Thursday, October 30, 2014

Arab Science Fiction: From Imagination to Innovation

Radio documentary - 'The Poetry of Science'


Gregory Tate explores why so many scientists have been inspired to write poetry and the relationship between their artistic work and their science.

The Cornishman Humphry Davy was a pioneer of modern science, whose lectures drew huge crowds. But, inspired by his friendship with the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, throughout his life he wrote poems - including one about breathing nitrous oxide.

Physician Eramus Darwin; mathematician William Rowan Hamilton; astronomer William Herschel; - all wrote poetry. More recently, the 'father' of the atom bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Erwin Schrodinger, and Miroslav Holub interrogated their scientific work in verse.
Gregory Tate visits the Royal Institution in London which, as well as a laboratory, houses a large archive of poetry by scientists, and the lab in Trinity College, Dublin, where Physics professor, Iggy McGovern, develops ideas for synchrotron radiation techniques, and poems. McGovern has written a sonnet sequence on mathematician Hamilton. 

Using scientific investigative techniques Gregory enquires how has poetry offer scientists a fresh perspective on their research, talking to Sharon Ruston, co-editor of Humphry Davy's letters, Daniel Brown, author of 'The Poetry of Victorian Scientists', and the poets Mario Petrucci, who has a PhD in Optoelectronics, and Ruth Padel, a descendant of Erasmus Darwin. We hear their poetry, and verse by Humphry Davy, John Tyndall, John Herschel and Rowan William Hamilton.

Read Greg's blog about researching this documentary here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

UCL Science and Literature Seminar Series

Details of a new seminar series on Science and Literature at UCL can be found here. The first meeting is next Tuesday, 4th November, with Sally Shuttleworth speaking on 'Animal instinct and whispering machines: Science in the Victorian periodical'.

Monday, October 20, 2014

CFP - Special Issue of journal on 'Science and Science Fiction'

The Bulletin of Science, Technology, & Society seeks contributions to a special issue on 'Science and Science Fiction'. Further details here.

Symposium - Teaching Literature and Science

The programme and website for the 'Teaching Literature and Science' symposium, which is to be held at the University of Westminster on 8th November, is now available here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

3rd November - Cerebral Forms

Our second meeting of term will be held on Monday 3rd November from 7.30-9pm in the Newnham Grange Seminar Room at Darwin College. All welcome!

We continue our readings on the brain by exploring one piece of early modern writing on cerebral dissection, structure and function:
 If anyone would like to volunteer to introduce the reading then do get in touch!

Recap - Phrenological Genres

Our first meeting of the academic year brought together Sci-Lit stalwarts with first-time attendees (with a particularly strong showing from the HPS MPhil cohort!), to discuss all things phrenological.

As ever, the conversation ranged widely, from discussions of the impact of urbanisation to the characters of software engineers, Walt Whitman's phrenological reading to the psychic effects of Fantastic Voyage-style adventures inside one's own head. Amongst other topics, we explored the role of physical analogies in these texts, from the cartographic nature of phrenology as mapping the mind and brain, or constructing a chambered house inhabited by different faculties; as well as the roles of analogy and allegory more generally. We thought about how these texts could reveal the consequences of a society based solely (from dress and jewellery to doctors and jurisprudence) on phrenological principles, or of the role for free will if character were truly fixed by crania. We discussed the perennial appeal of phrenology as a test-case for policing the boundaries of scientific disciplines and practitioners, right from its first development: was this really an 'outré science', as Tennyson had it, and if so what did that mean? As highlighted from the outset, generic form was also analysed as one way of accessing an early 19thC world of interdisciplinary (or predisciplinary?) writing and reading of texts.

Finally, as promised, a performance of the 'Phrenology' song from Broadway Musical Florodora (1899) can be found here.

CFP - Alice through the Ages


Alice through the Ages: The 150th Anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The Cambridge-Homerton Research and Teaching Centre for Children’s Literature (University of Cambridge) in collaboration with The Lewis Carroll Society

15th – 17th September 2015

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015. Lewis Carroll famously opens his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with his protagonist “burning with curiosity”, which leads Alice to follow the White Rabbit into an alternative reality. That same sense of curiosity has circulated about Wonderland since the book was first published. This conference aims to offer new understandings of the work by re-evaluating long held truisms, subjecting the text to new theoretical approaches and considering the history of adaptation and its uses in popular culture.

We invite innovative papers on Lewis Carroll from established scholars as well as new voices in the field, and those whose research focuses on cognate fields. We are especially interested in papers focused on the book’s initial production context, including Carroll’s biography and sources and influences; papers that interrogate and problematise some of the longstanding truisms associated with the text, such as its place at the start of the fantasy tradition for children and the relationship between author and illustrator; papers that examine how text and author have been read in terms of cultural studies, the history of science, the medical humanities, and the politics of literature; and papers considering adaptation and the powerful influence Wonderland has had on design and style.

Confirmed keynote speakers are Professor Dame Gillian Beer, Professor Jan Susina and Dr Kiera Vaclavik.

300 word proposals for 20-minute papers or 60-90 minute panel sessions should be submitted by 31st January 2015. We also invite poster presentations, exhibits, performances and any activities inspired by the Alice novels. For more information, or to submit a proposal, please contact Professor Maria Nikolajeva or Dr Zoe Jaques,

Monday, October 13, 2014

13th October - Phrenological Genres

The Michaelmas Term meetings of the Science and Literature Reading Group begin this evening from 7.30-9pm in the Newnham Grange seminar room at Darwin College. I will be at the Porter's Lodge at 7.25pm to meet those unfamiliar with the college.

We commence our explorations of all things cerebral with that perennially popular topic, phrenology. All readings can be found online (click titles for links):
 Optional additional reading:
I hope to see old friends and new faces this evening - please feel free to come along and join in the discussions even if you don't manage to complete all of the readings.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Cambridge Festival of Ideas - Science and Literature events

This year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas will be held from 20th October to 2nd November, and includes many events of interest to members of the Science and Literature Reading Group.

In particular:

The Science of Fiction

Wednesday 22 October: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Cambridge Science Centre, 18 Jesus Lane, CB5 8BQ

In 1735 Jonathan Swift described for the first time that Mars had two moons, 142 years before they were discovered. In 1914 HG Wells predicted the atomic bomb, 31 years before it shook the world. Hosts Andrew Holding (BBC/Guardian) and Will Thompson return with a stellar panel of scientists, authors and researchers to ask what can our stories tell us about the future? Alastair Reynolds (award-winning author and former research astronomer with the European Space Agency) will join us to describe where he finds his inspiration when writing about the future, and how the process builds on his past experiences as a scientist. Design Scientist and Futurist Melissa Sterry will explain how she believes that science and technology can make the world a better place, while astrobiologist and author Lewis Dartnell will share with us what he learnt writing his latest book 'The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch', just in case it all goes wrong. Finally we'll turn back the clock with Melanie Keene (Cambridge University) whose research for her upcoming book 'Science in Wonderland' will let us see what Victorian Britain had expected life to be like today. For other sites: Join us for 'The Science of Fiction: Future' Doors: 7pm for 7:30pm on 22nd October at the Cambridge Science Centre. The event is supported by a recommended donation of £3, collected on the night. For further details, and to book a place, see here.

Reading the Anthropocene
Thursday 30 October: 5:30pm - 7:00pm
GR06/07, Faculty of English, Faculty of English, 9 West Road, CB3 9DP

In the 2000s, scientists suggested that with the escalation of mankind’s influence on the planet, we have we now entered a new geological era, that of the Anthropocene. Whilst scientists are continuing to debate when this era began, if it has done at all, literary critics, theorists and environmental philosophers have already adopted the term in order to think about the challenges ahead of us, and the changes needed to meet them. BBC New Generation Thinker and Cambridge Lecturer in Literature and Film, Dr Sarah Dillon, joins Quaternary geologist Professor Phil Gibbard and writer and environmentalist Tony Juniper, to discuss the significance of the idea of the Anthropocene across disciplines and culture. For further details, and to book a place, see here.

Other events of interest include (click titles for links):

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Kelley Swain - Double the Stars

The latest work by former Reading Group member Kelley Swain, Double the Stars, has recently been published. Photos from the Royal Observatory launch of this novel about Caroline Herschel can be found at Kelley's blog here.

Victorian Studies - articles on 'Victorian(ist) Epistemographies'

Lots of articles of potential interest to Science and Literature folk in the Spring 2014 issue of Victorian Studies (access via University of Cambridge), including: