Biological Discourses: The Language of Science and Literature around 1900

Date: 10-11 April 2015
Venue: University of Cambridge
CfP deadline: 30 November 2014

The decades around 1900 are a crucial period for the impact of
 biological thought on the intellectual cultures of the western world. 
The impulses of Darwinism were taken up by intellectuals, writers and 
artists from the 1860s onwards, and both Darwinian and anti-Darwinian currents of thinking exercised a powerful influence on the intellectual
 climate of the early decades of the twentieth century. It was a period
 that saw major developments in cell biology and the establishment of 
genetics as we know it, the movement of medical science and psychiatry
 beyond mechanistic conceptions of illness, and the emergence of
 psychoanalysis and sexology as new disciplines.

“Biological Discourses”,
 a student-led conference to be held in Cambridge on 10-11 April 2015, is
 part of a collaborative venture between the Cambridge Department of
 German & Dutch and the Institute for Modern Languages Research, London,
 investigating the interplay and the forms of mediation between literary
 and biological discourses in that period.

The conference builds on the substantial body of research literature
 that has evolved in the last few decades both in English and other
 languages on the ‘hermeneutic potential’ of Darwin’s thought (Gillian 
Beer) and the interrelationship between biological thought and literature and the visual arts more broadly. Recent work has also
brought out the senses in which the historical emergence of such
 biological terminology as ‘heredity’ and ‘genealogy’ should be seen as part of European cultural history (e.g. Sigrid Weigel, Genea-Logik 
[2006]; Staffan Müller-Wille and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, A Cultural
 History of Heredity [2012]). Key issues relating to these and other 
strands of inquiry were reviewed at an initial workshop hosted by the 
collaboration partners in London in March 2014 (see programme here). The conference in April 2015 is intended to provide an opportunity to
explore certain of those issues more closely, homing in particularly on
 the processes and potentials of mediation between biological science and 
literature, and to extend the inquiry to countries beyond the 
German-speaking world.

The themes on which the organisers particularly
 wish to invite contributions are these:

• What kinds of relationship do we see between the discourses of 
biological science and literature in the late 19th and early 20th
 centuries? Are there senses in which we find them sharing models, 
metaphors, and elements of each other’s discourse?
• How are developments in biological and medical thinking reflected in
the print media of the time, both verbally and visually?
• How are the emerging discourses of sexology and psychopathology 
reflected in the literary writing of this period, and what insights
 arise from comparisons between writings of the early 20th century and
 the critical perspectives of the present day (e.g. gender theory)?
• How do the developments in biological thinking inform the world-views
 and ethical values of western societies in the period, and what evidence 
of this do we find in literary and other writings?
• To what extent do we find the discourse of German writings on 
biological issues taken up and developed in other European languages,
 and with what implications?

Proposals (no more than 500 words please) should be sent to by 30 November 2014.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #15 | Whewell's Ghost

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