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Collaborative Interdisciplinary Study of Science, Medicine and the Imagination seminar series kicks off in February 2016

30 October 2015

Public Lecture in association with CEIR (ENCAP), 2 February 2016
Sally Shuttleworth, University of Oxford, “Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth Century Perspectives”

Abstract: The project explores the phenomena of stress and overload, and other disorders associated in the nineteenth century with the problems of modernity, as expressed in the literature, science and medicine of the period, tracking the circulation of ideas across these diverse areas. It will examine ‘diseases from worry and mental strain’, as experienced in the professions, ‘lifestyle’ diseases such as the abuse of alcohol and narcotics, and also diseases from environmental pollution. The study will return to the holistic, integrative vision of the Victorians, as expressed in the science and in the great novels of the period, exploring the connections drawn between physiological, psychological and social health, or disease. For more information see

Seminar paper, date TBC
Sharon Ruston, University of Lancaster, “A Poet and a Man of Science: Humphry Davy”

Abstract: Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was the foremost British ‘scientist’ of his day and was President of the Royal Society. Between October and December 1815, Davy invented a form of miners’ safety lamp that became known as the Davy Lamp. He was also the first to use the newly invented electric battery to isolate nine chemical elements, the largest number attributed to any individual. It is much less well known that Davy also wrote poetry throughout his life, which has survived in manuscript form in notebooks and letters. Despite his important achievements Davy’s letters are almost entirely unpublished. To address this gap, myself and co-editor Professor Tim Fulford are publishing a four volume print edition of the letters with OUP in 2018. In this talk I will give a sense of the kinds of topics covered by the letters, as well as examining what they tell us about Davy’s chemistry and his poetry.

SHARE distinguished research lecture, 9 March 2016
Sam Goodman, Bournemouth University, “‘Ain’t it a ripping night’: Alcohol & the Legacies of Empire in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children”

Abstract: The history of the British Empire and India is one sodden with alcohol. From the native arrack offered to British traders in the seventeenth century, via the persistent thirst for gin and tonic among the ex-pat community of the Raj, through to the modern brewing giants such as Cobra and Kingfisher, alcohol has variously helped grease the wheels of commerce, ease the burden of colonial service, and act as cause and remedy for multiple illnesses and ailments. In the era of decolonisation that followed the Second World War, a range of prominent authors sought to engage with India and the Empire’s past anew throughout their novels, identifying medicine and illness as key parts of Imperial authority and colonial experience respectively. Of all of these post-Imperial authors, Salman Rushdie’s kaleidoscopic approach to the life and death of the Raj in Midnight’s Children (1981) focused on the broad sweep of colonial life, juxtaposing the political and the personal. This paper will argue that as part of this process Rushdie explores the booze-soaked history of colonial India by employing alcohol, and in particular alcoholism, as a lens through which to explore the cultural, political and medical legacies of Empire. Through close analysis of Midnight’s Children as well as a range of medical sources related to alcohol and inebriation, it will illustrate how drinking is central to Rushdie’s approach to secular and religious identities in a newly independent India, as well as a means of satirising and undermining the supposed benefit that Empire presented to India and Indians. The significance of drinking in Rushdie’s work suggests how Empire came with a long-lasting hangover, namely an adherence to the tastes, customs and conventions of colonial society: habits that would prove surprisingly hard to shake.

Sam Goodman teaches English and Communication at Bournemouth University, and is a BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker for 2015-16. His book, British Spy Fiction & the End of Empire (2015) is published with Routledge.


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