Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Frog and Toad" in the New Yorker

Article by Colin Stokes here.

SciPo 2016 - Oxford, 11th June

"Where poetry meets science creative sparks fly, so come along and hear ideas catch fire at SciPo – a day of talks, panel discussions and readings with the distinguished Welsh poet, Tony Curtis, Director of Medicine Unboxed, Samir Guglani, multi-award-winning poet Lesley Saunders and St Hilda’s own resident science poet – Sarah Watkinson." Further details here.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pynchon Notes now online

The archive of Pynchon Notes, which ran from 1979-2009, is now online here. See further information about the digitisation project here.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Recap - 16th May

After a round of introductions (and a welcome to new attendees), Charissa began our second meeting of term by detailing the long history of frogs and experiments. She guided us through everything from early modern ponderings over how frogs reproduced, to testing with taffeta trousers, twitching when connected to electrical circuitry, and their more recent role as a model organism. Turning to the reading, she discussed how Sedgwick's piece went through the history of this (gruesome?) experiment, before adding its own findings: the insight this gave into experimental physiology in the 1880s, how it related to other research ongoing in homes and laboratories in Europe and North America, and how it should be written about.
Frogs as one of a series of model organisms.
The rest of the evening's conversation ranged from materialism to metamorphosis: we looked, amongst other things, at the article's tone of voice (almost Jane Austen-ish at times? at other times especially evocative words break through the overall dispassionate approach) and literary style of the journal article, which gave insights into its historical positioning between something written for a generalised periodical audience, and a more specific piece of scientific literature for a community of experts; we thought about model organisms more generally as analogies; we considered the contemporary vivsection debates and how considerations of the ethics and emotions of animal experimentation were brought into play (or not) in reports such as this; indeed, we wondered whether it mattered whether this was a frog at all: it was, rather, part of the apparatus, an experimental organism which was an abstracted reflex mechanism, brainless or brained; we considered the lack of information about what type of frog it was, and how the varied natural history (or availability - where did these frogs come from?) was not considered important in the experimental description; how the frog was used to connect up different levels of research into temperature, from cellular to seasonal effects; and the consequences of both evolutionary and philosophical considerations of the status of animals as to the relationships between spirit and matter. And, in a glimpse of what we're going to be talking about next time, we talked briefly about other ways in which frogs appeared in scientific literature in the nineteenth century, including natural history books for children which encouraged actual encounters with frogs, and stories in which the frogs, in a different way to their use as model organisms or parts of experimental apparatus, appeared as analogies.

Links to other pieces of writing mentioned in the discussion:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

30th May - More anthropomorphic frogs

Examples of frog taxidermy:
Other versions of the 'Froggy would a-wooing go' song:
Classical influences:
Fairytale influences: 'The Frog King':
Other late nineteenth-century children's books about frogs:
Beatrix Potter:

30th May - Anthropomorphic frogs

Please join us for our next meeting on Monday 30th May from 7.30-9pm in the Newnham Grange Seminar Room at Darwin College, when we will be exploring the relationships between frogs and people. Our set readings are:

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Pictorial recap - 2nd May

Charissa explains it all.

Song - The Scientific Frog

The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins University.

Download the sheet music here!

16th May - More experimental frogs

Memorie sulla elettricità animale (1797), Wellcome Images.

Further froggy experiments:

16th May - Experimental frogs

For our second meeting of term we leapfrog the centuries to land in hot water, reading W.T. Sedgwick's 'On Variations of Reflex-Excitability in the Frog, Induced by Changes of Temperature', in Studies from the Biological Laboratory (1883), pp. 385-410.

We meet on Monday 16th May from 7.30-9pm in the Newnham Grange Seminar Room at Darwin College. All welcome!

Recap - 2nd May

Our frog-themed term began last night with a fantastic conversation about the metamorphoses of early modern natural historical culture. We focused on the relevant chapter from clergyman Edward Topsell's History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents, originally published in 1607 and 1608, and over an hour and a half we explored frogness in its many manifestations, from supposed spontaneous generation to miraculous medicinal cures.

The frog in Conrad Gesner's Historiae animalium (published from 1551-87)
As Tillmann explained in his very useful introduction, the work's early-seventeenth-century publication situates it between two traditions in natural history: it appears on the verge of a shift away from emblematic natural history towards a natural theology which focused on naturalistic detail and divine design more than cultural significance. Topsell's text seems much more in this earlier, multifaceted and emblematic style (as the author admitted, he has drawn on many earlier sources, especially Conrad Gesner); but with more naturalistic illustrations, and also an overarchingly theological interpretation, as would befit a man of God.

We went on to explore various themes and topics raised in the text, from Biblical plagues to magical applications and onomatopoeic poetry. Topsell, we saw, drew especially from ancient authorities, but in bringing together his text-based research he was not afraid to question their accuracy, and to deploy more recent arguments where necessary. We wondered who would have bought and read this book, and why, whether seeking a comprehensive distilliation of known wisdom on the frog, an imaginative flight of fancy, or perhaps (and the index, as John pointed out, seemed to support this) medical advice on how to cure any manner of ailments.

All of these discussions were accompanied, of course, by suitable refreshments: a more modern emblem of 'frogness', Freddo.

Essential themed snacks.