Literature and Science, Oxford

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


Many researchers at the University of Oxford work in the field of literature and science, from professors to postgraduates.

Academic Staff

Dr Will Abberley (English Faculty): I read English at Pembroke College, Oxford, then worked as a print and broadcast journalist before returning to academia to attain my PhD at the University of Exeter. My thesis, ‘Language Under the Microscope: Science and Philology in English Fiction, 1850-1914’, explored the interactions between popular fiction and theories of the evolution of language in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. I have now returned to Oxford on a research fellowship funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and am based at St Anne’s College. My current project ‘Tricks of Nature: Biology, Mimicry and Disguise in English Culture, 1860-1914 explores concepts of imitation and deception in the natural world in science and literature of the long nineteenth century. The project explores the relationship between scientific theories of natural mimicry and literary forms, such as the naturalist travel narrative, and the influence of mimicry theory on popular fiction. Authors of particular interest for me include Charles Kingsley, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Butler, H. G. Wells, William Morris and Grant Allen. My work has appeared in journals including Critical Quarterly and The Journal of Victorian Culture.

Dr Mark Atherton (Regent’s Park College): As well as my main research in Old English literature, I have an interest in the world of late nineteenth-century scholarship and its relations with science, drawing on my York doctorate ‘Henry Sweet’s idea of totality: A nineteenth-century philologist’s approach to the practical study of language’ (1997). Sections of this thesis – and further research – have been published in a variety of journals (for example: ‘Imaginative Science: The Interactions of Henry Sweet’s Linguistic Thought and E.B. Tylor’s Anthropology’, Historiographia Linguistica, 37, 1/2 (2010): 64-104; and ‘Priming the Poets: the Making of Henry Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Reader’, in David Clark and Nicholas Perkins (eds.) Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2010), 31-49). Henry Sweet is one of the first applied linguists, as well as being a pioneer in the fields of phonetics, Old English literature and the history of the English language. As a phonetician, Sweet regarded himself as an ‘observer’ of phenomena, a practitioner of the ‘science of language’; he wrote on poetry and science, and he consciously modelled his philological methods on natural science, particularly the work of T.H. Huxley.

Dr Rachel Crossland (Various colleges): I am interested in links, parallels and influences between literature and science in the early twentieth century. My doctoral thesis, which I am currently revising as a monograph entitled Modernist Physics: Waves, Particles and Relativities in the Writings of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence, considers the ideas associated with Albert Einstein’s three 1905 papers on light quanta, the special theory of relativity and Brownian motion, exploring instances of both direct influence between science and literature and parallels which suggest something closer to a zeitgeist-based model, and arguing that studies within the field of literature and science must make reference to both approaches while also distinguishing between them. I am currently at an early stage of a new research project, ‘Science in the Early Twentieth-Century Periodical’, which examines both the presence of popular science in such publications and the overlap of scientific ideas with the non-explicitly scientific content thereof. Periodicals scheduled for inclusion in this project are as follows: The Cornhill Magazine, The Edinburgh Review, The Fortnightly ReviewThe Illustrated London News, The New Quarterly and Punch.

Dr Daniel McCann (St Anne’s College): My current project for the Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship is entitled “Salus Animae: Therapeutic Reading in Late-Medieval England (1340-1450)”. This project explores the idea that reading can heal and function therapeutically. It focuses upon a period of English religious history that witnessed the widespread, vernacular, dissemination of religious texts that seek to promote a state of “soule-helthe” in their readers. The project explores the ways in which religious and poetic texts manipulate the passions and powers of the soul to achieve such a state. It examines the interaction of medieval medical knowledge, theological speculation, and the psychology of poetic response. The project hopes to explore the significance of the history of reading for the field of medical humanities.

Dr Tiziana Morosetti (English Faculty): The relation between the literature and science has informed both my current and previous research. The project I am at present working on, ‘The Representation of the “Exotic” Body in 19th-century English Drama’, investigates, amongst other issues, the impact of the scientific background, racial discourse specifically, on the staging of the ‘Other’ in imperial Britain; whereas a former project I developed whilst working in Bologna (2009-2011), on ‘human zoos’ in the 19th-century, included amongst its sources medical reports, anthropological observation, and materials related to the employment of live exhibitions for scientific purposes. Both projects have resulted in papers on related topics (the scientific context of the exhibition of Sara Baartman, or the ‘body’ of the Zulu on the Victorian stage). I also edited, with Norbert Lennartz, an issue of La Questione Romantica (vol. 3, n.1, April 2011) dedicated to Body/Anatomy, in which I published an article entitled ‘A War between Races: Northern and Southern Bodies between Romanticism and the Risorgimento’.

Dr Sowon S. Park (Corpus Christi): I am interested in the implications of new and ongoing neuroscientific findings for the study of literature. Specifically, I work on the interface between cognitive neuroscience and modernist ideas of mind in the areas of perception, unconscious memory (priming), emotion and metacognition. I am also interested in epistemological issues that emerge when literary knowledge about consciousness is translated into materialist scientific theories, and vice versa. My publications in this field are ‘“Who are these people?”: Anthropomorphism, Dehumanization and the Question of the Other’, Arcadia (De Gruyter), May, 2013; ‘Science and Literature’: Reflections on Interdisciplinarity and Modes of Knowledge’, Reading Live: Literature, Science and the Humanities: Primerjalna Knjizevnost, Summer 2012; ‘The “Feeling of Knowing” in Mrs Dalloway: Neuroscience and Woolf’, Contradictory Woolf: Select Papers from the Twenty-First Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf , May 2012. I am currently writing a book called Modernism and the Mind.

Dr William Poole (New College): My research lies in early-modern literary, intellectual, and scientific history, and in the application of bibliography of these interests. Recent books concerning the history of science are John Aubrey and the Advancement of Learning. (2010) and The World-Makers: Scientists of the Restoration and the Search for the Origins of the Earth (Oxford, 2010). Pertinent recent editions include Francis Lodwick’s Writings on Language, Theology, and Utopia, ed. with Felicity Henderson (2011), and Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1638) (2009). I am currently interested in the history of collections and of sinology in the period, and I am also editing the correspondences of the antiquary John Aubrey, and the experimental philosopher Robert Hooke.

Dr Diane Purkiss (Keble College, Oxford): I am working on a project on the writing process and writer’s block from the Homeric invocation of the muse to the work of recent and still-living authors, using a neuroscientific frame of analysis and considering the extent to which writing itself is an addictive process in relation to the release of dopamine and serotonin.

Dr Sophie Ratcliffe (LMH): My work focuses on ideas of feeling, readership, and the way in which emotion may manifest itself in the mind and the body – many of these interests stem from my book,  On Sympathy, which was published with OUP in 2008. My current research in the area of the Medical Humanities includes work on the idea and representation of abortion in twentieth century literature and medical journals, and a study of the treatment of deafness in nineteenth-century writing. I am also interested in the ways in which reading literature may illuminate the day-to-day aspects of medicine as it is practised – and vice versa. I act as a consultant and tutor on a course about literature for General Practitioners  and hospital doctors– see – and I have also spoken to GP Registrars as part of their ongoing training. I am currently co-supervising a Doctoral thesis on ‘impotence’ in nineteenth-century writing.

Dr Cathryn L. M. Setz (English Faculty): My doctoral research, completed at Birkbeck College in 2012, focused on the interwar literary journal transition, the largest of the “little magazines”, known primarily for its serial publication of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939), but also a significant document of Anglo-European experimental writing. I am the author of Primordial Modernism: Animals, Ideas, transition (1927–1938) (Edinburgh University Press, 2015). This study opens up the amoebic, reptilian, fishy and avian metaphors running through the magazine, and argues for a conception of modernism that might accommodate the awkwardly romantic, holistic, and otherwise non-modernist ideas about the artwork that these animal texts demand. My next major project turns to the biological discourses contemporary to the period traditionally thought of as producing literary modernism. To an historian of science, this period is known as the Eclipse of Darwinism (1875–1925): an era of vestigial, idealist, and non-modern evolutionism that was yet prevalent in the science books and generalist magazines of the period, and hence an important context with which to consider literary history.

Dr Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr (St Catherine’s College):  I have a general interest in literature and science as well as a specific one in the relationship between theatre and science.  I have published on this subject in my book Science on Stage:  From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen (Princeton University Press, 2006; paperback 2012) as well as in journals such as American Scientist, Gramma, Women:  A Cultural Review, Theatre Research International, and Alternatives Théâtrales.  My current research project explores the ways in which theatre has engaged with evolutionary ideas since the 1840s.  I welcome inquiries from potential doctoral students wishing to work in any aspect of literature and science in the period 1800-present as well as those interested specifically in the relationship between theatre and science.

Professor Sally Shuttleworth (St Anne’s College): I work primarily on the intersections of literature, science and medicine in the nineteenth century.  Books include, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science (1984), Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology (1996), and The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science and Medicine, 1840-1900 (2010).   I have co-edited various collections including Nature Transfigured: Science and Literature, 1700-1900 (1989); Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science (1990) and Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890 (1998).  I also co-directed a large Leverhulme and AHRC funded project, Science in the Ninteenth-Century Periodical, which produced a database,, and three co-edited books:  Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: Reading the Magazine of Nature, (2004); Science Serialised: Representations of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals (2004), and Culture and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Media  (2004). I am currently running two large research projects in the field of science and culture, the AHRC project, ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’ and the ERC project ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives’.

Professor Helen Small (Pembroke College): I have a longstanding interest in theoretical debates about the relationship between literature and science. My doctoral thesis, published as Love’s Madness: Medicine, the Novel, and Female Insanity, 1800-1865 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), explored the increasing separation between literary and medical modes of authority in that period through the vehicle of narratives about women driven mad by disappointment in love. More recently I have worked on the status of scientific facts in the work of two contemporary poet-scientists: see ‘The Function of Antagonism: Miroslav Holub and Roald Hoffmann’, in John Holmes (ed.), Science in Modern Poetry: New Directions (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012). My 2013 book The Value of the Humanities includes a chapter on the ‘two cultures’ debate as it has developed from the 19C to the present.

Dr Emily Troscianko (St John’s): I am a Junior Research Fellow in Modern Languages (French and German) at St John’s College, and am interested in what makes literary texts seem realistic. My doctorate and first monograph (Kafka’s Cognitive Realism, Routledge 2014) explore Kafka’s works in terms of their ‘cognitive realism’ in the realms of perception and emotion. My research applies cognitive-scientific findings and theories directly to the analysis of textual features and readers’ potential interactions with them, and has recently also explored the roles of memory in Flaubert and Proust. I’ve become especially interested in ‘second-generation’ cognitive science, which takes seriously the embodied, enactive, embedded, and extended nature of the mind. Thus my work on Kafka draws on enactivist accounts of vision and imagination, and a new medical-humanities project combining literary analysis with scientific insights and first-person testimony insists on the importance of an embodied and non-dualist understanding of mental illness (specifically eating disorders) in the real world and in literature. I’m also gradually working out good ways of doing experiments on and with literature and real readers.

Dr Marion Turner (Jesus College): My main research interests are focused on later medieval literature, particularly Chaucer: I am the author of Chaucerian Conflict (OUP, 2007) and editor of a critical theory handbook: A Handbook of Middle English Studies (Blackwell, 2013). One of my areas of interest is medical language and its intersections with literary language in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: I am especially interested in Thomas Hoccleve’s poetic narratives of his own mental breakdown and the surgeon John Arderne’s understanding of the value of narrative in medical experience, for instance. I am editing a special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies on the topic of ‘Medical Discourse in Premodern Europe’ (JMEMS 46, 2016). I am also increasingly interested in neuroscience and theories of mind and their application to medieval literature; I have organized two sessions for the New Chaucer Society congress (Reykjavik, 2014) on the topic of ‘Thinking Chaucer.’ I welcome enquiries from prospective graduate students who are interested in working on medieval literature’s intersections with medicine or with theories of mind and cognition.

Dr Caroline Warman (Jesus College) I was a post-doctoral researcher on G.S. Rousseau’s Leverhulme-funded project (1999-2002) on the cultural histories of nostalgia, tuberculosis and cholera, and with him I published articles on writing as illness or cure in the cases of French traveller Astolphe de Custine and Swiss diarist Henri-Frédéric Amiel. I have since written widely on literature, science and medicine in the period 1750-1850, looking at medical vitalism, physiognomy, cristallography, physiology and theories of mind, generally within the framework of materialist accounts of knowledge. This is where I started off, with a thesis on Sade and materialism. I have also worked closely with colleagues at  the University of Brisbane’s Centre for the History of European Discourses (CHED) on the history of the discourses of sexuality: this has produced articles on the idea of the ‘natural’ and the ‘normal’. I am currently working on the Enlightenment thinker Denis Diderot’s late text, the Eléments de physiologie.

Dr Michael H. Whitworth (Merton College): My literature and science interests go back to my doctorate, ‘Physics and the Literary Community, 1905-1939’ (1994), parts of which I revised and expanded into Einstein’s Wake: Relativity, Metaphor, and Modernist Literature (2001). I continue to be interested in the place of science writing in generalist and literary periodicals, and in such periodicals as tools for historicized readings of literature and science relations; I also continue to be interested in popular science writing as a form. While Einstein’s Wake focusedon modernist literary form (across novels and poetry), my current work has turned to the relation of science and poetry, with a particular emphasis on the use of scientific vocabularies in early twentieth-century poetry (for a prospective book or series of articles), and in contemporary poetry, particularly in a late modernist or linguistically innovative vein.  My D.Phil. and M.St. supervisory interests are primarily twentieth-century, though I have also supervised work on nineteenth-century topics.

Postgraduate Research Students

Mark Byers (Balliol) is working on a DPhil about Black Mountain Poetry and Environmental Theory. Supervisor: Professor J Bate.

Jennifer Cole (Merton) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Science and American Poetry, 1890-1929’. Supervisor: Michael Whitworth.

Kanta Dihal (St Anne’s) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Reader Engagement in the Presentation of Quantum Mechanics in Popularizations of Science and Science Fiction’. Supervisor: Sally Shuttleworth.

Anja Drautzburg (St Cross) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Making the Invisible Visible’: Distorted Perception and Mental Disorder in Contemporary Anglophone Theatre’. Supervisor: Kirsten Shepherd-Barr.

Sarah Green (Merton) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Sexual Continence and Literary Activity, 1870-1914’. Supervisors: Stefano Evangelista and Sophie Radcliffe.

Sarah Hanks (St Catherine’s) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Late Nineteenth-Century Science Lectures in Performance and Print’. Supervisor: Prof. Sally Shuttleworth.

Thomas Harmsworth (Exeter) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Ecological Poetry and Poetic Ecology: American Ecological Writing in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century. Supervisor: Professor J Bate.

Bronwyn Johnston (Keble) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘The Devil in the Detail: The Science of Magic on the Early Modern Stage’. Supervisor: Dr D Purkiss.

Hannah Kirby (Keble) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Expressing the Inexpressible: Asyndetic Depictions of Romantic Desire in Prose Romance, and their Suggestion of Love as an Inherited Brain Concept’. Supervisor: Dr H Moore.

Franziska Kohlt (Brasenose) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘The stuff that dreams are made of: Rethinking the neurological journeys of the Victorians’. Supervisor: Prof. Sally Shuttleworth.

Laura Ludtke (St Anne’s) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Electric Lights and the ‘London-writer,’ 1880-1945’. Supervisor: Dr M Whitworth.

Anne Maduzia (Jesus) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Re-writing the Book of Nature: Interpreting Nature in Seventeenth Century England’. Supervisor: Dr R Lewis, Dr K Murphy.

Alison Moulds (St Anne’s) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Constructing the doctor/patient relationship in nineteenth-century medical writing and fiction’. Supervisor: Prof Sally Shuttleworth

Alexandra Paddock (Worcester) is working on a DPhil entitled “Where are the Wild Things? Literary Representations of Seen and Unseen Animals”. Joint-supervised by Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (St Catherine’s) and Mishtooni Bose (Christ Church).

Edwina Penge (University) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘The Loci of Error: Early Modern Taxonomies and Drama 1600-1646’. Supervisor: Dr K Murphy.

Kalika Sands (Wolfson) is working on a DPhil entitled ‘Fever and Climate: Medical Climatology in Victorian Literature, 1845-1880’. Supervisor: Professor S Shuttleworth.

David Shackleton (St Catherine’s) is working on a Phil exploring Deep Time, The Subject and the Modernist Novel. Supervisor: Dr M Whitworth.

Mark Taylor (Linacre) is working on a Dphil assessing ‘The Impact of D.H. Lawrence’s Reading of Biological Theory Upon His Fiction’. Supervisor: Dr M Whitworth.

Colleagues outside the University of Oxford 

Dr John Holmes is an Associate Professor in English Literature and the Co-Director of Interdisciplinary Research into Humanities and Science at the University of Reading, but lives in Oxford. He is the current Chair of the British Society for Literature and Science, the author of Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (Edinburgh: EUP, 2009) and the editor of Science in Modern Poetry: New Directions (Liverpool: LUP, 2012). He is currently researching the relationship between Pre-Raphaelitism and science, in collaboration with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum, the Manchester Museum and the Manchester Art Gallery. He is also working with the Royal Society supervising a collaborative doctoral project on the place of the Royal Society in Victorian literary culture, and co-editing a new Ashgate Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century Literature and Science.

Dr Tatiana Kontou is a Senior Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature at Oxford Brookes. Her research concerns discourses of the supernatural, theatricality and myth. She has particular interests in the influence of spiritualism and psychical research in the long 19th century, Victorian popular novelists, actress narratives (1860-1920), Gaiety Girls, Greco-Roman myth in fin de siècle and Edwardian literature and culture, neo-Victorian fiction and more broadly women’s writing and the ghostly. She is the author of Spiritualism and Women’s Writing: from the fin de siècle to the neo-Victorian (Palgrave, 2009) and editor of Women and the Victorian Occult (Routledge, 2010). She recently co-edited The Ashgate Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism and the Occult with Sarah Willburn. She is currently working on a new monograph titled ‘Her Father’s Name’: Gender, Theatricality and Spiritualism in Florence Marryat’s Fiction (Edinburgh University Press).

Dr Andrew Lack is a Senior Lecturer in biology at Oxford Brookes. He is mainly interested in biology, history, and literature connections, and runs a course on Science and Humanity, discussing how science affects our thinking and what alternatives there are. He has an interest in poetry and has published an anthology of poetry and prose with commentary about the Robin, published in 2008 as Redbreast: the Robin in Life and Literature. Andrew is currently compiling a book about poppies and their connections.

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