event here

The Cavendish Laboratory Research Staff Committee

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Campaign to save Charles Lyell's notebooks

Charles Lyell (1797 - 1875) is well known for his part in the Darwinian evolutionary debates, his travels to America and his role in convincing readers of the significance of 'deep time'. During the past decade, Lyell's geographical theory of climate and his subdivisions of recent geological periods have gained renewed attention in connection with discussions of climate change and the Anthropocene. The Lyell archive is almost certainly the most important manuscript collection relating to nineteenth century science still in private hands. At its core are 294 notebooks, which provide a daily record of Lyell's private thoughts, reading notes, travels, field observations and conversations from the mid-1820s to his death half a century later.

In order for the family to meet inheritance tax, the Lyell notebooks were sold to an unknown foreign buyer towards the end of last year. Fortunately, the UK government has imposed a temporary export ban to enable fundraising to purchase these remarkable documents, conserve them, and make them available on-line for free to the public. The University of Edinburgh Library, which already has the largest collection of Lyell material, is organizing the campaign. The website for this became active at the end of last week. The sum required is £1,444,000; major donors have already pledged more than a third of the total needed.

The temporary export ban has an initial deadline of 15th July, so time is extremely short. If significant progress is made, then it may be extended until 15th October. Therefore, all who are interested are asked to pledge a donation, which will only be collected when the required amount is achieved. For more information about the notebooks and to make a pledge, please click on If you, your students and friends can give anything to this campaign--even five pounds or a pound--it will make a big difference, not least in showing larger donors that there is substantial public interest and concern. It would be great if we can get the donor count over 1000.

I'd appreciate it if you could pass on this message to anyone who might be interested, and to any other relevant lists.

Jim Secord (
Professor of History and Philosophy of Science
Director, Darwin Correspondence Project
University of Cambridge

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

10th June - The Periodic Table

In recognition of the International Year of the Periodic Table, the Science and Literature Reading Group is teaming up with AD HOC (Association for the Discussion of the History of Chemistry) for a special seminar on Primo Levi's classic piece of science-writing, The Periodic Table.

We will meet on Monday 10th June at 5pm, in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

  • Primo Levi (1919-87), The Periodic Table (1975): ‘Potassium’, ‘Nitrogen’, ‘Carbon’. 
Contact Melanie if you would like a copy of the chapters, as well as the introduction by Philip Roth to the Penguin edition.

All welcome!

Friday, May 31, 2019

4th June - Heavens and earth

Please note new date and venue

We will meet at Homerton College at 5pm on Tuesday 4th June at for the fourth in this term's series of Science and Literature Reading Group sessions on texts published 100 years ago in 1919. Please meet at the Porters' Lodge on Hills Road.

We will focus on poems about the heavens and earth:
 All welcome!

Job - Research Associate, 'The Scientific Conference: A Social, Cultural, and Political History'

Postdoctoral Research Associate, 11 months full time

Salary range: £37,912 rising to £43,333

Start date: 1 September or as soon as possible thereafter

Closing date for applications: 30 June 2019

The Department of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, invites applications for a full-time Post-Doctoral Research Associate post for 11 months, to work with Dr Jessica Reinisch as part of a new HERA project on The Scientific Conference: A Social, Cultural, and Political History 
The project explores the evolution of scientific and medical conferences as public spaces where knowledge is defined and exchanged, communities are shaped, and international relations are performed. We will trace the history of their emergence and development over the long twentieth century, study their various forms, and identify their inclusionary and exclusionary effects.
Project partners are Professor S. E. W. Widmalm (Uppsala University, Sweden), Dr Jessica Reinisch (Birkbeck), Dr Charlotte Bigg (Centre Alexandre Koyré, France), Dr Geert Somsen (Maastricht University, Netherlands). UK-based Associate Partners include the Science Museum and Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The Post-Doctoral Research Associate will assume responsibility for a case study that contributes to the project strand on 'Scientific and medical experts and the conferences of international organisations, ca. 1920 – 1965'. The case study will be based on archival research and will help to shed light on the nature, work and impact of scientific experts at the conferences of international organisations in the interwar, war and post-war decades. Research questions for this project strand include:
  • What roles did scientific and medical experts perform at these conferences, and with what results?
  • Of what significance were the locations and formats of the conferences?
  • How important were these organisations' conferences to their programmes, mandates, self-representation and public perception?
  • To what extent and by what means did these conferences give rise to a new 'public sphere' for internationalists of the post-war era, complete with their own language and cultural practices?
  • In what formal and informal ways did conferences reflect and shape international relations and wider geopolitical realities?
The Post-Doctoral Research Associate's work is expected to lead to academic publications.
In addition to research on the case study, the Post-Doctoral Researcher will be involved in all aspects of the project and Birkbeck's Centre for the Study of Internationalism so as to gain valuable professional and intellectual experience.

Applicants must have, or expect to obtain shortly, a PhD with a specialisation in modern history, the history of science, technology and medicine or related field. Prior experience of conducting archive research is essential, as is the ability to work in a team. Working knowledge of a relevant language other than English is highly desirable. A commitment to distributing academic knowledge widely and accessible is highly desirable, as is a demonstrable interest and track record in the themes and facets of the project.

The position is based in London but will require travel to the relevant archives. Research expenses for these trips are included in the post.

The position will start on 1 September 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter.

To apply, please click on apply below and provide a CV, a research statement of up to 1,000 words, and a statement explaining how your background and interests fit the position's requirement.


Grade 7 of the College's London Pay Scale which is £37,912 rising to £43,333 per annum.
The salary quoted is on the College's London Pay Scale which includes a consolidated Weighting/Allowance which applies only to staff whose normal contractual place of work is in the Greater London area.


If you would like to know more about the role please click on apply below or contact Dr Jessica Reinisch, via

If you have technical issues or difficulties using the recruitment portal please contact, providing your name and the job reference number of the position.
While we are happy to respond to all informal enquiries, only formal applications through the online system will be considered.

Birkbeck offers a competitive salary & pension scheme, 31 days paid leave, flexible working arrangements & some of the most generous benefits in the HE sector, all while being located right in the heart of Central London with access to all its facilities.

We welcome applicants from all sections of the community. The College is committed to improving the gender & cultural diversity of its workforce, holding an Athena SWAN award, membership of WISE, operating Disability Confident & Mindful Employer schemes.

Interviews will take place on 12 July 2019.

To apply, please find the application portal here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Talk - 'Children's Literature and Environmental Citizenship'

The Queen Mary based research cluster Children's Literature Children's Lives is delighted to announce an extra event this June.

Karen Kilcup, "Dare Boldly": Children's Literature and Environmental Citizenship

Thursday 13 June 5 - 7pm, Arts Two Room 217, Queen Mary University of London.Nineteenth-century American children couldn't vote, but the period's writers envisioned them possessing alternative agency: intervening to prevent animal cruelty, encouraging elders' conservation and preservation efforts, and even helping advance environmental justice.
In this paper Professor Kilcup will explore the work of writers from Lydia Maria Child and Harriet Beecher Stowe to Theodore Roosevelt and W. E. B. Du Bois, who imagined a future that children could not simply enter, but actively shape.

Karen Kilcup is Professor of English, Environmental & Sustainability Studies, and Women's & Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

No need to book.
We look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Talk - The 'Ecology of Form'

The Nineteenth Century Graduate Seminar will meet for its third and final session of the Easter term at 5pm on Thursday 30 May, in the Faculty of English Board Room. Our speaker will be Devin Griffiths (University of Southern California), who will speak on the topic of 'The Ecology of Form'; abstract below.
All are most welcome to attend both the discussion and the informal drinks at the Granta afterwards.

'The Ecology of Form'

I'll be talking about Charles Darwin and what we might call the anthropology of plants. Starting with his work on orchids in the 1850s, Darwin was fascinated by plants that suggest a deep continuity between animal and plant life, and he developed a sophisticated array of techniques that allowed him to establish dialogues with their behavior. As a case study, I'll be taking Darwin's late work, The Power of Movement in Plants (1880) in which he developed tools of synchronization, or "entrainment," that allowed plants to write themselves into his work. I'll be using this example to explore how such tools produce a form of collective authorship in which the objects of natural study contribute to their own investigation, a way of voicing nature in scientific publication. My aim is to sketch out a late feature of Darwin's ecological research program, part of a wider effort to study Darwin's importance as an ecologist, and as a process philosopher. But I'm also interested in how that labor becomes visible through, and indeed, is organized by, specific textual forms, here, not simply scientific publication, but experiments in what we might term plant graphology and the printing of plant life, and I'll conclude by discussing the afterlife of these experiments in scientific publication.

Devin Griffiths is Associate Lecturer at the University of Southern California, and author of The Age of Analogy (Johns Hopkins UP, 2016)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Talk - The Cambridge Philosophical Society and the invention of science 1819-2019

6-7pm, Wednesday 12 June

Milstein Seminar Rooms, Cambridge University Library

Free, all welcome. Booking required:

Today, Cambridge is recognised as a world-leading centre for science, but it wasn’t always so. Dr Susannah Gibson discusses how science in Cambridge developed thanks to the work of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, and tells of the ground-breaking research presented at its meetings over the last 200 years, from Charles Darwin’s Beagle letters to Lawrence Bragg’s x-ray crystallography.