Curiouser and Curiouser! Süddeutsche Zeitung on Alice at the V&A

If you’re in Germany, and you haven’t had a chance to see the V&A exhibition, enjoy this preview with a commentary from me on why Alice is still the perfect medium to push boundaries – in fashion, politics and elsewhere.

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Interview for Willow Audiobooks ‘Alice’s Day’ Podcast

Willow Audiobooks are celebrating the sesquicentenary of Through the Looking-Glass AND Alice’s Day with releasing a new audiobook of Looking-Glass and an hour-long podcast to accompany it, for which Willow founder Stephen interviewed myself and Charlie Lovett – to explore the history of the books in the context of the author’s biography – from some angles that haven’t so frequently been explored, such as Carroll’s faith and his interest in science and social activism – tune in and find out more!

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New documentary: The Manuscript’s Secret History/ L’Aventure des Manuscrits

A new series of literature documentaries focusing on the histories of the manuscripts of famous works – “The Manuscript’s Secret” – will be coming to French-German TV channel Arte in 2021 – starting on 29th of August with the Alice episode. The documentary was originally filmed in January 2020, but production was held up by the pandemic.

I make an appearance in the Lewis Carroll episode to speak about Lewis Carroll’s interest in science shaped his life and writing, and to show how Oxford’s influence on Alice is revealed in the book’s manuscript. I also discuss some of the afterlife of Alice and its manuscript alongside Edward Wakeling – editor, author and Carroll scholar extraordinaire – who will offer a rare glance into his fascinating collection of Lewis Carroll documents.

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‘Science, Imagination & the Big Questions’ Templeton Panel: Why we should avoid warfare rhetoric in SciComm

As part of a Templeton Foundation funded panel on Science, Imagination and the Big Questions Panel at the York Festival of Ideas, I had the chance to explore together with Tom McLeish and Amanda Rees the really very long history of warfare narratives in the history, and historiography of science – tracing it to its presence in Science Communication during the Covid-19 pandemic – a recording of the talk is now available on YouTube.

This panel discussion reflected on our research of the past 15 months into Covid-19 narratives in the cultural context of the United Kingdom, where the preference for them has a complex political history, and, for that reason, strong religious overtones, but also put it into historical perspective.

We were delighted to receive positive feedback from the audience at the event, who engaged in a fascinating discussion following our talk, and wrote blogs about our panel. This panel continues our outreach, engagement and impact work in a variety of settings, as we recently presented this research at a seminar the Nuffield Department for Primary Care, and our work has has now been used by several Universities in the UK and US for teaching students in science communication, and journalism – as well as in Science Communication seminars for Church of England leaders.

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News Article: Why are Lewis Carroll misquotes so common?

I was interviewed for a recent Guardian article about misquoting Lewis Carroll after a set of commemorative coins appeared with quotations certainly not taken from Lewis Carroll or his famous novel. Those coins were not a singularity: in this anniversary year of Through the Looking-Glass, several National organisations’ social media accounts had fallen into the same trap, and adorned their posts with quotes normally found on Alice-themed memes and merchandise across the web – but not in Carroll’s books.

The article mentioned a resource available via the Lewis Carroll Review, compiled by Lenny de Rooy, for authors wanting to double-check if a quote really is from Carroll’s novels, or an internet phenomenon.

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Through the Looking-Glass Sesquicentenary Conference

I am very excited to announce that the Call for Papers for the Through Looking-Glass Sesquicentenary Conference is now live!
The conference will be fully-online, and hosted by the University of York from 4 – 5th November 2021.

Our confirmed keynote speakers will be historian of photography, and curator at the National Gallery of Art, Dr Diane Waggoner, and award-winning author, collector, and long-standing Carroll scholar Charlie Lovett.

The Looking-Glass itself will be the focal point of the conference. Aiming to explore the significance of the mirror in literature, science, theology, art and other fields, it will explore any facets of this concept that were relevant to ideas that shaped Carroll’s
work, or, which have since been integral to its interpretation at different points in time.

We particularly also invite reflections from practitioners, including creators of adaptations of the text, professionals in translation, museum studies, librarians, fashion, as well as from performers and interpreters, authors, poets and illustrators.

Abstracts for presentations of up to 300 words, including up to 5 keywords, should be sent to lookingglass2021@gmail.com by 15 June 2021, and contributors will be invited to submit proposals for publication after the conference.

For more information please have a look at our shiny new website!

We are very much looking forward to your contributions – and to seeing you all in November!

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Oxford University Alumni Interview for National Storytelling Week

For National Storytelling Week, the Oxford Alumni Magazine QUAD has interviewed me on my work on literature, science and the importance of storytelling in public understanding of science, including during the Covid-19 pandemic.

They also asked about my favourite childhood fairy-tale, and my time of Oxford, including the challenges of doing interdisciplinary research – head this way to find out more.

The article also features the lovely film made by the University of Oxford about my work on Lewis Carroll, Victorian Science books for children – and real mad tea parties – which you can watch below.

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War, sacrifice, and swallows that tell of summer: the narratives and metaphors of the Covid-19 pandemic

A line from Vera Lynn's WW2 song, also quoted by Elizabeth II during the Covid-19 pandemic, in a pub window

Since joining the University of York, I have been applying my background in communication and media science, history of science, and comparative literary studies to analyse the narratives of the Covid-19 pandemic. A preprint of my first research article ‘Over by Christmas: The impact of war-metaphors and other science-religion narratives on science communication environments during the Covid-19 crisis’ is now available. In it, I outline the prevalence, and the reasons and implications of the UK’s cultural preference for framing Covid-19 as warfare, but also explain its shortcomings in a science communication context. I have spoken about this research to German news Channel WDR.

This research touches on medical communication, history of science, theological themes. In a forthcoming book chapter ‘When words are poison: Toxic narratives in health communication‘, I explore how ill-chosen narratives in health scenarios pollute science communication environment, acting in a way analogous to polluting toxins. In a recent conference paper, I explore also what the history of science, science communication, and religion of past epidemics can teach us about the use of narrative in a public health crisis through a comparison of Covid-19 with the Victorian cholera epidemic, which also shows us what narratives and metaphors might be preferable. I have also written an article on the science communication of Christian ministers in the Victorian cholera epidemics for the Methodist Recorder. I expand on the comparison with the Victorian cholera epidemics in my contribution to a Historicising Covid-19 collection, forthcoming in 2021 with De Gruyter. If you’re pressed for time, I also wrote a shorter blog piece, which you can read here.

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‘Human Flourishing in Times of Stress’ at York Festival of Ideas

The York Festival of Ideas is happening – online! And I will be part of a very topical panel on ‘Human Flourishing in Times of Stress’ with archaeologist Penny Spikins, journalist Tim Radford and professor of Natural Philosophy Tom McLeish, as chair.  The event will be free (!) but ticketed – you can sign up for tickets here.

‘Our conversation will explore how stories, things and thinking can bring comfort in times of stress.

Franziska Kohlt asks why many of us have felt drawn to the comfort of childhood classics –often unjustly dismissed as ‘escapism’. She explores how books like Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, or The Water-Babies, were written in times of epidemics, illness and crisis, and how these works can be valuable emotional tools to carry us through crisis.

Penny Spikins asks why in times of crisis we turn to programmes like The Repair Shop to find some sense of comfort, and why cherished possessions seem to help when we feel stressed or isolated. She explores where our tendency to attach to things came from in our evolutionary past and how finding attachments to objects can compensate for missing human relationships at times of stress or isolation.

Tim Radford’s contribution comes from his recent book, The Consolation of Physics. It is both a conversation with the past and a celebration of the shared scientific tradition of generosity and co-operation that has taken human understanding, mediated by international experiment, to the edge of the solar system, to the origins of Universe and to cataclysmic star-death in distant galaxies.

Our conversation is chaired by Tom McLeish, the University of York’s first Professor of Natural Philosophy and author of The Poetry and Music of Science.’

The recording of the event is available on YouTube:

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New Job & Affiliation!

I am incredibly excited to have joined the University of York’s Department of Sociology as a Research Fellow on their “Narratives of Science and Religion” project in March, to work with Professor Tom McLeish (Physics) and Dr Amanda Rees (Sociology), who are both utterly brilliant.

This is the narrative-based branch of project of the collaborative ECLAS project, based at Durham, London and York, which brings together scientists, science historians, communication scientists, theologians and professional clergy to investigate effective ways to understand and communicate science, asking all “the Big questions”.

In a rather tumultuous start to the post, I have hit the ground running, researching religious narratives in the Covid-19 crisis in, but especially outside religious discourses, in politics and science journalism (wonder why we keep hearing baout the “sacrifice” of health workers, Covid as a “punishment for x”, from which “lessons” must be learned, and all this being a “war” in which various actors are fighting a “virtuous” fight?). I examine what happens when religious language is instrumentalised by politicians and journalists in a medical crisis, why and when they decide they do so, when they have historically done so, and what can be learned from that about the uses and pitfalls of such rhetoric.

To view the effect of such communication not only in a theoretical framework, but to also understand its dynamics in action, I examine this not only in a Science Communication framework, but also through responses to epidemics in the past. The Reverend Charles Kingsley, for instance, harnessed rousing Biblical imagery to communicate the findings of modern population health sciences – but also to hold governments and institutions to account – during the nineteenth-century cholera crises, to draw equally substantial audiences to his “Cholera sermons” at Westminster Abbey, his lectures at Cambridge University or at the Ladies’ Sanitary Association (which went by such attention-grabbing tiles as “The Pharaoh’s Heart” or “The Massacre of the Innocents”).

I am looking forward to draw on my experience with effective science communication in media and museums, and my previous academic work on the role imaginative and fantastic literatures played in digesting, contextualising and communicating new scientific findings, and their practical societal and epistemological implications (Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, and indeed Kinsgley were all critical and unconventional clerics – and science communicators).

Watch this space for upcoming conference and journal papers, as well as some shorter public pieces, which are already in the works (and soon hopefully even more thrilling stuff, when we move on to the environment, AI, genetic engineering – and more)!

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