I am a researcher in Science Communication, the History of Science & Literature, with a background in Communication and Media Science and Comparative Literature.
My doctoral thesis on Dreams and Visions in Victorian Psychology Fantastic Literature established the latter as primary medium to digest and communicate new scientific knowledge, its societal and epistemological implications. Moving on from Oxford, I joined the Department of Sociology at the University of York to work on Science and Narratives, and scrutinized Covid-19 narratives, especially those constructing it as war and conflict, and how they shaped public understandings and behaviours (read more here and here).
I have taught for universities in the US, UK and Germany, and several Oxford Colleges, specialising in 19th & 20th century literature, Literature, Science and Religion, Children’s and Fantastic Literature, Science Fiction and Visual Culture. Besides my academic work, I am an active science communicator, working with national and interantional media, as well as with museums and schools. I have been involved in a broad variety of school outreach projects, from media literacy, AI, climate change, to journalism, and English Literature.
(And just in case you’re anxious, it’s pronounced [fʁan.ˈʦɪs.ka: koːlt] – or, Fran!)
My research interests lie principally in the areas of Science Communication, History of Science, and Literature, especially elements of the Fantastic in any intersections of Narrative and Science. I have specialisms in the long nineteenth century, in British, and some Continental European cultures, and I am also interested in adaptation studies and visual cultures.
My work on Narrative and Science spans both history and present. In my current work I am exploring narratives, and in particular religious narrative tropes, in health science, health and environmental communication. I have, for instance, monitored narratives of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, and analysed specifically how the UK’s use of warfare language relied on a distinct cultural framework in which these acted as religion. I also studied the complications of hagiographic practices and narrative patterns in science communication and historiography of science, framing within historic precedent current practices of ‘promoting science, scientists, and risks of scientism, as well as complications on the intersections between science and populism.
As my postdoctoral work focused on metaphors, narratives and analogies in science communication of the present day, my doctoral work, which explored the emergence of Victorian psychology and fantastic literature as sister phenomena, can be understood as groundwork for this. I considered the work of the author-scientists George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, Charles Kingsley and H.G. Wells and their literary portrayal of visions experienced in dream, illness and near death within the wider framework of the Victorian history of science, and establish within it fantastic literature as a primary medium for ‘making visible’ epistemological debates of the nature of consciousness, and the nature of the soul, early ideas of the subconscious and dream theory to evolutionary psychology. As these works, and their authors, actively participated in developing, anchoring, contesting and transforming the language, imagery and narratives of the psychological science in their time, my thesis robustly challenged the perception of Fantasy as an escapist genre, by elucidating it as a problem-solving genre, that promoted types of problem-solving thought marginalised in intellectual discourse at the time.
More specifically, my work covers the following areas and their intersections:
- Storytelling & Narratives in Science (metaphor & analogy), impact on belief-formation and behaviour change (history & present)
- Fantastic Literature, its tropes and structures, Science Fiction and Children’s Literature
- Dreams and Visions, Spectres and Hallucinations
- The History of Science, Medicine, Psychology and Psychiatry
- Narratives of Illness (Death and Dying, History of Suicide)
- Ecocriticism, Environmental History, Cli-Fi, Ecology in Art & Design
- The History of Technology, Automata, Automation, AI and Society
- Science & Religion (History & Present)
I have written on the work of the following authors and personalities (amongst others):
- Lewis Carroll, H. G. Wells, George MacDonald, Charles Kingsley
- Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge, Hugh Welch Diamond
- Gilbert & Sullivan, John Tenniel, Linley Sambourne
- E.T.A Hoffmann, Novalis, J.W. von Goethe and Erich Kästner
- William Morris, William de Morgan, John Ruskin, Octavia Hill
My research interests are versatile, and interested in public perceptions of science and science communication, and have received wide media attention. My work on narrative tropes of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially warfare narratives, which examined the ethics of such rhetoric in the setting of pandemics and drew comparisons to the rhetoric of the Victorian cholera crisis in Britain, especially that employed by Christian ministers has featured in numerous outlets, from training workshops for the Church of England and Thought for the Day, to the Guardian. I am an expert on Lewis Carroll, and have published articles on various aspects of the work of Lewis Carroll, including ‘The stupidest Tea-Party in all my life: Lewis Carroll and Victorian Psychiatry’, the first in-depth exploration of the origin of Lewis Carroll’s interest in the science and practice of insanity, and its portrayal in fiction. A forthcoming article, ‘Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur’, explores the author’s preoccupation with Victorian performance science, photography, psychiatric theory, comedic catharsis – and the theological ends to which he sought to apply it in his work. My article ‘From Scotland to Utopia (via Hammersmith): William Morris, George MacDonald and the Utopian ecological aesthetic’ multifaceted Victorian preoccupations with ecology has appeared in the Journal for Scottish Thought.
I written shorter pieces on the broader interactions of literature, science and culture: a blog on the implications of what “Following the Science” really means, an article on Fairies and Dreaming appeared on Harvard University’s blog, another piece on Victorian Insect-mania was commissioned by the Royal Entomological Society and Alice in Cyberspace for The Conversation. An article on Dickens, Time-Travel and Near-Death-Experiences, entitled ‘Back to the Future: The Time Traveller’s Traumatic Jetlag in A Christmas Carol“, appeared in Dickens on the Move – Between Cultures and Continents.
My Public Engagement:
I am (history of) science communicator in research and practice and have appeared on international broadcast, including BBC4’s In Our Time, BBC World Service’s The Forum, CBC Radio’s Ideas, ARTE’s Invitation au Voyage/Stadt Land Kunst or TRT’s Showcase, the Birmingham Literature Festival, Bristol Technology Festival and COP26. Several of my shorter pieces and journalistic features have appeared in Newspapers such as the Oxford Mail, The Conversation, and Liasons – Magazin für den Kulturaustausch.
I have also acted as curator and consultant for award-winning exhibitions including ‘Insects through the Looking-Glass (Story Museum & Royal Entomological Society, 2018) and most recently the critically acclaimed Marvellous Mechanical Museum exhibition at Compton Verney.
I am the editor of The Lewis Carroll Review and Reviews Editor of the British Society for Literature and Science, and my own reviews have previously appeared, among others, in the Lewis Carroll Review and the Journal of Literature and Science.
I frequently give public talks and interviews (see papers&talks section), and am involved in several public engagement projects, such as Oxford’s Alice’s Day. I have in the past worked as a translator for Marvel Comics. As a mezzo-soprano I have been a member of classical choirs as well as the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of the University of Oxford, and enjoy photography, drawing, nature and the theatre.
If you find my work interesting and would like to contact me, invite me as a speaker, or follow even more of my online-ramblings, you can find me on twitter, on Pinterest and on academia.edu, or on the departmental page of my institution, or feel free to send me a message on facebook, add me on LinkedIn or simply send me an email [franziska(at)kohlt.com].