Tag Archives: Science

‘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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Children’s Literature and Science Seminar at Edinburgh

This phenomenal-looking seminar on Children’s Literature and Science, and the many facets of the field, will be taking place this Friday at Edinburgh Napier University. I will be giving my first paper on my new research project on children’s literature and its role in environmentalism. If you’d like to attend please contact em.alder@napier.ac.uk – and definitely watch this space for more on this field from Edinburgh in the future!

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Railways, biodiversity, agricultural history and…Through the Looking-Glass?

On the 25th of November I will be giving a talk at the Abingdon Arms, Beckley, just outside Oxford.

The occasion is not only that the award-winning Pub overlooks Otmoor, the nature reserve which some believe may have inspired Lewis Carroll’s chessboard landscape in Through the Looking-Glass (I will investigate this claim), but also the planned resurrection of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway through this area of scientific interest, which is noted especially for its biodiversity by the RSPB.

Oxford is well-known to have inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), but the extensive influence of the Oxfordshire countryside on Through The Looking-Glass (1871) is less frequently discussed. My talk will therefore not only uncover some of these inspirations, from Oxford’s architecture to Oxfordshire’s agricultural history, but also illuminate how Lewis Carroll’s wider interest in nature, science and industry – and thus also the railways – shaped Through the Looking-Glass, and explore how this can help us approach and rethink contemporary challenges posed to the balance between nature and the necessities of modern life. (Announcements for the talk have appeared also here and here)

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The Looking-Glass countryside, John Tenniel

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‘Frankenstein and Beyond’ at the Birmingham Literature Festival

On the occasion of the bicentenary of Frankenstein I will be discussing our fascination with Gothic tales at the Birmingham Literature Festival together with contemporary Gothic and Horror writers Andrew Michael Hurley (The Loney and Devil’s Day) and Jess Kidd (The Hoarder) who will also discuss and read from their latest books. The session will be chaired by Dr Serena Trowbridge.

The event has now sold out, but watch the facebook event page for further updates.

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BBC Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ on Automata

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.

 

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CBC Radio documentary on Alice & Lewis Carroll !

I am talking about Alice, Dreams and Victorians, alongside wonderful Carrollians Edward Wakeling, Donald Rackin, Jenny Woolf and many more on the lovely 2-part CBC Ideas radio documentary “Curiouser and Curiouser” – part two is on tonight!

A Mad Tea Party

Click here to listen to the 2-part documentary online!

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April 29, 2014 · 9:46 am