Literature and Science, Oxford

A news and information hub for studies in literature and science at Oxford


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New Book: Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett by Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Oxford Associate Professor of Drama Kirsten Shepherd-Barr has published a new book on evolutionary theory and theatre. Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett is published by Columbia University Press.

See here for more details.

Evolutionary theory made its stage debut as early as the 1840s, reflecting a scientific advancement that was fast changing the world. Tracing this development in dozens of mainstream European and American plays, as well as in circus, vaudeville, pantomime, and “missing link” performances, Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett reveals the deep, transformative entanglement among science, art, and culture in modern times. The stage proved to be no mere handmaiden to evolutionary science, though, often resisting and altering the ideas at its core.

Many dramatists cast suspicion on the arguments of evolutionary theory and rejected its claims, even as they entertained its thrilling possibilities. Engaging directly with the relation of sci-ence and culture, this book considers the influence of not only Darwin but also Lamarck, Chambers, Spencer, Wallace, Haeckel, de Vries, and other evolutionists on 150 years of theater. It shares significant new insights into the work of Ibsen, Shaw, Wilder, and Beckett, and writes female playwrights, such as Susan Glaspell and Elizabeth Baker, into the theatrical record, unpacking their dramatic explorations of biological determinism, gender essentialism, the maternal instinct, and the “cult of motherhood.”

It is likely that more people encountered evolution at the theater than through any other art form in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Considering the liveliness and immediacy of the theater and its reliance on a diverse community of spectators and the power that entails, this book is a key text for grasping the extent of the public’s adaptation to the new theory and the legacy of its representation on the perceived legitimacy (or illegitimacy) of scientific work.


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Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century – Seminars in Trinity Term 2015

Wednesday 13th May 2015 (Week 3)
Lee Macdonald, University of Leeds
‘The magnificent services which it has rendered to science’: Astronomy and Meteorology at Kew Observatory
5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

Wednesday 27th May 2015 (Week 5)
Matthew Paskins, University of Leeds & The Open University
For the Sake of a Dibbling Stick: the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and inventive communities, 1800-1830
5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

Wednesday 10th June 2015 (Week 7)
Rachel Bowlby, Professor of Comparative Literature, Princeton University
Commuters: From the Nineteenth Century to Now
5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College


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Literature and Science Events This Week

3 March
Literature and Science Early Career Researchers’ Forum. Kanta Dihal will be discussing her work on popular science writing and quantum mechanics. 2.00-3.15pm, The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH), Radcliffe Humanities Building, Colin Matthew Room.

3 March
Bernard Lightman, Professor of Humanities, York University, Toronto
Lost in Translation: Scientific Naturalists and Their Language Games
5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 1 , St Anne’s College.

6 March  + + POSTPONED + +
Franziska Kohlt (St Anne’s) ‘Victorian Fantastic Literature and the Psychological Sciences: Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald – Two Case Studies’, Literature and Science Research Seminar Series, 2pm, English Faculty, Seminar Room A.


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Literature and Science Early Career Researcher’s Forum, 3. March 2015

The speaker at this week’s Literature and Science ECR Forum will be Kanta Dihal. She will be speaking about her work on
 

“The Simultaneous Development of Quantum Mechanics and its Popularizations”

The first popularizations to discuss quantum mechanics were published at a time when the field itself was still far from being entirely understood. This situation is used as an example to highlight the fact that science never develops separately from culture at large.

Kanta Dihal is a first-year DPhil student at St Anne’s College. Her project, supervised by Prof. Sally Shuttleworth, and investigates representations of quantum mechanics in science fiction and popularizations of science.