I’m incredible honoured to be discussion why Science, Imagination and Communication are inseparable in conversations with two brilliant physicists at events over the next two weeks.
I will be exploring this theme together with Professor of Natural Philosophy and Fellow of the Royal Society, Prof Tom McLeish through the life and works of George MacDonald – a trained scientist, theological thinker, educator and writer. Even though he is recognised in his literary influence, as the major source of inspiration for H.G. Wells, the Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis – and often credited with the conversion of the latter to Christianity – we rarely speak about his as a scientist, because of preconceptions that lead us to believe the two as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Exploring the ways in which MacDonald believed they were, rather, mutually constructive, can prepare us to challenge and interrogate our own ways of understanding science, and how we think we know “science” and “scientific fact” – especially, when these are understood as opposition to “fantasy” and “storytelling”.
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.
In August I was extremely excited to be invited to shoot a little image film about my work on Victorian fantasy literature and science at Christ Church, Oxford. Christ Church kindly let me use some of Lewis Carroll’s own manuscript materials from their collection (have a look at some of their digitised items here) – including his photographs, proofs, sketches, letters, and his dedicated presentation copy of a first edition copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! I also speak about Victorian children’s literature’s ties to Victorian Science Communication & Education, about Victorian Lunatic Asylums – and Charles Dickens’s visit to one – and how all of that can change how we think about Fantasy and Science Fiction Literature in general – I hope you like it!
I will be speaking about automata in the history of science and psychology, literature and popular culture alongside Simon Schaffer and Elly Truitt on BBC4’s ‘In Our Time’ program with Melvyn Bragg on 20 Septemeber 2018. The broadcast will be available afterwards on iPlayer. If you haven’t seen Compton Verney’s Marvellous Mechanical Museum yet, you should definitely go – and get the wonderful book accompanying the exhibition.