Monday, November 02, 2015

Job - Research Associate, ‘Unsettling Scientific Stories'

‘Unsettling Scientific Stories: expertise, narrative and future histories’ is an AHRC funded project which investigates how the history of the future was written over the course of the 20th century. It examines the different ways in which the sciences were used by novelists, commentators, politicians and academics to envision the future history of western society, and how the public both informed and responded to these conceptualisations.

Working under the supervision of the project’s PI, you will take a lead role in developing one of the project’s key outcomes: an interactive imaginative participant ethnography, housed within the project’s website. This innovative methodology combines data generation with public engagement, building on the popular appetite for speculative fiction to encourage a two-way dialogue between the project and wider expert and lay publics. Additionally, you will cooperate closely with other project members (based in Newcastle and Aberystwyth) in order to develop the other project components, including other elements of the project website, be lead author on at least one peer-reviewed article arising out of the project’s work and assist in the organisation of conferences and meetings linked to the project.

You will need a PhD in the history/sociology of science, or a related discipline, or equivalent experience and you will need to find reading (or writing) SF an absorbing, fascinating and exciting pastime.

The salary will be £30,434 per year and the position is available for a period of up to 30 months.

Closing date: Midnight on Monday 23 November 2015

Further details here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Michaelmas Term 2015

There will be no meetings of the Science and Literature Reading Group this term, but we hope to return in Lent Term 2016. More information will be posted here once available.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Science and Literature Commission / DHST - Fall 2015 Newsletter

a) 25th International Conference of History of Science and Technology , Division of History of Science and Technology, International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, Rio, Brazil 2017.

The Commission of Science and Literature was established in 2013 in Manchester during the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Therefore our participation in one or more symposia in the 25th International Congress, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 23 to 29 July 2017, ( ) will be the first "appearance" of our Commission in such a great event for the community of the historians of science and technology.
We welcome proposals for thematic symposia and/or stand-alone papers to incorporate in our symposia until 31st March 2016. Each symposium has to secure at least three presenters. Please have in mind that according to the policy of the Congress only one paper can be given by each individual participating in the Conference.

b) Workshop on "Science Fiction. Jules Verne and 19th century science", Athens 17-18 December 2015
In connection with several activities concerning the celebration of 2015 as international year of Light Coscilit organizes a two-days' workshop on "Science Fiction. Jules Verne and 19th century science".
We welcome papers for oral presentations of about 20-30 minutes on subjects (indicatively) related with Jules Verne, his scientific knowledge, the scientific innovations of his time that inspired him, other futuristic novels of that time which had a scientific background, and the influence of Jules Verne for the development of science and technology. Papers which will discuss other subjects and dimensions of science fiction are also welcome.

Deadline for the submission of the papers: 30 October 2015

Registration fees: 80 Euros
Registration fees for young scholars, postgraduate and graduate students: 30 Euros

c) Special issue of Almagest on science fiction.
We have arranged that the next issue of Almagest (published by Brepols) will be a special issue on science fiction in the framework of science and literature studies.
Guest editors will be John Holmes, Valerie Stienon, George N. Vlahakis and Kostas Tampakis.
We welcome papers on the subject from 6000 to 8000 words following the Almagest guidelines. (
Deadline for the submission of the papers 15th December 2015.

d) Elections for the Commission on Science and Literature Council Board.
Members of the Commission willing to serve in the Council Board may submit their nominations until October 30th. Elections will take place electronically until 15th November and the results will be announced officially during the workshop about Jules Verne and 19th century science in Athens in 19th November.
Nominations are welcome for the following positions:
Regional officers for Asia, Australia, North America, South America, Africa and Europe
Young scholar – Ph.D. candidate
Member of the Council

We accept nominations for the Council Board submitted by two members of the Commission, including self-nominations. A short CV (200 words max.) and a photo if possible have to be submitted as well in order to inform the members of the Society for the academic activities of the candidates. Nominations may be submitted to Prof. John R. Holmes
Elections will take place through emails to a Committee of three members who are not canditates for the Council Board.

e) The site of the Commission will be gradually transferred to as the Hellenic Open University kindly agreed to host it in its server.
f) New publications
New book about science and literature published in Catalan by Xavier Duran:
"La ciència en la literatura. Un viatge per la història de la ciència vista per escriptors de tots els temps"
Universitat de Barcelona Publicacions i Edicions
Collecció Catàlisi
363 pàges.
ISBN 978-84-475-4233-8

g) Forthcoming events

BSLS Winter Symposium
Museum of English Rural Life and University of Reading's Special Collections, Saturday 14th November 2015
Archival research has long been a mainstay of literature and science as a discipline, challenging the boundaries of what can be read as text and excavating long-submerged concepts and connections. The recent growth in collaborative doctoral awards and collections-based PhDs, alongside research strands such as the AHRC's Science in Culture, however, demonstrate a need to consider more fully the implications of this kind of investigation. The BSLS's Winter Symposium therefore provides an opportunity for literature and science researchers, at all points in their career, to reflect and build upon the successes and challenges of finding 'Science in the Archives'.

The majority of us use special collections and archival materials in the course of our literature and science research, but we are not always encouraged to reflect upon the ramifications of doing so. This symposium will provide an important opportunity to stimulate and facilitate much needed discussion of the challenges as well as successes of finding science in the archives.For this event, we have adopted a different format from the standard academic twenty-minute conference paper, and will ask speakers to present in a more informal tone and for different lengths of time depending on the session. These shorter, less formal presentations will minimise preparation time for speakers as well as increasing discussion time for all participants. The organisers warmly seek a limited number of 10 minute position papers about methodologies and approaches to literature and science in the archives, from a range of time periods and from speakers at all stages of research or career.

h) For any further information and application for membership please send an email to and

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

CFP - Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities

As part of the Wellcome Trust funded project 'Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities', the BMJ Group journal Medical Humanities will be publishing a special issue guest edited by Dr Gavin Miller, University of Glasgow. We invite papers of broad interest to an international readership of medical humanities scholars and practising clinicians on the topic ‘Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities’.

Science fiction is a fertile ground for the imagining of biomedical advances. Technologies such as cloning, prosthetics, and rejuvenation are frequently encountered in science-fiction stories. Science fiction also offers alternative ideals of health and wellbeing, and imagines new forms of disease and suffering. The special issue seeks papers that explore issues of health, illness, and medicine in science-fiction narratives within a variety of media (written word, graphic novel, theatre, dance, film and television, etc.).

We are also particularly interested in articles that explore the biomedical ‘technoscientific imaginary’: the culturally-embedded imagining of futures enabled by technoscientific innovation. We especially welcome papers that explore science-fiction tropes, motifs, and narratives within medical and health-related discourses, practices, and institutions. The question – how does the biomedical technoscientific imaginary permeate the everyday and expert worlds of modern medicine and healthcare? – may be a useful prompt for potential authors.

For further details on call and project:
Twitter: @scifimedhums

Monday, June 08, 2015

Novel Thoughts: what Cambridge scientists read

Details of a new initiative exploring the reading habits of Cambridge scientists can be found here.

MAP - Poems After William Smith’s Geological Map of 1815

Two hundred years after the publication of the first geological map of an entire country, this  anthology, edited by Michael McKimm, collects new work by over thirty poets inspired by William Smith.

Stephen Boyce ● Alison Brackenbury ● James Brookes ● Andy Brown ● Alan Buckley ● Peter Carpenter ● John Wedgwood Clarke ● Jane Commane ● Elizabeth Cook ● Barbara Cumbers ● Jonathan Davidson ● Isobel Dixon ● Maura Dooley ● Sally Flint ●  John Freeman ● Isabel Galleymore ● John Greening ● Philip Gross ● Alyson Hallett ● Ailsa Holland ● John McAuliffe ● Matt Merritt ● Helen Mort ● Andrew Motion ● David M. Orchard ● Mario Petrucci ● Kate Potts ● Peter Robinson ●  Penelope Shuttle ● George Ttoouli ● Anthony Wilson

To purchase a copy, see here.

A review by John Henry is on the History of Geology Group blog here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

CFP - Scienific Utopias in the Soviet Union

Call for papers

Scientific Utopias in Soviet Union
Fiction, science and power

International Conference


23-24 SEPTEMBER 2016

Organization: Grégory Dufaud, Ioulia Podoroga, Larissa Zakharova

Scientific committee: Anna Åberg (FMSH/CERCEC), Korine Amacher (Geneva University), Catherine Depretto (Univeristy Paris-IV), Leonid Heller (Lausanne University), Alexei Kojevnikov (University of British Columbia), Nikolai Krementsov (University of Toronto), Valéry Pozner (CNRS), Egle Rindzeviciute (SciencesPo-Paris), Alexandr Dmitriev (Higher School of Economics - Moscow)

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, history of science has made significant progress. One topic however was disregarded: scientific utopia, fascinating and intriguing, because situated on the border between literature and science. Nikolai Krementsov is one of the few historians to deal with this topic. In Revolutionary Experiments, on the basis of several literary works, he focuses on medicine in the 1920s, further extending the reflections exposed in his book on Aleksandr Bogdanov. Unsuccessful rival of Lenin, Bogdanov abandoned political life to devote himself to writing. Through science fiction, he did not only expose his vision of socialism, but also theorized the role of medicine and blood transfusion in the transformation of the social world. As suggested by the example of Bogdanov, scientific utopia, as social utopia, offers an imaginary model for a new type of society and wishes to facilitate its realization.
This conference aims to understand how fiction, thanks to its heuristic function, managed to participate in the transformation of scientific activity and reconfigure science and power relation. First of all, we will focus on the relation between fiction and science, in order to explore how literature and film have taken over and readapted some of the concepts based on scientific discoveries and, conversely, how science used the imagery proposed by fiction to sustain its discourse, challenge its findings or launch the brand new experiments. This double movement is clearly mediated by power. This is why we will be attentive to the social command and the mechanisms of censorship at work.  
Through this relation between fiction, science and power we also wish to explore the idea of progress and its meaning during this period. If Soviet authorities made of science mother of progress, the belief in the impending communism started fading in the sixties. To what extent have scientific utopias reflected this evolution? What kind of imagery did they offer to the public? Utopias are rooted in the reality of their time and reveal its concerns. Then, what are the concerns they convey? Have they developed a discourse on risk that scientists would then reappropriate? For what reasons?
This conference addresses all the disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (history, sociology, philosophy, literature studies, etc.). Every field of Soviet science, the best known as well as the most marginal, are to be examined. All works of fiction can be analyzed, as long as they fall within literature or cinema. Our focus is not one genre in particular (utopia, fantastic or science fiction), but a body of works of different status, whose common feature is the use and the reappropriation of scientific discoveries in order to imagine the future.

We invite contributions dealing with following questions:

1.                Scientific concepts and discoveries in fiction
       variety of imagery proposed by scientific utopias;
       discoveries and innovations at the heart of this imagery;
       meanings given to the idea of progress;
       fears and concerns expressed by scientific utopias.

2. Scientific utopias and science:
       the role of fiction in scientific thinking and controversies;
       the role of fiction in the reconfiguration of relations between scientific disciplines;
       scientific ethics with regard to scientific utopias;
       the use of scientific utopias in order to obtain recognition of a project by authorities or a scientific institution.

2.      Scientific utopias tested by the society:
       spreading of scientific utopias and its audience;
       scientific utopias and popularization of knowledge and techniques;
       scientific utopias and power, the role of censorship. 

If you are interested in presenting a paper at this conference, please send a 300 word-long abstract and a short bio to the following e-mail addresse: by November 30th, 2015

The working languages of the conference are French, English and Russian.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Discussion - 'The Hard Problem'

Tom Stoppard and David Sloan Wilson in conversation on the Guardian website here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A dramatic experiment: science on stage

6:30 pm - 8:00 pm on Monday 11 May 2015

at The Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1

A Royal Shakespeare Company event, in partnership with the Royal Society

Why does the story of a scientist, or topic of science itself, make for a
compelling theatrical production?

Join us for an evening uncovering science-inspired theatre.

Our panel will discuss why science stories continue to attract and intrigue
writers and directors, and the claim that such plays oversimplify
scientific theory in the pursuit of an accessible and dramatic narrative.

Hear from Tom Morton-Smith, writer of the critically acclaimed RSC
production Oppenheimer, Professor John D. Barrow FRS, a cosmologist and
playwright, Dr Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, a scholar of science in the theatre,
and Professor Marcus du Sautoy OBE, broadcaster, writer and science

Chaired by Erica Whyman OBE, Deputy Artistic Director at the Royal
Shakespeare Company.

Tickets for this event can be purchased from the Royal Shakespeare Company

A limited number of tickets may also be available for purchase on the door

Doors open at 6pm

Details here.

UPDATE (20/5/15): Read an article by Kirsten about these issues here; and apparently video from the event is also available here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

BSLS/JLS Essay Prize 2015

The British Society for Literature and Science and the Journal of Literature and Science would like to announce our annual prize for the best new essay by an early career scholar on a topic within the field of literature and science. The deadline for this year's prize will be 19th June, in order to give members time to revise papers presented at the BSLS conference should they wish to.

Essays should be currently unpublished and not under consideration by another journal. They should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words long, inclusive of references, and should be send by email to both John Holmes, Chair of the BSLS (, and Martin Willis, Editor of JLS (, by 12 noon on Friday, 19th June, 2015.

The prize is open to BSLS members who are postgraduate students or have completed a doctorate within three calendar years of the deadline date. The Prize committee will consider on a case by case basis whether to accept submissions from anyone whose doctorate was completed more than three years prior to the deadline but whose career has been interrupted during that time (due to illness, maternity leave, etc.). Those who have submitted to the essay prize in previous years are very welcome to submit again. This includes any previous prize winners or honourable mentions.

To join BSLS (only £10 for postgraduates and unwaged members), go to
The prize will be judged jointly by representatives of the BSLS and JLS. The winning essay will be announced on the BSLS website and published in JLS. The winner will also receive a prize of £100. The judges reserve the right not to award the prize should no essay of a high enough standard be submitted.
The winning essays to date have been Rachel Crossland’s ‘”Multitudinous and Minute”: Early Twentieth-Century Scientific, Literary and Psychological Representations of the Mass’, published in JLS, 6.2 (2013), and Emilie Taylor-Brown's ‘(Re)constructing the Knights of Science: Parasitologists and their Literary Imaginations’, published in JLS, 7.2 (2014). Josie Gill’s essay, ‘Science and Fiction in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth’ received an honourable mention from the judges and was published in JLS, 6.2 (2013). To read these essays, visit

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Talk - 'Darwin and Mechnikov in Tolstoy's Literary Imagination'

Thursday 23 April 2015 at 5:00pm in the Beves Room, King's College
Coffee and refreshments available from 4:45pm

Talk Abstract

Leo Tolstoy was a notorious critic of science as it was practiced in the late nineteenth century. At the same time, he was heavily influenced by newly appearing scientific theories. This talk explores Tolstoy's response to two of the most noted scientists of his day: the zoologist, Charles Darwin, and the pathologist, Ilya Mechnikov. Tolstoy frequently criticized both men in his diaries, letters, and essays, but their ideas helped shape his fictional works. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy used his two main characters to represent an acceptance and a rejection of Darwinian theory and, in so doing, highlighted the dangers of regarding it as scientific law. In his final novel, Resurrection, rather than making the characters' fates provide a judgment on scientific theory as he did in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy coopted Mechnikov's phagocytic theory for his own ends, making it the metaphoric basis for his moral philosophy. This offered him a way of synthesizing science and religion through art.

About the speaker

Anna A. Berman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). Her primary area of research is the family in the nineteenth-century novel, with a focus on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. She is interested in literary depictions of siblinghood, kinship, and forms of love that provide an alternative to the standard romantic love/marriage plot. Her book, Siblings in Tolstoy: The Path to Universal Brotherhood, will be published this fall by Northwestern University Press. Recently, she has begun to research the links between nineteenth-century conceptions of the family and the scientific theories of Charles Darwin and Ilya Mechnikov. Berman also studies Russian opera, with a particular interest in adaptations of literary texts.

Easter Term 2015

This term we will not be holding a formal series of seminars, but instead focus on more social events in Cambridge's scientific spaces and places. We will visit several local sites (including the Sedgwick Museum, Botanic Gardens and Institute of Astronomy), for readings and discussion of appropriate related texts.
For further details as and when they become available, please watch out for updates on this blog, or email Melanie to join our mailing list.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Call for suggestions - novels, politics and technology

Georgina Voss has a post on the Guardian website today asking for suggestions of 'the best fiction books with something to say about the politics of science and technology'. Read it (and contribute) here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Video - Charlotte Sleigh on Literature and Science

A recording of a talk by Charlotte Sleigh (University of Kent), on 'Engineering fiction: literature and science in interwar Britain' from the Oxford Literature and Science Research Seminar Series, 20/03/2015, is available here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Science and Literature - Summer School

Following the successful 1st International Conference on Science and Literature, that took place in Athens last year, the International Commission on Science and Literature is happy to announce the  Summer School on Science and Literature, which will be held in the Greek island of Andros, from the 22nd to the 26th of June 2015.
The Summer School will be of especial interest to graduate students and early-career researchers working on literature, the sciences and the history of science. It will offer the opportunity for an in-depth presentation and discussion of themes relevant to Science and Literature at large. Each day, a lecture will be given on a specific point of intersection between science and literature. Participants will then work in small groups and prepare their own views on the subject, and discuss how it pertains to their own research. Participants will also have the opportunity to present short papers on their research or on subjects they want to discuss and receive feedback on. Finally, a round table will be organized discussing the future of Science and Literature as an academic field and its possible application in scientific and literary education.  The language of the Summer School will be English but there will be an opportunity for presentations in French, German and Greek if there is a relevant interest.
Dr. John Holmes, Chair of the British Society for Literature and Science, Prof. Manuela Rossini, President of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (Europe), Prof. Paola Spinozzi, University of Ferrara, Prof. Constantin Canavas, Hamburg Technical University have already confirmed their participation as invited speakers.
Andros island is a picturesque island on the Aegean Sea, about two hours from Attica (Rafina harbor), with several ferries during the day. There is a also a convenient connection between Athens airport and Rafina harbor.
For an overview of Andros island visit
The venue of the summer school will be Pighi Sariza Hotel (, with several nice beaches a short distance from the hotel. Participants will have also the chance to participate in several cultural events including visits to the famous Goulandri Museum of Modern Art and the Kaireios Library in Chora, the capital of Andros. The cost of the accommodation will be around 50 euros per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner included). There will also be a registration fee of 140 Euros. Support for a number of young scholars will be provided by a DHST/IUHPST grant.
Those who are interested to participate are invited to send an email to and/or by May 20, 2015.

Friday, March 20, 2015

CFP - The Darwins Reconsidered

Evolution, Writing & Inheritance in the Works of Erasmus and Charles Darwin
A One-Day Colloquium: Friday, September 4, 2015
University of Roehampton, London.

Keynote Speakers: Professor David Amigoni (Keele University) Professor Tim Fulford (De Montfort University)

Plenary Speaker: Dr John Holmes (Reading University)

When the 28-year-old Charles Darwin first opened his ‘evolutionary’ notebook in 1837, he deployed the title of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin’s medical treatise, Zoonomia (1794-6). By then, Erasmus -- poet, doctor, inventor and leading light of the Birmingham Lunar Society -- had drifted into comparative obscurity; best remembered as the eccentric genius whose work The Loves of Plants (1789) had been notoriously parodied as The Loves of Triangles. Erasmus was never forgotten by his more famous grandson, however, and throughout Charles’s career, Erasmus’s writing and thinking acted as both catalyst and antagonist to Charles’s burgeoning evolutionary ideas, on such subjects as heredity, variation and sexual selection. Forty-two years later, Erasmus was also the subject of Charles’s own venture into non-scientific writing – a biography of his illustrious grandfather. In the first academic conference to formally consider the imaginative and scientific relationship between these two remarkable speculative thinkers, we ask, in what ways did Erasmus’s life and works facilitate and anticipate Charles’s ideas, and how did Charles mobilise the stated and unstated affinities with Erasmus to enrich his own thinking?

We invite papers of 20 minutes that consider the two writers in the following broad subject areas:
  • poetry, aesthetics, and writing style
  • scientific families & heredity 
  • evolution
  • styles of observation 
  • humour and excess 
  • pleasure 
  • biography 
  • the relation between the arts and sciences 
  • the natural world 
  • variation and diversification 
  • geology 
  • family life 
  • experimentation 
  • scientific method 
  • public and private sphere
 Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words, accompanied by a short biography, to the conference organisers, Prof. Martin Priestman ( & Dr Louise Lee ( by April 28, 2015.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Recap - Blinded by the Sun

Characters from the play 'live-sketched' by Simon during Adrian's introduction.

At our second - and last - meeting of term we discussed Stephen Poliakoff's Blinded by the Sun (1996). After dishing out the cake and drinks (not quite the picnic fare represented in the play...), Adrian provided an excellent and thorough introduction to Poliakoff, his work, and even his family.

Alongside Arcadia (1993) and Copenhagen (1998), Blinded by the Sun formed, we learned, the middle of a trio of science plays produced by the National in the 'nineties. Arguably the least well known of these plays, it is also the only one in which, as its opening instructions say, 'The time is the present' throughout. Is this best, therefore, seen as an 'unhappy state of the nation' play?

Adrian identified the key themes of the play's attempt to gain insight into the workings of academia and its relationship with wider society: how, it asks, do science departments response to the world? What does the world want from them, and what do they want from the world? What does the world reward in the sciences and what does it not reward? What do science departments themselves value and/or reward? With Poliakoff's brother a chemistry professor at Nottingham, we felt the playwright had a particular connection to these topics. Scrutiny of the current website of the Nottingham chemistry department shows its quite evident placement in relation to wider audiences, with emphases on student satisfaction and sustainable chemistry ('benign by design').

Guided by Adrian, we also thought about replication and reputations in science, with reference to the cold fusion controversy of the late nineteen-eighties. Does, as the play seem to suggest, a focus on sensational frauds miss many other forms of misconduct or betraying of ideals as part of scientific practice? At several points in the play we felt its characters expressed well the frustrations, insights, and experience of actually conducting scientific research; the different personalities involved seemed to stand in for different types (and generations) of researchers.

The discussion continued to cover everything from perpetual motion machines to detergent. In particular, we talked about several pairs of topics: pure and applied science, individual and group research, gender and careers, counterfeiting and skill, cognitive dissonance and fraud, inspiration and perspiration. A fitting conclusion to our term focussing on this pair of plays.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Talk - ‘Science Communication’

A talk by Dr Charlotte Sleigh, Reader in History of Science at the University of Kent, will be followed by a conversation between Dr Sleigh and Tilly Blyth, curator of the recently-opened gallery, ‘Information Age’.

Tuesday 31 March, 1 pm In the Patrons’ Room of the Smith Centre, at the Science Museum

The entrance to the Smith Centre is from Imperial College Road. Go north from the Museum entrance (i.e. to the right when facing the Museum), turn the corner on the left, and ring the bell at the entrance to the Smith Centre of the left. Please feel free to bring a lunch to eat, if you wish.

Everyone is welcome.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Stories about science: exploring science communication and entertainment media

A research symposium at the University of Manchester
Thursday 4 and Friday 5 June 2015
We are now in a golden age for science in entertainment. Academy Award winning films such as Gravity and The Theory of Everything, and television ratings titans like The Big Bang Theory, have proved that science–based entertainment products can be both critically acclaimed and financially successful. In fact, many high profile scientific organizations including the US National Academy of Sciences and the Wellcome Trust in the UK now believe that science communication can, and perhaps should, be both informative and entertaining.

These groups have embraced movies and television as legitimate vehicles for science communication by developing initiatives to facilitate scientific involvement in the production of films and television programs. Science communication scholarship on entertainment media has been slow to catch up with the enthusiasm shown by these scientific organizations, as science communication studies of science in mass media still predominantly focus on news media and factual documentaries.

This Wellcome Trust-funded two-day symposium brings together scholars from across disciplines to explore the communication of science through entertainment media in order to uncover new ways of approaching, understanding, and theorizing about this topic. Our exciting range of speakers will explore science communication and entertainment media from a variety of disciplinary and global perspectives as it is practised and experienced by a diverse array of publics.

The event will run from Thursday 4 to Friday 5 June 2015 and is organized by the Science and Entertainment Lab research group within CHSTM, comprised of David A. Kirby, William R. Macauley, and Amy C. Chambers. There is no cost for attending the symposium, but spaces are limited.

Please contact the organizers if you are interested in attending, or if you would like further details:

Ninth Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism 2015

Friday 17 July to Sunday 19 July 2015

**Applications remain open, on a first come first served basis**
The SFF Masterclass involves three days studying texts supplied by three class leaders. It is a great way to broaden your critical perspectives, sharpen some critical tools, and to make contacts with other people writing on SF and Fantasy. The class leaders are drawn from professional writers, academics and fans, and this is a great opportunity to learn from people experienced in their craft.
Anyone interested in writing seriously about science fiction and/or fantasy, at whatever level they are in their careers, is welcome to attend. This includes not just critics and reviewers, but historians and other scholars. Those who have attended past Masterclasses are also welcome to apply (though we will prioritise applications from those who have not been previous students).
Price: £200; £150 for registered postgraduate students. 
The Class Leaders for 2015 will be: 
Pat Cadigan, multiple Clarke and Hugo Award-winning author of Synners and Fools, and Official Queen of Cyberpunk.
Nick Lowe, BSFA Award-winning critic and writer of Interzone's 'Mutant Popcorn' column.
Graham Sleight, Hugo Award-winning Managing Editor of the Science Fiction Encyclopedia.
Further details here.

Conference registration now open - Being Modern

Science and Culture in the early 20th century
Institute of Historical Research, London 22-24 April 2015

'What proofs did Bloom adduce that his tendency was towards applied, rather than toward pure, science?' Joyce, Ulysses

Engagement with science was commonly used as an emblem of "Being modern", across culture in Britain and the western world in the years around the First World War. This conference will be held on the exact centenary of the first use of poison gas on the Western Front.

Join distinguished historians of literature, design and culture exploring how the complex interpretations of science affected the re-creation of what it was to be modern early in the 20th century.

Further details here.

Conference registration now open - Biological Discourses

The Language of Science and Literature around 1900

The decades around 1900 are a crucial period for the impact of biological thought on the intellectual cultures of the western world. The impulses of Darwinism were taken up by intellectuals, writers and artists from the 1860s onwards, and both Darwinian and anti-Darwinian currents of thinking exercised a powerful influence on the intellectual climate of the early decades of the twentieth century. It was a period that saw major developments in cell biology and the establishment of genetics as we know it, the movement of medical science and psychiatry beyond mechanistic conceptions of illness, and the emergence of psychoanalysis and sexology as new disciplines. “Biological Discourses”, a student-led conference to be held in Cambridge on 10-11 April 2015, is part of a collaborative venture between the Cambridge Department of German & Dutch and the Institute for Modern Languages Research, London, investigating the interplay and the forms of mediation between literary and biological discourses in that period.

Please see the link ( for registration, programme and further details, or click below:

Biological_ Discourses Prg (Final)

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Chemistry World article - on telling stories in science

A brief discussion of narratives and science (as well as links to further readings on the subject) is here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

'The Role of the Humanities in Improving the Lives of those who Suffer from Mental Health Problems’: A Panel Discussion

Winstanley Lecture Theatre, Trinity College Thursday, 5th March 2015 6.30-8.30pm

Organised by the Cambridge University Medical Humanities Society

Details of the speakers are as follows:

Dr. Ahmed Hankir is Research Fellow of the Bedfordshire Centre for Mental Health Research in Association with Cambridge University. Dr Hankir's research interests are wide-ranging and include the portrayal of mental health challenges in film, literature and the media, the association between 'craziness' and creativity, cultural psychiatry and the mental health of healthcare professionals.Together with Dr Rashid Zaman, Ahmed designed and developed the Wounded Healer which is an innovative method of pedagogy that blends science with the humanities.

The Wounded Healer is a contact based anti-stigma intervention that has been delivered to more than 5000 medical students and doctors in the UK, Canada, USA, Portugal, Italy and Lebanon. Dr. Hankir is the recipient of numerous awards most notably the 2013 Royal College of Psychiatrists Foundation Doctor of the Year Award. Ahmed, in his own autobiographical narrative, will discuss and describe the roles that drama therapy and the health humanities played in his convalescence from profound oscillations in mood.

Dr. Victoria Tischler is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at London College of Fashion interested in the use of creative interventions to improve the health and well-being of people with mental health problems. She will talk about her research using visual art to stimulate cognition in people with dementia.

Prof. Brian Brown is Professor of Health Communication in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at De Montfort University. He will provide a background concerning the health humanities and the approach taken at Nottingham University. He will also describe some aspects of ongoing research exploring how the role of mutual involvement in creative activity - sculpture, photography, music, storytelling - can enhance the well-being of all parties involved.

Dr. Rashid Zaman is a consultant Psychiatrist and associate lecturer at Cambridge University. Drawing upon his experiences, he will provide a clinical perspective on the subject matter.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

CFP - International Conference on Science and Fiction

Barcelona, Institut d’Estudis Catalans, September 2-4, 2015.
Vilanova i la Geltrú, Biblioteca-Museu Víctor Balaguer, September 5th, 2015.

'Science and Fiction: A Creative Exploration of Real and Fantastic Worlds', is an International conference hosted by the Catalan Society for History of Science and Technology and the Catalan Society for SF and Fantasy. The main goal of the conference is to analyze and discuss the relations between science and fiction (literature, theatre, cinema, arts…), introducing them in the topics of the Catalan academic environment.

Topics proposed
Science & Fiction. 2. SF in university academics. 3. SF and genre writing. 4. SF in the international scene. 5. SF outside the books.

Proposals should include an abstract of 200 words, the author’s name, a short CV, and a tentative title. Please submit abstracts via e-mail to by March 31st, 2015.

The official languages of the Conference are English and Romance languages.

Further details here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Report - Histories of the Future workshop

Very interesting write-up here of a recent workshop on Histories of the Future.

Talk - The Wonky Wheel of Eccentricity, and how it drives the Ice Ages

Friday 13th February 2015, 7:30 pm, Ely Museum

Simon Crowhurst, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

The great oscillations between warm interglacials and cold glacials in Earth's planetary climate over the last million years have occurred in pace with the periodicities of Earth's major orbital cycles: eccentricity, obliquity, and precession. A long-running problem for the Milankovitch theory - which states that climate cycles are paced by the planetary orbital configuration - has been that the difference in the radiation budget associated with the longest of these cycles - orbital eccentricity - appears too weak to explain its dramatic climate impact. New data obtained in Cambridge from the southern ocean suggests that there may be a more integrated way of understanding how our planet has responded to this orbital component; and this may be relevant to understanding the effects of eccentricity on other planets, and their moons.

The Vernon Cross Meeting Room is part of a self-contained wing at the back of the museum. The address is: The Old Gaol, Market Street, Ely, CB7 4LS. Note: the meeting room has it own entrance, at the back of the museum. The museum itself will be locked at night. The museum is at the top of Market Street, on the corner with Lynn Road. The council car park, next to the museum and meeting room entrance, should be available for public use in the evening. The St Mary's St. and Nutholt Lane public car parks are nearby.

2nd March - Blinded by the Sun

The second meeting of the Science and Literature Reading Group for this term will take place on Monday 2nd March in the Newnham Grange Seminar Room at Darwin College. Please note the different location from the last session.

We will read Stephen Poliakoff's 'Blinded by the Sun' (1996) - the play is available in the University Library and a copy will also be put in the Whipple Library box file soon. In preparation for the meeting, Adrian has suggested we read up on cold fusion, and also visit the home page of the University of Nottingham School of Chemistry. Intriguing...

Recap - Children of the Sun

Our pair of theatrical meetings began in style, with one of the most interdisciplinary gatherings of readers yet. After a brief introduction to the main themes of the term, we considered the origins of Maxim Gorky's Children of the Sun, written whilst he was imprisoned in 1905: its connections to contemporary revolutionary movements, and as part of Gorky's oeuvre of politically-engaged literature. Many aspects of the play's plot and characterisation, we felt, could be read as commentary on Tsarist Russian society, from the unsustainable complacency and dilletantism of the bourgeoisie, to the restless mob just off stage. (Famously, on the play's premiere the audience panicked, associating the feigned unrest with an actual assault on the theatre.) Though Gorky has been held up as a champion of socialist realism, and his later related interests in biology, aesthetics, and transfigured reality have been highlighted, we felt that his play was not so easily categorised: its playful, almost farcial elements seemed more like pantomime than sober reality.

We also explored the play's nineteenth-century setting, and its connections to earlier literature: Ibsen's An Enemy of the People was an evident point of comparison, another piece dealing with relationships between a scientific figure and wider society, purity and contamination. Turgenev's Fathers and Sons seemed to one participant at least to be an obvious model that Gorky was referencing, confident in his audience's familiarity with the classic work. Indeed, the very year of Fathers and Sons's publication, 1862, was the setting for Children of the Sun. Chekhov and Bulgakov were also fruitfully drawn upon.

Further themes of discussion included the similarities and differences between the speeches, poems, and described paintings in the play, and their associated dramatis personae of man of science, poet, and artist: were some sources of inspiration and dedication to pursuits more insightful or worthy than others? How the sun figured throughout the drama was also discussed, as was the provision and playful destruction of the eggs, and some of the ambiguities of Gorky's characterisation: Protasov could be portrayed in very different ways, according to how one wanted to read or stage the play.

We also considered the role of the man of science, as presented by the play: was it admirable and visionary to focus on the future of humanity, or selfish to neglect the humans in your near vicinity? Should figures self-abnegate before the scientific genius, or see scholarly isolation as a naive retreat from the problems of the commonplace and common people? Broadening out our discussion, we explored more general representations of scientific figures in literature and film, wondering about the (im)possibility of showing creativity on page or screen; whether ; and even whether such stories were more productively conceived of as superhero narratives.

Some further readings, mentioned by group participants:

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Aeon magazine article - 'Absolute English'

Science once communicated in a polyglot of tongues, but now English rules alone. How did this happen – and at what cost? Michael Gordin investigates here.

The Total Archive - Dreams of Universal Knowledge from the Encyclopaedia to Big Data

19 March 2015 - 20 March 2015, CRASSH

Boris Jardine (University of Cambridge)
Matthew Drage (University of Cambridge)
Ruth Horry (University of Cambridge)

The complete system of knowledge is a standard trope of science fiction, a techno-utopian dream and an aesthetic ideal. It is Solomon’s House, the Encyclopaedia and the Museum. It is also an ideology – of Enlightenment, High Modernism and absolute governance.

Far from ending the dream of a total archive, twentieth-century positivist rationality brought it ever closer. From Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum to Mass-Observation, from the Unity of Science movement to Isaac Asimov’s Encyclopedia Galactica, from the Whole Earth Catalog to Wikipedia, the dream of universal knowledge dies hard. These projects triumphantly burst their own bounds, generating more archival material, more information, than can ever be processed. When it encounters well defined areas – the sportsfield or the model organism – the total archive tracks every movement of every player, of recording every gene and mutation. Increasingly this approach is inverted: databases are linked; quantities are demanded where only qualities existed before. The Human Genome Project is the most famous, but now there are countless databases demanding ever more varied input. Here the question of what is excluded becomes central.

The total archive is a political tool. It encompasses population statistics, GDP, indices of the Standard of Living and the international ideology of UNESCO, the WHO, the free market and, most recently, Big Data. The information-gathering practices of statecraft are the total archive par excellence, carrying the potential to transfer power into the open fields of economics and law – or divest it into the hands of criminals, researchers and activists.

Questions of the total archive they engage key issues in the philosophy of classification, the poetics of the universal, the ideology of surveillance and the technologies of information retrieval. What are the social structures and political dynamics required to sustain total archives, and what are the temporalities implied by such projects? In order to confront the ideology and increasing reality of interconnected data-sets and communication technologies we need a robust conceptual framework – one that does not sacrifice historical nuance for the ability to speculate. This conference brings together scholars from a wide range of fields to discuss the aesthetics and political reality of the total archive

Registration now open here.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

9th February - Children of the Sun

Our first meeting of term takes place in the No.1 Newnham Terrace Upstairs Seminar Room at Darwin College from 7.30-9pm. We will read Maxim Gorky's ‘Children of the Sun’ (1905), the first of our pair of plays. You can find the play in the University Library, or in the Whipple Library box file from Monday 2nd February. All welcome!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Narrative & Proof

An extract from Marcus du Sautoy's recent Oxford lecture on mathematics and storytelling can be found here; the full video of the talk is available here.

'The AI Revolution'

Attendees of last term's session on 'Beyond the Brain' might be interested in this post discussing Artificial Intelligence. Part II is available here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Call for submissions - Enlightened Perspectives: An Exhibition Working through Science and Art

In the light of National Science Week, Churchill College is putting on an exhibition which explores the relationship between Science and Art. The theme is intentionally vague - is a scientific instrument a piece of art? What about your electron micrographs? Could science be understood from what we would normally regard as just a painting or drawing? We are looking for pieces which put art and science into dialogue with one another: what can this relationship reveal? If this is something you think about, or want to explore more, then please send photographs of your work here.

Information on the inaugural exhibition from last year can be found here. Please specify dimensions and medium. We are open to anything; photographs, paintings, drawings, sculpture, models, films, notebooks, works in progress… this is an opportunity to have your work shown during National Science Week! We don’t want to tell you where the similarities are, but encourage you to show what you think putting Art and Science together can reveal.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: March 1st; Exhibition Date: Monday 9th March.