Friday, May 30, 2014

British Library - Discovering Literature

The British Library has recently launched an excellent new online resource on Romantic and Victorian literature from its collections, with introductory essays from leading scholars. One of their key themes is 'Technology and science', and includes articles on everything from drugs to railways, as well as teaching resources.

Monday, May 26, 2014

UCL seminar, 3rd June - 'Shareability and contagion'

Carolyn Burdett will be giving a paper entitled ”Shareability and contagion: psychology and aesthetics at the fin de siecle” at the UCL seminar on Science and Literature at 5.30pm on Tuesday 3rd of June in the Grant Museum of Zoology. Directions can be found here. The paper will be followed by questions and discussion, and the meeting will conclude with a glass of wine at 7:30pm.

“Shareability and contagion: psychology and aesthetics at the fin de siecle”
Over the final three decades of the nineteenth century a growing interest is discernible amongst psychologists in the category of aesthetics. One strand of psychological argument attempted to restate in modern terms the quality of art’s ‘shareability’: emotions elicited by art and literature could be shared, freeing humans from the ‘monopolistic’ nature of much of life’s struggle. At the end of the century, however, shared emotions were also the focus of theories of crowds where feelings are not just shared but caught, contagiously and dangerously. This paper suggests that aesthetic sharing and contagious feeling are both of relevance to an increased pressure being brought to bear by the end of the century on the notion of sympathy – that capacity to share in others’ feelings that composed a core ethical gesture for the Victorians and was central to much of their literary effort. Using the work of the aesthetic theorist, Vernon Lee, it looks beyond the end of the century to Lee’s response to crowd theory and the value of aesthetics during World War 1 and her attempt to re-energise sympathy and replace imitative contagion by the concept of empathy.

Dr Carolyn Burdett is senior lecturer in literature and Victorian studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She was recently awarded a Leverhulme research fellowship to pursue research on her current monograph, Coining Empathy: Psychology, Aesthetics, Ethics, 1870-1920.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Entomological Adventures - further reading

A few additional items of interest for our meeting on 9th June:

9th June - Entomological Adventures

Our second meeting of Easter Term 2014 looks at introductory entomology. We meet from 7.30-9pm in the Godwin Room at Clare College. Links to the readings can be found below: those not online are in the Whipple Library box file. We hope to see you there!

Recap - What Mr Darwin Saw

Many thanks to everyone who came along to last night's meeting: there was a great turn-out to discuss all things Darwinian!

Julie Barzilay gave a fantastic introduction to the set readings, detailing her recent research into this topic, and providing some very helpful background information on Wendell Phillips Garrison, author of the original What Mr Darwin Saw. She explained how the book fitted with Garrison's other editoral work, abolitionist convictions, and writings for children, and drew attention in particular to his restructuring of Darwin's words into a natural history guide that taught children how to be observers, moving from animals to man to geography to nature. She asked us to consider what was lost, as well as gained, in this editorial process; and more generally to analyse the role of editors and their responsibility to - or exploitation of - works' original authors. In the thought-provoking and characteristically wide-ranging discussion that followed, many different aspects of this children's book were brought into question. How and by whom would the book have been read? What was its relationship with other types of children's natural history books, with encyclopaedias, with travel narratives? What kinds of scientific methods were taught through this work? How 'invisible' was its the editor, after all? What ethical considerations should we foreground when reading historical source material about racial difference, especially with juvenile audiences in mind?

In comparison with the more recent book which shares its title, we were also able to think about how the Beagle voyage has been rewritten for audiences today. Rather than Darwin the superlative 'see-er', as had been presented in the 19th century, we explored how Darwin the scientific hero was the star of this work. Published as part of the 2009 celebrations commemorating 200 years since his birth, and 150 years since the publication of the Origin of Species, a shift from teaching natural history to teaching history was, as we discussed, apparent.