Recent conferences and talks

 

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I spoke at Bowdoin College on 23 February 2017, in the great state of Maine. My talk was about the lantern microscope and the role of science in Victorian mass culture (and v.v.). I enjoyed a lively discussion and dinner; it may be cold outside but the Bowdoin community is warm!

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I spoke on “Training the ear: Reading the heart through the senses, imagination, and technology” at Harvard’s History of Medicine Working Group on 27 March 2017. Luckily the talk was scheduled near Harvard’s superb Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments — great opportunity to revisit that collection! Fun and productive discussion, too.

For series schedule click here.

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From 17-20 May 2017 I was attending NAVSA/AVSA Florence and speaking as part of a panel on Building Medical Knowledges with Lorenzo Servitje and Louise Penner. My talk was on “The Educated Ear: Metaphor and System in Mediate Auscultation.”

Click here for conference website.

After that, it’s all microscope, all the time, as I start my NEH year!

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Slides prepared by Alfred Allen, founder of the Postal Microscopical Society. Image from http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artoct99/ellslide.html

It doesn’t take many excuses to visit the city of Toronto, but the History of Science Society (HSS) is one of the best reasons to do so. My talk at HSS this year was called “Circulating Microscopy: The Quekett Microscopical Club, the Postal Microscopic Society, and Microscopic Periodical Culture.” I’m having a wonderful time looking at the interplay of amateurism, professionalism, and the circulation of knowledge especially through the periodical and postal systems. Ask me about group photography in this setting….

Click here for conference website.

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wood common objects cover

What do you know about Canada Balsam, the turpentine often used by microscopists in slide-making? Or, for that matter, about the Rev. J. G. Wood, and his popular Common Objects of the Microscope (1861)? My talk, “Looking at things with difficulty: Canada Balsam and the Common Objects of the Microscope” at NAVSA Banff examines the source, culture, and circulation of this crucial material, which makes  microscopy possible. 16-18 November 2017, Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Click here for conference website.

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In January 2016, I started the new year off at MLA in Austin — presenting as part of a panel titled What’s Vital about Statistics? The Critical Nineteenth-Century Statistical Imaginary. Co-panelists are Amy Huseby and Lorenzo Servitje, and our respondent is Audrey Jaffe. My paper was titled “Oliver as Statistical Unit.” Yes, that Oliver. This paper is part of a third book project on “figures” in the novel. The fire alarms went off as we started the panel; must be a hot topic! (Kudos to Amy Huseby for keeping her head in the excitement).

Conference website here

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Charles Darwin's Smith microscope, 1846, courtesy of the Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

Charles Darwin’s Smith microscope, 1846, courtesy of the Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge

At the end of February, I gave an invited talk on “Microscopic Vertigo and the Imagination, Scientific and Literary” at the Werkmeister Literature and Evolution Workshop as part of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at FSU, headed by Michael Ruse.

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In late June 2016, I traveled to the Three Societies meeting (the History of Science Society, the British Society for the History of Science, and the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science) at University of Alberta to give a talk called “From Bibles to banknotes: Victorian microscopic writing and the wonder in things.” Bibles in walnuts and secret spy rings…. Fabulous stuff.

Conference website here

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Hooray! Back to NAVSA in November 2016, after a gap year (couldn’t make the Hawai’i conference). I gave a talk on comic microscopy and the status of the amateur: “‘A Microscopic Lament’: The 1878 Quekett Dinner and the amateur microscopist.” Phoenix was a stupendous gathering, hike and all; props to Marlene Tromp and her crew!

Conference website here

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In late summer 2015, I gave a talk on “Imagination and the Transposition of the Senses: Making the Audible Knowable in Auscultation and Percussion” at the University of Konstanz, Germany for a symposium on The other senses in medical and literary culture. A very productive workshop and a beautiful location!

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In November 2015, I joined Jonathan Smith, Piers Hale, Ian Hesketh, and Michael Ruse in a great panel on Victorian Literature and the Darwinian Revolution at the History of Science Society in San Francisco in November 2015:

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My talk was on “Darwin and the Eye,” inspired by a chapter in my “Beautiful Mechanism” MS. After a night of travel drama, I was glad to arrive on time for the talk, if just barely!

Conference website here

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In May 2014, I went to Chicago for AAHM (the American Association for the History of Medicine conference) to give a talk on “’The romance of exploration and emergency first aid’: Tracking the narratives about Burroughs Wellcome’s ‘Tabloid’ medicine chest.” This derives from work I’ve been recently doing for an essay on H. G. Wells’s turn-of-the-century novel Tono-Bungay (a rewarding novel to teach, by the way) and popular pharmaceuticals. Both Wells’s novel and Burroughs Wellcome’s “Tabloids” famously encompassed both British popular medicine and the wilds of the outer Empire — “Tabloids” handily ensconced in one of the rugged “Tabloid” medicine chests that accompanied explorers, seafarers, aviators, alpinists, and the like. In the essay I look at some of the connections that make “Tabloids” a useful context for reading the novel; in this conference paper, I talk about some of the promotional material that Burroughs Wellcome used to ensure its public knew of the Tabloids’ travels.

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In Fall 2013 I presented work at NAVSA in Pasadena (23-27 October). The theme of the conference was “Evidence.”

http://dornsife.usc.edu/conferences/navsa/

My talk was called “When evidence isn’t evidence: The blood cell controversy, forensic science, and the errors of microscopic vision.” I’m fascinated by the mid-nineteenth-century debates over the shape of red blood cells as seen through the microscope. Were they globular? Slightly convex? Slightly concave? Highly convex? Or even flattened disks? In this talk I contextualize the debate in the concerns over the inaccuracies of microscopic vision and consider the consequences for the new field of forensic medicine. I also examine the rhetorical and discursive techniques that researchers used in their writing to address the anxieties around microscopic vision.

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Spring and Summer 2103 were especially eventful because I was in London, teaching at FSU’s London Study Centre in Bloomsbury (99 Great Russell Street) and working in the libraries and archives after that (thanks to FSU’s Developing Scholar Award).

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Birkbeck logo   46 Gordon Square, Londres, Royaume-Uni

In February I was a scheduled speaker in the Birkbeck Forum for Nineteenth-Century Studies. Birkbeck produces a lot of good work in the field, and I enjoy their online journal, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century:

http://www.19.bbk.ac.uk/index.php/19

Here’s the information about the talk:

“Microscopic Writing and the Creation of Wonder.” Birkbeck Forum for Nineteenth-Century Studies, University of London, 11 February 2013, 6 pm. Keynes Library (Room 114, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD).

The practice of reading microscopic (tiny) writing, traditionally Biblical, reconnected the instrument to natural theology, as a window into the divine. But William Peters’ microscopic writing machine, displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition, miniaturizes mundane texts like a roster of the Quekett Microscopical Society. Victorians secularize microscopic writing, redirecting it toward a wonder in the instrument itself, the ingenuity of the inscribing machine, and the viewing mind.

http://www.bbk.ac.uk/english/our-research/research_cncs/our-events

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I travelled to Wales (Cardiff) for the first time for the BSLS (British Society for Literature and Science) conference, April 11-13. My talk there was

More than a handmaiden: “literature and science” as interdisciplinary intervention.

The field of “literature and science,” a tremendously exciting one these days, is sometimes held up as an example of the kind of interdisciplinary work that can make humanistic study more relevant in an age when states like Florida propose programs that would actively discourage students from choosing humanities degrees. This paper examined the possibilities and pitfalls of this approach; I suggested that transdisciplinary study in the mode espoused by Jay Clayton offers a more thoughtful and productive model for defending the value of humanities research in the twenty-first century.

conference website here

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I had the chance to explore Venice in June 2013, during a conference of NAVSA/BAVS/AVSA.

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That’s a supernumerary conference of three societies of Victorianist scholars: the North American Victorian Studies Association, the British Association of Victorian Studies, and the Australian Victorian Studies Association. The conference theme was “Glocal (e.g. global/local) Victorians” and my talk was

‘Worlds within worlds’: Nationalist and Imperialist Discourses in 19th-Century Anglophone Microscopy.

Nineteenth-century scientists spent a lot of time ensuring that their methods and results could translate across borders, but science was also a competitive enterprise. This is acutely noticeable in microscopy, perhaps because the field of vision is often considered a “world” available for “colonization.” I discussed how authors of microscopy texts used rhetoric that evokes science as both a global (cooperative) project and an imperial (competitive) one.

Conference website here

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During June 19-21, I attended the “Narrative Future for Health Care” conference at Kings College London, the official launch for the new International Network of Narrative Medicine. I found out about this one after the paper deadline, so I could relax and enjoy listening to the talks, which were wide-ranging.

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On 1 July 2013, I gave a talk on the British case history,  “Let me die in your house: Writing cardiac medicine in the Victorian era,” at the Centre for the Humanities and Health at Kings College London. I talked about the uses of sentiment in the nineteenth-century British case history. This was for a workshop titled Medical Case Histories as Genre with some amazing colleagues as the other speakers. Check out the articles in Literature and Medicine 32.1!

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Fall 2012 events:

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On September 13-15, 2012, I was enjoying the fabulous libraries in Austin, TX and participating in the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals (RSVP) conference there. My talk was on  “The things I have seen in tapioca pudding!”: George Henry Lewes, the microscope, and the visions of natural history,” from one of my favorite bits of microscope research. We tend to forget that Lewes was as much a fabulator as his famous spouse.

Conference website here

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On September 27-30, I was in Madison, Wisconsin for the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) conference for my talk, “‘Curiously organized bodies’: Test objects, networked microscopists, and the production of verisimilitude.” I’ve been interested in test objects for some time, and this was a great opportunity to think about them carefully; I’m intrigued by how they’re used as models for microscopists to imitate. The image below is a diatom, commonly used by Victorian microscopists to test and standardize their instruments and visual skill. This image is from Karl Wilhelm Naegeli, The Microscope in Theory and Practice, 1892 (Surirella gemma).

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I enjoyed a great panel at MLA (Modern Language Association), January 3-6, 2013. The panel was called  “Small Worlds: Projection, Magnification, and Scale in Victorian and Modern Britain.” I had the good fortune to share the panel with some wonderful colleagues: Anna Henchman of BU (who organized the panel), Lawrence Switzky (U Toronto), and Debra Gettelman (Holy Cross) as moderator. My talk took off from the endpoint of my NAVSA paper on the oxy-hydrogen microscope last fall and is titled, “‘Wonderful to behold’: the lantern microscope, the animalcule-cage, and the projection of the moving image.” It’s fascinating to me how the visual experience offered by the lantern microscope and the “animalcule-cage” (livebox) arguably created audience expectations that would be met by early cinema. You can see an animalcule-cage just below, from James Swift, The Microscope and Accessory Apparatus, 1883:

Conference website here

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Spring 2012 events:

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On March 23, 2012, I contributed to a symposium at Strozier Library (Florida State University) on “Women and the Book: The Women’s Building Library at the 1893 World’s Fair: A Cameo in History.” This symposium was in collaboration with the book, Right Here I See My Own Books: The Women’s Building Library at the Columbian Exposition (Sarah Wadsworth and Wayne A. Wiegand, U Mass P, 2012).

My talk was titled, “From The Wonders of Plant Life and Home Care to Electropathy and Nephrectomy: Writing the Contours of Science in the Women’s Library.” I surveyed the array of different kinds of 19th-century women’s science writing as an index of the changes and tensions in nineteenth-century gender roles. This works well with my interest in nineteenth-century British women writers of science, popular science, and natural history, from research for Beautiful Mechanism.

Website for the symposium here

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On March 23-25, I attended the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Association (INCS) conference in Lexington, KY, giving a talk titled  “‘Discriminating the minuter beauties of nature’: Seeing botanically, or the uses of natural theology in a Victorian medical school.” I compared Edward Forbes’s and John Lindley’s speeches about the role of botany and natural theology in two competing London medical schools. This is based on material I discovered in researching my microscope book; its focus on visual pleasure and the minute makes it a nice complement to that work. The conference theme is “Picturing the Nineteenth Century.”

Conference website here

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On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, I gave a brown bag talk over at the History and Philosophy of Science department at FSU. I’m one of their Core Faculty.

Here’s the title and topic of the talk:

The vastness of the very small: Imperial romance in Victorian microscopy

In nineteenth-century scientific and popular British texts on microscopy, a curious image recurs: a recursive sense of vast fields or even worlds, opening out from the tiny. Although the telescope does allow human vision to traverse great distances, a sense of immensity is also evoked by its analogue on a tiny scale, the microscope. With reference to scientific and popular texts by Chalmers, Whewell, Gosse, Hill, and Hogg, among others, this chapter asks, what can explain the odd persistence of a perspectival discourse of vast landscapes paradoxically emerging from what is in fact an extremely constrained visual field? Certainly this discourse expresses a nineteenth-century interest in the concepts of infinity, topology, and dimensionality. But some authors demonstrate an impulse to mastery of the inhabitants of these “new worlds,” denoted as “tribes” or “peoples”; others express the desire to explore and map “vast new fields.” In this and other ways, “the vastness of the very small” also functions as a kind of imperial gaze, obliquely figuring the microscopist as a powerful, integral part of the project of British empire during a period of rapid imperial expansion.

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From April 26-29, 2012, I was in Baltimore at the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM), hosted by Johns Hopkins University. My talk there was drawn from work I’m doing for my third book project, on “the magic of figures” (visual/statistical represention of narrative) in nineteenth-century British novels and medical writing. The talk was called  “Writing the profession: Tabular narrative in 18th- and 19th-century British case histories.”

Conference website here

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