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Conferences and Events

Autumn 2015 Events

Victorian Laughter

Louise Lee discusses Victorian laughter in a programme on Radio 3 (broadcast on 15 November 2015) about the Science of Baby Laughter. Louise is talking for about five minutes six minutes into the programme. To listen click here

The Memory Network is staging a new, interdisciplinary debate at the London School of Economics, on Tuesday 29 September, 6.30-8pm. For details click here

Shelley Trower will be speaking at the following events:

16 November 2015: University of Oxford, Victorian seminar series, 'The Importance of Keeping Count: Railway Shock, Physics, and Dickens's Lists'

22 October 2015: Humboldt University, Department of Musicology and Media Science lecture series on vibration, music and the body, 'Senses of Bass: Low Frequency Musical Experiences and Historical Precedents'

27 November 2015: University of Cardiff, 'Layered Landscapes: Geology and Travel in Romantic-era Britain', National Museum of Wales

http://www.wales.ac.uk/Resources/Documents/Centre/2015/ThomasPennant/geology-day-poster.pdf; http://www.wales.ac.uk/Resources/Documents/Centre/2015/ThomasPennant/Layered-Landscapes-draft-prog.pdf

  • The Darwins Reconsidered: Evolution, Writing & Inheritance in the works of Erasmus and Charles Darwin
  • Friday, 4 September 2015

    University of Roehampton

    This one-day conference of the University of Roehampton’s new Literature and Science Group took place at Whitelands on 4 September 2015. Two of Parkstead House’s stately older rooms, adjacent to the chapel, provided ideal spaces for presentations and refreshments. About twenty attenders included visiting scholars and colleagues, plus a representative from Erasmus Darwin House and the doyen of E. Darwin studies, the 88-year-old Desmond King-Hele, who was able to join us briefly in the later morning. Erasmus Darwin and Evolution, King-Hele’s latest book, was available for sale along with the invaluable editions of Darwin’s shorter poems which he has produced in collaboration with their publisher, Stuart Harris. Ashgate and Palgrave presses both contributed flyers for publications by the keynote and plenary speakers.       

    Organized by Martin Priestman and Louise Lee, and arising from their  interests in both Darwins respectively, the conference focused on literary dimensions of their evolutionary work. While all papers traced at least some links between Charles Darwin and his grandfather Erasmus, the roughly equal division between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century emphases opened up many new understandings of continuities and differences within the literary-scientific cultures which both Darwins inhabited and helped to form.

    The balance of emphases was well set up by the two opening keynote papers. David Amigoni’s 'Tales of the Grandfather: Charles Darwin, Samuel Butler and Erasmus Darwin's Contested Legacy' focused on the jesting, riddling figure of Charles’ Victorian contemporary Samuel Butler to show how even among evolutionists, ‘Darwinism’ was not only of the ‘Charles’ variety. Tim Fulford’s paper on ‘Darwin in the Air’ filled an important gap in studies of the 18th/19th century Romantic period by showing how significantly the ‘greater Romantic lyric’ of Coleridge and Wordsworth was indebted to the gaseous experiments of Erasmus Darwin’s leading disciple, Thomas Beddoes.

    The following panel focused on Evolution and the Novel. Planted firmly between the two Darwins, Devin Griffiths’ ‘Formal Evolution: The Novelization of Epic Between the Darwins’ considered the ‘Darwin’s plots’ of the Victorian novel, in the light of continuiities and disruptions within the Enlightenment tradition of scientific ‘analogy’, as supremely exemplified by Erasmus Darwin. Focusing more fully on Charles, Tabitha Kan’s ‘”I grin at thee, thou grinning whale!” The Darwinian Abject in Moby-Dick’ used Kristeva’s concept of abjection to examine how the horror of human-animal crossovers inspired by the Darwinian debate permeates Melville’s great novel.    

    After lunch, the next panel explored ‘Models of Transformation’. Alison Wood’s ‘Evolutionary Conversions’ focused on Charles’ letters and other writings to show how unavoidable the language of Christian ‘conversion’ was in describing the (often opposite) shift to evolutionism a personal experience, and to relate this idea to the organic transformations of evolutionism itself. Martin Priestman’s ‘Turmeric, Shells and the Patagonian Ox: The Evolution of Evolution’ examined the development of Erasmus’s evolutionism in the context of the longer poetic debate about organic transformations from Lucretius to Akenside and others.     

    The third panel considered ‘Biography as Self-fashioning’ Exploring the textual history of ‘Charles Darwin’s Life of Erasmus Darwin’, Stuart Harris brought out the ambivalence with which Charles mingles affectionate familial respect with near-dismissal of his grandfather’s two most significant areas of achievement: in poetry and in the development of evolutionary theories which must have influenced his own. Louise Lee’s ‘“A Little Philosophical Laughing”: Comic Genealogies between Erasmus and Charles Darwin’ took a characteristic phrase of Erasmus’s to explore the element of comedy in Charles’s autobiographical accounts of his interaction with animals, connecting their key element of ‘incongruity’ with the kinds of physical leap involved in evolutionary mutation, and mental leap in grasping its significance.            

    Finally, John Holmes’ plenary paper on ‘Negotiations with the Epic: Poetry and the Origins of Evolutionary Theory' brought out some lurkingly subversive Miltonic echoes in Charles, after a fuller analysis of Erasmus Darwin’s knowing reworkings of a range of classical and epic models from Lucretius and Ovid to Milton, of whose Paradise Lost Holmes expertly showed Darwin’s evolutionary poem The Temple of Nature to be a sustained critique. This paper and the discussions which followed – continuing over  closing glasses of wine – brought this widely ranging yet tightly focused conference on the inseparability of the ‘two cultures’ of science and literature to an excellent and fitting end.        

    Martin Priestman

    6 September, 2015

    For a full programme please visit the conference website.

    Past Events

    From November 17th-21st, 2014, Shelley Trower moderated a series of online forums, including a live chat, for the Guggenheim Forum Sympathetic Vibrations. Panellists included artist Sergei Tcherepnin; composer, performer and scholar Alex Waterman; and Margaret Wertheim, science writer and director of the Institute For Figuring. Full transcripts and a recording of the live chat are available on the Guggenheim Forum webpage.