Sharing the moment’s discourse

If you have signed up for the workshop in July, or expressed an interest in the Cultivating Common Ground project more broadly, then the chances are that you will have heard from me by now. My role has the intriguing title of Research Fellow in Biology and the Humanities, and sees me being both employed by and housed within the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading – all of which is quite exciting for someone with a background in literature and no higher qualification in science than a GCSE!

I have been working in the field of literature and science for the last seven years or so, looking primarily at the relationship between physics and literature in the early twentieth century. My doctoral thesis considered the writings of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence alongside the ideas discussed by Albert Einstein in his 1905 papers, exploring moments of direct influence as well as links which could be ascribed to a more generalised zeitgeist model. One of the key ideas at the centre of my thesis, and one which continues to inform all of my work in the area of literature and science, is Gillian Beer’s suggestion that ‘ways of viewing the world are not constructed separately by scientists and poets; they share the moment’s discourse’ (Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter, Oxford University Press, 1996). I am fascinated by the ways in which similar ideas can emerge across different disciplines at the same time, even when there is no obvious direct link or trace of influence in either direction. I am also interested in the ways in which scientific ideas are presented to non-scientists, and am at the early stages of a project which will consider the presence of popular science articles and scientific ideas in a number of early twentieth-century generalist periodicals.

For me, Cultivating Common Ground is of particular interest for a number of reasons: firstly, because it involves thinking about the ways in which the humanities could influence/inform/impact upon science, an aspect of the relationship between the sciences and the humanities which is often overlooked and underestimated. Secondly, because it will bring scientists and humanities scholars together, something which happens less frequently than it should: I am often surprised by the apparent reluctance of humanities scholars, including those who work in interdisciplinary areas, to engage with potential colleagues in other fields, and scientists are usually in a significant minority in interdisciplinary groups like the British Society for Literature and Science. Finally, I think that Cultivating Common Ground is exciting because nobody quite knows what the project and the workshop will reveal: I am really looking forward to listening to the discussions on 18th July, and to seeing the sharing of discourse on biology, literature, history and the current moment in action.

Rachel Crossland

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