Monday, October 30, 2017

Talk - 'Five Shades of Gray: Galileo, Goltzius, and Astronomical Engraving'

1 November 2017, 17:00 - 18:00
Little Hall, Sidgwick Site

A public lecture given by Eileen Reeves, Professor and Chair of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

No registration required. Please note venue location - Little Hall, Sidgwick Site
The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception in the Atrium of the Alison Richard Building.

Part of the Genius Before Romanticism: Ingenuity in Early Modern Art and Science project. For more information please contact Gaenor Moore.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Seminar - '*Dr Johnson after Thomas Pennant: The [Re]transit of the Caledonian Hemisphere.'

Prof Nigel Leask (Glasgow) gives the next18th-Century and Romantic Studies seminar:
Thursday 2nd November, 5pm, Board Room, Faculty of English. All are welcome.
"The paper explores the influence of Thomas Pennant's published Scottish Tours in 1769 and 1772 on the practice and representation of Johnson's and Boswell's Scottish tour in 1773, the success of which largely eclipsed Pennant's subsequent reputation. I will discuss the contemporary reception of both tours, exploring their itineraries, intellectual networks, and the composition of their travel accounts, as well as questioning a simplistic opposition between Pennant's favourable account versus Johnson's Scotophobia. The paper also examines their respective attitudes to the Ossian controversy, and to the Gaelic language, which inflects their otherwise similar criticisms of Highland modernity. The paper is illustrated with topographical images by Pennant's 'artist servant' Moses Griffith and other contemporary views of the Highlands."
Those wishing to undertake some preparatory reading might look at the following: Johnson's /Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland/; Pennant's /Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides/ (1772); Pat Rogers' /Johnson and Boswell: The Transit of Caledonia/.

Nigel Leask is the Regius Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Glasgow. He has published widely in the area of Romantic literature and culture, with a special emphasis on empire, India, and travel writing, as well as Scottish literature and thought. His book, /Robert Burns and Pastoral: Poetry and Improvement in Late-18th Century Scotland/ won the Saltire Prize for the best Scottish Research Book of 2010. He has recently edited the /Collected Prose Writings of Robert Burns/ for the AHRC-funded Oxford edition of the /Collected Works of Robert Burns/. He is currently CI of the AHRC funded 'Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour, 1750-1820' (2014-18) and is writing a book entitled /'Stepping Westward': the Scottish Tour 1720-1820/. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and is a Vicepresident of the Association of Scottish Literary Studies.

Monday, October 23, 2017

HPS group - Casebooks Therapy

'Casebooks Therapy' is an informal reading group for those interested in using the manuscripts of Simon Forman and Richard Napier in their research. The aim of the reading group is to improve palaeography skills, as well as to provide guidance about how to make sense of Forman's and Napier's records. No familiarity with early modern handwriting is necessary, and the group is open to all. Attendees are invited to suggest a particular page or case from the casebooks that they have trouble reading to work through collaboratively. Participants should bring a laptop.

Meetings are held on occasional Wednesdays, 4.30–6pm in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane. The first session is on 25 October and will introduce Forman, Napier and their casebooks. Dates of subsequent meetings will depend on interest. Please email Lauren to add your name to the list if you haven't already.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

30th October - Ground

Our second meeting travels below the ground, as we look at two so-called 'Hollow Earth' writings, a travel narrative and a natural philosophical paper:
Additional relevant information can be found in this useful overview on 'Stories of a Hollow Earth' by Peter Fitting at the Public Domain Review.

Recap - Stone

We began our term's Earth-themed meetings with a discussion of the last two books of Pliny's Natural History, on stones and on precious stones, surrounded by the wonderful Watson Building Stones Collection. Sitting in front of many examples of Italian and Greek marble, our conversation ranged from amulets to amber, sanding to Sarcophagi, to the uses (and abuses) of classical statuary.

One of the most significant, lengthy, and complete ancient works, the Natural History attempted to be an encyclopaedic rendering of contemporary knowledge about the contents, origins, usages and properties of the natural world. Indeed, we found, the books were more than a catalogue of rocky descriptions, being accounts, stories, and recipes which dealt with stones in all their manifestations:
  • As part of a bigger natural whole
  • As sculpture, art, and buildings
  • As having intrinsic aesthetic properties
  • As coming from specific places
  • As useful: in processes, in remedies
  • As magical or marvellous
  • As mythical
  • As tasty
  • As fossils
  • As changeable
  • As similar and simile

Throughout, we considered three themes or questions on the compilation and presentation of natural knowledge, as the text exhibited differing voices, digressions, and tensions:
  • Authority: whose?
  • Description: how?
  • Meanings: why?
We closed our conversation with a passage describing the eruption of Vesuvius in which Pliny died - and which has proven to be an outstanding early description of a pyroclastic flow.

Next time we venture underground...

Making use of geological apparatus to sieve cork and sediment from wine...

Whipple Museum - Festival of Ideas events

Can Machines Think?

Wednesday 18 October, 17:30pm - 18:30pm. Adults. Please arrive on time.

Can machines think? Philosopher and cognitive scientist Marta Halina will explore what is unique about the human mind and whether we can build machines that match or exceed our abilities.

Fakes, Mistakes and Mystery

Thursday 19th October, 17.00 - 20.00. Adults. Drop in.
Unravel the network of lies behind a series of forgeries at this interactive evening for adults and young people. Grab a glass of wine, learn how to spot a fake and uncover clues that identify criminal dealers and forgers. As in the art world, the business of creating a forgery of a historical scientific instrument is a lucrative one - who is responsible?

Curators and researchers at the Whipple have been exposing forgeries since the 1950s. At 6pm, join curator Dr. Joshua Nall to hear how research recently exposed fakes in our collection before uncovering more links in a network of forgers and dealers.

Astronomy and Empire: Curator Talk

Friday 20 October, 13.00 - 14.00. Ages 15+. Please arrive on time.

Join Curator Dr. Joshua Nall as he speaks about our newest special exhibition, Astronomy and Empire, the first exhibition to inhabit our newly refurbished Special Exhibition Gallery. Gain an understanding of the realities and practicalities of science in the field as well as an insight into how field science was employed as a method to legitimise key aspects of British colonisation.


Monday 23rd October, 11.00 - 16.00. Families, drop in.
Join detectives at the Whipple for this family hunt for fakes and forgeries in the museum galleries. Skilfully crafted instruments made by sneaky criminals have recently exposed by our top investigators - can you spot them? Learn how to spot an imposter and have a go at making your own criminal forgery to take home!

Monday, October 16, 2017

16th October - Stone

We begin our earth-based readings with a fundamental exploration of stony natural history, reading two sections from Pliny's classic text: books XXXVI ('The Natural History of Stones') and XXXVII ('The Natural History of Precious Stones'). Given the late notice of the readings, please just look at as much of the text as you can.

We'll meet from 7.30-9pm in our new venue, the Watson Gallery:
Enter the Downing Site and go to the Earth Sciences entrance below the steps to come in, ie not the museum entrance but the departmental entrance below it. If you find yourself locked out of the building, attendess can get themselves let in by waving outside the big arched ground floor windows on the Downing Site, beyond the steps with the stone bears, where the Anglo-Saxon sarcophaguses stand.
Hope to see many of you tonight!

Michaelmas Term 2017 - Earth

This term the Science and Literature Reading Group gets down to earth. We will complete our cycle of themes based on the four ancient elements by exploring how different authors have tackled terrestrial topics, from muddy slimescapes to sublime mountain-top.

We are delighted to meet in an appropriate new venue: the Watson Gallery of the Department of Earth Sciences. Many thanks to Simon Crowhurst for arranging this! Directions can be found at the bottom of this post.

All are welcome to join in our wide-ranging and friendly discussions, which take place fortnightly on Monday evenings from 7.30-9pm.

16th October - Stone

 30th October - Ground

13th November - Mountain

27th November - Mud
Read as many poems from our muddy anthology as you'd like:


Directions to the Watson Gallery:
Enter the Downing Site and go to the Earth Sciences entrance below the steps to come in, i.e. not the museum entrance but the departmental entrance below it. If you find yourself locked out of the building, attendess can get themselves let in by waving outside the big arched ground floor windows on the Downing Site, beyond the steps with the stone bears, where the Anglo-Saxon sarcophaguses stand.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Illness Reading Group

What does it mean to be ill? - A reading group on Illness

Illness, care, and medicine have taken on greater and greater importance in intellectual debates. The emergence of the medical humanities, alongside other developments, can be seen to represent this, but at a more fundamental level, illness has announced itself as an important issue across a wide range of fields. Even so, the concept of illness remains remarkably elusive and difficult to fully grasp. Indeed, one of the reasons that illness resists definition is precisely the interdisciplinary demands that come with it: as a concept it stretches and surpasses the boundaries of traditional disciplines. This reading group is designed to address this question, bringing together members of the universities from the humanities and sciences.

For Michaelmas term, we will be reading Havi Carel's book, The Phenomenology of Illness (OUP 2016). Each week, we will take a chapter from the book and use it to direct and anchor our discussions. The book can be found on Oxford Scholarship Online via iDiscover. Those interested are invited to read the introduction and first chapter for the first meeting.

Our first meeting will take place at The University Centre (right next to the Mill Pub), on the third floor from 19:00 - 20:00 on Tuesday the 17th of October. Meetings will take place weekly throughout the term. A tentative schedule is below.

All students and staff are welcome to attend. Please send an email to if you wish to be added to the mailing list for the group.

The group is collaboratively organised by members of the French, History and Philosophy of Science, and Public Health Departments.

17 October: Introduction, Ch 1 Why Use Phenomenology to Study Illness?

24 October: Ch 2 Phenomenological Features of the Body

31 October: Ch 3 The Body in Illness

7 November: Ch 4 Bodily Doubt

14 November: Ch 5 A Phenomenology of Breathlessness

21 November: Ch 6 Is Well-Being Possible in Illness?

28 November: Ch 7 Illness as Being-towards-Death, Ch 8 Epistemic Injustice in Healthcare

5 December: Ch 9 The Philosophical Role of Illness

Organisers: Joseph Wu, Rebecca Love, & Cillian Ó Fathaigh

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

CFP - BSLS Annual Conference

Oxford Brookes University, April 5-7, 2018

The thirteenth annual conference of the British Society of Literature & Science will take place at Oxford Brookes University, from Thursday 5 April until Saturday 7 April.

Keynote talks will be given by Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (University of Oxford), Professor Alex Goody (Oxford Brookes University).

The BSLS invites proposals for 20-minute papers, panels of three papers or special roundtables on any subjects within the field of science, and literatures in the broadest sense, including theatre, performance, film and television. There is no special theme for this conference but abstracts or panels exploring Frankenstein’s in its bicentenary year are especially welcome as are those in the contemporary period, theatre and performance.

In addition, we are hoping to put together sessions with looser, non-traditional formats, and would welcome proposals from any person or persons interested in making presentations of approximately ten minutes from notes rather than completed papers. Our hope is that the latter format will encourage longer Q&A sessions with more discussion. If you have a topic or research area which would suit such a discussion, we would also like to hear from you.

Please send an abstract (c.200-250 words) and short biographical note to the conference organiser, Carina Bartleet,, by no later than 5pm GMT, Friday 8 December 2017. Please include the abstract and biographical note in the body of the email and not in an attachment. All proposers of a paper or panel will receive notification of the results by the end of January 2018.

The conference fee will be waived for two graduate students in exchange for written reports on the conference, to be published in the BSLS Newsletter. If you are interested in being selected for one of these awards, please mention this when sending in your proposal. To qualify you will need to be registered for a postgraduate degree at the time of the conference.

Please note that those attending the conference will need to make their own arrangements for accommodation. Information on local hotels will be made available soon.

Membership: conference delegates will need to register/renew as members of the BSLS (annual membership: £25 waged/ £10 unwaged).

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Poetry and science - call for participants

We are looking to pair up a selection of London-based scientists with local poets to develop a series of interdisciplinary performances. This is a really fun and engaging event that has previously been done in Edinburgh, Manchester, and Canterbury, and which has been of great benefit to both the poets and the researchers that have been involved.

Here is a video of the recent Edinburgh event, which should give you a good idea of the project:

In terms of commitment, you would need to keep the following dates and times free:

Training Session @ TBC (Central London) – Saturday 11th October; 11:00 – 15:00

Performance @ Springer Nature, N1 9XW – Monday 4th December; 20:00 – 21:30

If you would like to get involved, or if you have any questions then please do get in touch with Dr Sam Illingworth, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Two film-related notices

RGS Film Archive online

The Royal Geographical Society film archive is now available, for free, on BFI Player The Society has an extensive collection of films, housed at the British Film Institute (BFI), which represent a unique record of British scientific exploration and geographical documentary film-making from 1922 to 1979. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the BFI has been digitising the Society’s film collection, and all the films are now available to watch on the BFI online player.

Cambridge Film Festival: Yellowcake, Sunday 22 October, 11am, Howard Lecture Theatre, Downing College

"Yellowcake" traces the rise and fall of the United Kingdom nuclear fission research programme, seen through its sites, archives, research programme, and consequences. Gair Dunlop has spent three years gaining unique access to a range of research sites, archives and restricted facilities. As well as physical remains, the film explores the psychic realms of the nuclear - whether as postwar dream of a post-empire future, apocalyptic terror as entertainment, or zone beyond our understandings of time.