Gothic States (CfP)

Here’s another great-looking conference CfP, for an event at the University of Pennsylvania, from 29-31 March, 2018:

Since its inception, the Gothic has been a favorite aesthetic of artists exploring extreme states, whether psychological, political, or numinous, at times of imperial expansion, social protest, world war, global revolution, and government oppression. At the same time, its history dovetails with the emergence of new media from early modern tragedy to eighteenth-century travel writing and circulating library fiction, nineteenth-century melodrama, early photography and cinema, comics and graphic novels, popular music and television, and digital entertainment. Even today, the Gothic thrives as a viable, living language for those features of the psyche, the social order, or the cosmos that are least susceptible to representation and least liable to be controlled and assimilated.

Our chosen theme (‘Gothic States’) brings together these concerns by asking scholars to consider the Gothic’s function across differing ‘states’ as a language for addressing incipient nationalisms, whether to endorse or to critique them, as well as for representing divided consciousness, whether sexual, political, filial, or religious. The most powerful Gothic texts, in fact, place these concerns in dialogue with one another, depicting individuals and communities under duress in times of social and political upheaval. We therefore aim to galvanize our understanding of the Gothic as a single aesthetic tradition and invite scholars to create new perspectives on the Gothic in a transnational, trans-media, and comparative context. What role has the Gothic played in how we imagine the constitutions of both individuals and nations? How has the mode been visualized across different media and technologies of representation? Finally, what lends the Gothic its power? What produces the ruptures, fears, and anxieties we associate with it? What fuels its ability to cross media with such opportunistic ease?

Image via the Guardian


Please send a 150-word vitas and 250-word abstracts (papers will be 15-20 minutes) to Michael Gamer ( and Marina Della Putta Johnston ( by 1 January 2018.

The conference’s plenary speakers will be:

  • Maurizio Ascari, University of Bologna
  • Robin Furth, Marvel Comics, co-author of the Steven King Dark Tower series
  • Diego Saglia, University of Parma
  • Angela Wright, University of Sheffield

The conference is sponsored by the Center for Italian Studies and the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania, with generous support provided by the School of Arts and Sciences, University Research Foundation, the Penn Humanities Forum, the Program in Comparative Literature, the Program in Cinema Studies, the Restoration-Victorian reading group, and the Gen-Sex Reading Group.

Alexander McQueen, ‘Savage Beauty’ at the V&A

Reflections on BAVS 2016

bavs-poster_castleThe 2016 British Association for Victorian Studies annual conference, ‘Consuming (the) Victorians’, officially closed at Cardiff University on Friday. Today, I finally put in a full and productive day of work again after a long weekend of post-conference recovery. It’s one thing attending a three-day international conference. It’s a whole different thing organising one. Despite a fantastic organising team – and an equally fantastic bunch of delegates – four days of conference mode (preceded by a year’s worth of planning) takes its tole. Fortunately, it was still an amazing experience overall, and one I would gladly repeat… though perhaps not immediately.

Today I spent several hours putting together Storify threads of all the Twitter highlights from each day of BAVS 2016, and got to re-live the moments that made it special. I was also overwhelmed by just how many tweets there were. Just counting those I retweeted from the official @BAVS2016 account, there were more than 3000 tweets between 31 August and 2 September. On the first day, the #BAVS2016 hashtag was among the top fifty Twitter trends in the UK. Not bad for a group of 350 Victorianists – especially given that their presence on Twitter mostly consisted of PhD students and early-career scholars.

Without further ado, then, the Storify feeds for BAVS 2016:

BAVS 2016 – Day One (31 August, 2016)

BAVS 2016 – Day Two (1 September, 2016)

BAVS 2016 – Day Three (2 September, 2016)

BAVS 2016 – Aftermath

We couldn’t have achieved all this without our team of bursary tweeters, who volunteered their skills in exchange for a small subsidy (which in turn was graciously provided by BAVS and Cardiff University). They produced around a third of the live tweets during the conference.

Image by @KeiWaiyee (‘Marxist Baking’), a BAVS 2016 delegate

It was a fantastic three days, but now it’s time to turn my thoughts back to all the projects I’ve been neglecting in the run-up to the conference – and to BAVS 2017: ‘Victorians Unbound’!

Consuming (the) Victorians

IMG_6342 (1)Today I won’t be posting a new research blog, because I’m busy running the international Victorianist conference ‘Consuming (the) Victorians’ (BAVS 2016). In addition to being a co-organiser, I’m behind all the conference website and social media for the event.

So check out our website, look us up on Twitter (@BAVS2016), and see what we’re up to (or chat to us) using the hashtag #BAVS2016!

I will be back next week with more historical monster mashup research.

Fantasies of Contemporary Culture (in Review)

CulturalfantasiesA massive ‘Thank You’ to everyone who attended Monday’s Fantasies of Contemporary Culture symposium at Cardiff University, either in person or on Twitter. I enjoyed the day (and all the papers) immensely, and feel very honoured to have been a part of it.

I’ve compiled some of the images, tweets, and Facebook posts into a (very long) Storify thread. Browse them at your leisure. Here’s how it all starts:

 This week at Cardiff University, delegates gathered from around the world for the Fantasies of Contemporary Culture symposium. The event was an opportunity to explore the political and cultural functions of fantasy, in all its forms.

‘How might the fantastical characters and environments that populate our contemporary cultural landscape be informed by the experience of twenty-first-century metropolitan life,’ asked the event’s call for papers, ‘and how do such texts (in)form that experience in return?’ Delegates answered this question in many different ways, over two plenary talks, eight panel sessions, and numerous informal discussions throughout the day.

[read more here]

A lot of people were enthusiastic about doing this kind of thing again next year – and in fact we’ve already had a chat with a couple of delegates who might like to bring Fantasies of Contemporary Culture to their universities in the future. If we’re going to do this, however, we’d like to know what you thought of this year’s symposium.

We’ve compiled an anonymous survey of 10 questions. If you can spare the time (it should take about 2 minutes), we would love to hear your honest thoughts and points for improvement.

Thanks again – and hope to see you next year!

Fantasies of Contemporary Culture (CFP)

In addition to all the wonderful conferences I’m hoping to attend in 2016, I happen to be co-organising a symposium of my own, on the role fantasies play in the construction of contemporary reality. Whatever your background, discipline, or career phase, we want your abstracts (and we just want to meet you). Have a look at the call for papers below, and see if it sparks your fancy:

Rejected design for Cardiff Bay Opera House, which was never built. © Greg Lynn, 1995.
Rejected design for Cardiff Bay Opera House, which was never built. © Greg Lynn, 1995.

Fantasies of Contemporary Culture

Cardiff University, 23 May 2016
Call for Papers

Keynote speakers:
Dr. Mark Bould (UWE Bristol)
Dr. Catherine Butler (Cardiff University)

From the record-breaking sales of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, both in print and on film, to the phenomenal success of various forms of hyperreal ‘reality television’, contemporary Western culture seems singularly obsessed by the spectacular and the fantastic. This desire to experience other(ed) realities is also evidenced by the continued popularity of neo-historical literature and period drama, the domination of Hollywood cinema by superhero movies, and by the apocalyptic and dystopian imagery that abounds across genres and target audiences. With a long critical and cultural history, conceptualised by scholars as diverse as Tzvetan Todorov, Farah Mendlesohn, John Clute, Brian Attebery, Fredric Jameson, Lucie Armitt, and Darko Suvin, fantasy has arguably become the dominant mode of popular storytelling, supplanting the narrative realism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Rather than attempting to define fantasy, horror, weird, or science fiction as distinct genres, we wish to take up Katheryn Hume’s expansive definition of fantasy as anti-mimetic, or as ‘any departure from consensus reality’ (Fantasy and Mimesis, 1984, p. 21), in order to engage with the broader artistic motivation to question the limits of the real. This symposium, then, will explore the political and cultural functions of such fantasies. To what extent does the impulse to create fantasy art comment back upon this ‘consensus reality’, and to what extent does it represent a separate reality? How might the fantastical characters and environments that populate our contemporary cultural landscape be informed by the experience of twenty-first-century metropolitan life, and how do such texts (in)form that experience in return?

Roger Schlobin claims that the ‘key to the fantastic is how its universes work, which is sometimes where they are, but is always why and how they are’ (‘Rituals’ Footprints Ankle-Deep in Stone’, 2000, p. 161). With this claim in mind, we invite submissions from any discipline that address the relationship between current cultural, social and political dialogues and fantasy texts – specifically ones that interrogate dominant structures of power, normativity and ideology. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to, the relationship between fantasy texts and contemporary culture through the lens of:

  • Theories of fantasy
  • Ideology and world building
  • Ecological fantasies
  • Escapism
  • Cognitive mapping
  • Utopian/dystopian vision
  • Categories of monstrosity and perfection
  • The humanities (fantasies, futures)
  • Capitalist critique
  • Genre studies/border crossings
  • Age studies (childhood fantasy versus adult fantasy)
  • Gender studies
  • Alternate histories and retrofuturism
  • Postcolonial fantasy (incl. Welsh)
  • Nationalism and politics
  • Inequality and race relations

We welcome paper and panel proposals from postgraduate students, independent researchers, affiliated scholars, writers, and artists from any background or career phase. Paper proposals must be between 200-300 words; panel proposals should be between 400-500 words. Please send abstracts, including your name and e-mail, institutional affiliation (if any), and a short biography (100 words maximum), to Dr Tom Harman ( and Megen de Bruin-Molé (, using the subject line ‘CFP Fantasies of Contemporary Cultures’. The deadline for abstracts is 21 March, 2016.

The programme will include coffee/tea breaks, lunch and a wine reception. This will be covered in the registration fee (£10 for students and part-time staff, £20 for salaried staff). For additional information and updates, please consult this website, or follow us on Twitter at @cultfantasies.

Consuming (the) Victorians

Image from BBC One's The Paradise © BBC, photographer: Jonathan Ford
Image from BBC One’s The Paradise © BBC, photographer: Jonathan Ford

Are you a Victorianist, or do you just love all things Victorian?

Then feast your eyes on the 2016 British Association for Victorian Studies’ Call for Papers: ‘Consuming (the) Victorians’, brought to you with the help of the invaluable Tom de Bruin! At this 3-day conference, hosted by Cardiff University, we’ll be looking at Victorians practices of consumption, as well as how the Victorians are consumed today. Send your proposal to by 1 March, 2016:

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.52.29

The Victorian age saw the emergence of ‘modern’ consumer culture: in urban life, commerce, literature, art, science and medicine, entertainment, the leisure and tourist industries. The expansion and proliferation of new mass markets and inessential goods opened up pleasurable and democratising forms of consumption while also raising anxieties about urban space, the collapse of social and gendered boundaries, the pollution of domestic and public life, the degeneration of the moral and social health of the nation. This conference is concerned with the complexity and diversity of Victorian consumer cultures and also seeks to consider our contemporary consumption of the Victorian/s.

We welcome proposals for individual papers, and encourage proposals for panels (3-paper sessions), on, but not limited to, the following topics:

Urban spaces and city life: the flâneur/flâneuse, the steam/trolley bus, the rise of suburbia, street cultures

Transformations of the countryside: the Victorian pastoral, the country retreat, the farm, garden cities and model villages, alternative communities

Commerce: the department store, fashion, retail and advertising

Politics: new political mass movements, Chartism, feminism, Fabianism, ‘Victorian values’ in the present

Art: Pre-Raphaelitism, Impressionism, arts and crafts, photography, illustration

Science and technology: the railway, the Great Exhibition and exhibition cultures, the lecture, the gramophone, physics, biology

Science, spectacle and performance: taxidermy, the magic lantern, the diorama, the cinematograph

Literature: the magazine, newspaper, sensation, railway, crime and other popular fiction markets, self-help, religious tracts

Consuming life styles: the Girl of the Period, the Aesthete, the Dandy, the Decadent, the New Woman, the Lion/ess, the fashionable author, interview cultures

Cultures of entertainment and leisure: oper(ett)a, theatre and melodrama, the recital, music halls and concert halls, sheet music and instrument manufacture, the amateur, the club and associational culture, the bicycle, sports, boating

The tourist industry: sightseeing, the preservation of and popular attraction to historical buildings (e.g. National Trust), Baedeker, new (imperial) travel cultures

Medicine and the market place: medical treatments and therapeutics, medical advertising, professional practices, public and private treatment practices, institutional medicine, alternative therapies

The pleasures and perils of consumption: music, food cultures, cooking, chocolate, alcohol, addiction, opium, fashion, smoking, sex

Consuming bodies, moral contagion, social reform and the law: the city at night, prostitution, homosexuality, pornography, the ‘Maiden Tribute’ and trafficking; censorship, temperance, Obscene Publications Acts, Contagious Diseases Acts, National Purity Association, social purity activism, feminism, social welfare movements

The ‘other’ Victorians: the Victorians through the lens of their 19th-century contemporaries; the Victorians and 19th-century Europe; European Victorians

The Victorians and their pasts/Victorian consumption of earlier periods: Victorian medievalism in art and architecture, the Victorian Renaissance

Victorian afterlives: how the Victorian/s have been consumed by subsequent periods, such as the Modernists, Leavisites, faux/retro/post- and neo-Victorianism, heritage film and costume drama, the Victorians in contemporary architecture, art, interior decoration, music

Reception in the Impressionist galleries, with access to the Victorian art gallery, followed by an organ recital and conference dinner, National Museum Cardiff.
House tour of Cardiff Castle, with interior decoration by Victorian architect William Burges.


For further details consult our website:

All conference presenters are required to be members of BAVS or an affiliated organisation (e.g. AVSA, NAVSA).

Please submit an individual proposal of 250-300 words OR a 3-4 page outline for a 3 paper panel proposal (including panel title, abstracts with titles, affiliations and all contact details, identifying the panel chair), to by the deadline of 1 March 2016. Papers will be limited to 20 minutes. All proposals should include your name, academic affiliation (if applicable) and email address.

Enquiries should be directed to Professor Ann Heilmann (

Conference organisers
Megen de Bruin-Molé (PGR, Cardiff), Rachel Cowgill (Music, Huddersfield), Daný van Dam (PGR, Cardiff), Holly Furneaux (English, Cardiff), Kate Griffiths (French, Cardiff), Catherine Han (PGR, Cardiff), Ann Heilmann (English, Cardiff), Anthony Mandal (English, Cardiff), Akira Suwa (PGR, Cardiff), Julia Thomas (English, Cardiff), Keir Waddington (History, Cardiff), Martin Willis (English, Cardiff)

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.53.28


Past, Present, and (Retro)Future


Things are happening in the world of popular (neo-)Victorianism! This week not one, but two calls for papers graced my inbox. The first is for a symposium (a.k.a. a one-day conference) in Amsterdam on historical and neo-historical fiction, and the second is for a symposium in Portsmouth on Victorian materiality and the material object. If you’re interested in alternate history, material culture, steampunk, period drama, retrofuturism, nostalgia, or just the past (or the present) in general, do submit an abstract.

If you’re not in the business of giving conference papers, you can come along and listen for free, or, since I’m likely to attend both of these events, you can follow my experience at the symposium on Twitter, and read my thoughts about the event here, after the fact.

And now the CFPs!

640px-GrimburgwalAmsterdam1. Reading the Present through the Past: from Historical to Neo-Historical Fiction

One-day symposium, 4 March 2016
The Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies
University of Amsterdam

Ever since the turn of the twenty-first century, literary and cultural returns to earlier periods have become increasingly frequent and visible. Novels on past eras dominate the shortlists of literary prizes and the number of historical films and TV series has exploded. The popularity of Hilary Mantel’s books about Henry VIII’s court, the success of TV series like Sherlock and The Americans and of graphic novel series like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are cases in point. Many of these works, however, seem to relate to the past in ways that are different from earlier historical novels and films.

According to Elodie Rousselot, editor of the recent collection Exoticizing the Past in Neo-Historical Fiction (2014), literary contributions to this trend belong to a new subgenre of contemporary historical fiction, the ‘neo-historical novel’. Even though it is set in the past, ‘neo-historical’ fiction aims to discuss and mediate the concerns and occupations of our current age. In establishing overt connections to the present day, these works display an awareness of their own constructedness and open ways for a critical reflection on exoticizing approaches to the past. For this one-day symposium, we invite contributions that take up the challenge to think about the continuities and specificities of contemporary (neo)historical fiction and explore it as a literary and cultural phenomenon.

Keynote speakers:

Dr Elodie Rousselot (University of Portsmouth)
Prof Dr Elisabeth Wesseling (Maastricht University)

Possible topics include, but are by no means limited to:
• the neo-historical imagination as a literary movement and/or broader cultural phenomenon (literature, film, TV, art, adaptations, etc.)
• comparisons between (re)constructions of different historical periods (neo-Victorian, neo-Gothic, neo-Tudor, neo-medieval, neo-Golden Age, neo-WWI/WWII, alternate history, etc.)
• theoretical and conceptual approaches to neo-historical fiction (postmodernism and post-postmodernism, mashup, cultural memory, affect, postcolonialism, posthumanism, utopia/dystopia, etc.)
• connections within and across national and linguistic borders and communities; world literature and cosmopolitan memory

Please submit abstracts of 250 words for 20-minute papers in English, together with a short biography, to Daný van Dam at by 18 December 2015.


28742. All Things Victorian: Exploring Materiality and the Material Object

Call for Papers one-day symposium, 19 March 2016
The Centre for Studies in Literature
University of Portsmouth
Keynote Speaker: Dr Nadine Muller (Liverpool John Moores University)

The rapid industrialisation of the nineteenth century, with its unprecedented increase in the mass-production, proliferation and consumption of machine-made material objects and things, forced a reconsideration of the relationship between the self and the physical world in Victorian culture. Since then, neo-Victorian re-imaginings of the past have recurrently appropriated Victorian materialities as both a means of re-fashioning the past for contemporary consumption and of engaging with the past through haptic communication. This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore the material object, its invested meaning and the ways in which this has been presented and re-presented in Victorian culture and contemporary neo-Victorian re-imaginings.

We invite delegates to submit abstracts exploring Victorian materiality and the material object in literature, cultural studies, the visual arts, film, television adaptation, fashion and consumer culture. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:
•  The representation of Victorian things, objects and artefacts in: Victorian and/or neo-Victorian literature; film, television and drama adaptations; fashion and textiles; Victorian and/or contemporary consumer culture.
• The material object: Victorian clothing, jewellery, furniture, architecture, photographs, mementos, keepsakes, memorials, archives etc.
• Human interactions and engagements with materiality and the material object.
• Theories of material culture: thing theory, object theory, cultural memory theory, trace theory.

Please submit proposals of 250-300 words for papers of no more than 20 minutes along with a 50-70 word bio-note to The deadline for accepting proposals is 31 December 2015 and acceptance will be notified by 15 January 2016.

Roland Barthes and Spaces of Attunement

Conference header REVISED

Whereas this week I’m busy with preparations for two conference presentations at guest universities, at the end of March I was a passive observer at two separate sets of conferences, both at my very own Cardiff University. My department hosted the ‘Roland Barthes at 100’ conference, the School of Planning and Geography across the way held a ‘Spaces of Attunement’ symposium, and both ran over the same two days at the very end of March.

I was originally only registered for ‘Spaces of Attunement’, but because Neil Badmington, the organisor of ‘Roland Barthes at 100’, is my secondary thesis supervisor, I ended up spending some time there helping out. I even chaired my first panel, on Barthes and visual culture, where I got to hear two very different papers. Stella Baraklianou (from the University of Huddersfield) gave a presentation on the punctum in digital art and photography, citing work by Idris Khan and Eva Stenram. Freelance scholar Jayne Sheridan talked about the border between commercialism and art, using the Chanel N°5 commercial directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, ‘Train de Nuit’:

Though I heard many fine presentations during the two-day conference, the one that stuck out for me the most was Michael Wood’s opening keynote ‘French Lessons’, which I mentioned in last week’s post. Wood talked about many things, but primarily he was concerned with how even when we read Barthes well, when we read him outside of the French we misread him. Our reading may not be wrong, but we are missing something. For Wood one of the intervening factors in this misreading is the fact that in French, beauty is often more important than exactitude. Practically, this often means that French philosophers have a weakness for aphorism – they cannot resist the witty maxim. As I summarised last week, maxims are caricatures of language, and can’t be academically defended. The truth in a maxim is either too trivial to be ‘really’ true, or is not wholly true.

Wood used an example from Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1980), summarised in this old post by Michael Sacasas:

Barthes was taken by the way that a photograph suggests both the “that-has-been” and the “this-will-die” aspects of a photographic subject. His most famous discussion of this dual gesture involved a photograph of his mother, which does not appear in the book. But a shot of [failed assassin Lewis] Powell is used to illustrate a very similar point. It is captioned, ‘He is dead, and he is going to die …’ The photograph simultaneously witnesses to three related realities. Powell was; he is no more; and, in the moment captured by this photograph, he is on his way to death.

The idea that an object in a photograph is either dead or is going to die may be true, though exceptions could no doubt be found. If it is true, how much inherent meaning does it have? All living things die – this is not something that needs explanation. Rather than genuinely attempting revolution, the maxim is merely the platform upon which we can build the arguments and ideas we want to.

‘He is dead, and he is going to die …’

For Wood, though, this is the entire point of the maxim: it can be used for anything. Citing Adorno’s Minima Moralia (1951), in which he posits that the problem with philosophers is that they want to be right, Wood suggested that being right (or exact) is not so important in literature – at least not in the sense that many people try to impose upon it. Instead, literature expresses a love of arguments without wanting to win.

With that in mind, I trekked across campus to the lovely and imposing Glamorgan building for a fabulous lunch and a change of topic. The order of the day was a posthuman exploration of ‘attunement to the world in all its particularity, strangeness, enchantment and horror’. Suitably prepared for this experience by Wood’s defense of arguments without victories and questions without answers, I sat in on an animal studies panel that included Joanna Latimer on the idea of ‘being/living alongside’ as opposed to ‘being/living with’ nonhumans, Lesley Green on environmental humanities, apartheid, and the baboon problem at Table Mountain National Park, and Karolina Rucinska on transgenic animals and Enviropig. This was followed by a fascinating keynote by Mara Miele, cataloguing the EmoFarm project, an experiment on emotional response in sheep.

I wish my building was this imposing.
I wish my building was this imposing.

Before we closed off the day with a reception, we split into small groups for some discussion, which started off awkwardly but ultimately yielded some interesting ideas and connections. If I can find the time to post about any of these things at greater length, I will definitely do so. Each presentation gave me a lot to think about. For the moment, though, I should probably get back to my other deadlines. Until next week!


Well and Unwell: The Body in the Nineteenth Century (possibly NSFW)

George Goodwin Kilburne junior (1863-1938), A Game of Tennis (1882).
George Goodwin Kilburne junior (1863-1938), A Game of Tennis (1882).

Last week Thursday I flew from Cardiff back to the Netherlands, where I’ll be whiling away the holidays with my partner. It’s not all oliebollen and ice skating, though. I am determined that there will be at least some thesis work conducted during this break.

‘Her Majesty’s Corset’ from the H. O’Neill & Co. 1897-8 Fall & Winter Fashion Catalogue

On Friday (the day after I arrived) I made a trip into Amsterdam for my very first Dutch-language conference – Well and Unwell: The Body in the Nineteenth Century.This was the most recent in an annual series of conferences, hosted by the Werkgroup De Negentiende Eeuw, which also publishes a journal. Because I figure some of you might be interested in the proceedings (but unable to speak Dutch), I thought I would translate some of the highlights for you and post them here.I was especially interested to experience how the nineteenth century is studied outside of the Anglophone world. Most of the day’s lectures focused on Dutch, German, French, or Belgian sources, which offer a very different perspective on ‘Victorian’ culture than British or American ones. Though all of the papers were excellent, the notes I took were naturally biased by my own research interests. Hopefully you’ll have a decent overview of the seven papers we heard, including the names of the presenters in case you’re interested in learning more.

From the very beginning of the day it was clear that the group of academics gathered for this conference was extremely diverse (skin colour being the only visible exception) and interdisciplinary. We had people working in history, literature, archeology, visual arts, and sports studies, focused on multiple time periods. There were seasoned scholars and MA students, old and young, from all over the country – and from the neighbouring Belgium.

After the requisite cup of coffee (who says you can’t have a coffee break before the conference starts?) we launched into the day’s lectures with a short introduction by Professor Wessel Krul, the president of the workgroup. He emphasised the link between the body and culture, and revisited the nineteenth-century prevalence of the idea that one’s physical, external body reflected one’s internal, spiritual, or mental state.

In her paper ‘Representations of Homosexuality in the East around 1900’, Professor Mary Kemperink from the University of Groningen used travel journals and literature to examine the development of ideas about homosexuality during that period. Specifically, she cited Charley van Heezen’s 1918 novel Anders (‘Different’), in which two men from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds are united in their sexual orientation, and are also described by others as having a strangely similar appearance due to their shared ‘femininity’ and ‘sensuality’. For a good period at the turn of the century homosexuality was apparently conflated with the Orient, or the ‘inverse’ side of the globe. Here Kemperink also cited British Orientalist and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), who suggested a relationship between pederasty and the area around the equator (which he called the Sotadic Zone). Towards the end of the 19th century homosexuality moved from being recognised a tourist attraction for Europeans in the Orient (and here the French author Gustave Flaubert was cited as an example) to a state of being that was not only unique to the East, but united people in all parts of the globe.

A Victorian woman, drawn by Luke Fildes and published in 1880
A Victorian woman, drawn by Luke Fildes and published in 1880.

Following this came Utrecht University‘s Dr Willemijn Ruberg, who spoke about ‘Menstruation in Court: The Female Body and Forensic Medicine in the Nineteenth Century’. At the beginning of the nineteenth century (before 1860), menstruation was part of the humours school of medicine, in which the bodies four fluids (or humours: ) had to be in balance in order for a person to be healthy. Problems with menstruation were theorised to cause blockages in the head or genitals, causing temporary madness (called ‘monomania‘). This kind of temporary madness was a common defense in nineteenth-century courts, especially for young girls. By way of example, Ruberg shared some Dutch arson cases (including that of Marretje Moonen in 1840) where problems with menstration were linked to pyromania, and sometimes resulted in the girls being absolved of direct responsibility for their actions. After 1850 people began to criticise the idea of pyromania as temporary madness, and menstruation came to be seen as a sickness, less directly linked to the psyche.

 A 'Venus' medical mannequin from the 'Anatomie des Vanités' exhibit at the Erasmus House in Brussels, Belgium
A ‘Venus’ medical mannequin from the ‘Anatomie des Vanités’ exhibit at the Erasmus House in Brussels, Belgium

The last paper before lunch was by Tinne Claes and Veronique Deblon, PhD researchers at KU Leuven. Their paper (‘Bodily Confrontations in Popular Anatomical Musea: 1850-1870’) dealt with Dutch and Belgian anatomical exhibits, and the changing ways these marketed themselves over the decades. In addition to shifting focus from religion (the human body as the pinnacle of God’s creation) to discipline (the abnormal human body as a warning against deviant behaviour), the audience for anatomical exhibits broadened in the 1860s to include women and the lower classes. Claes and Deblon pointed out an interesting contrast here with anatomical exhibits in the UK, where publicists had long used the fact that their visitors included women to emphasise the wholesomeness of their displays. There was also (to my uncontainable glee) a section of the talk dedicated to freak shows and the ‘abnormal’ body, which usually took up a separate section in these exhibits and would require that you pay an additional fee.

Portrait of a man with tribal scarification, Bahia, Brazil, 1860 © Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Portrait of a man with tribal scarification, Bahia, Brazil, 1860
© Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

After the lunch break (sandwiches and milk all around), we carried on with the last four papers. The first was Erasmus University Rotterdam‘s Professor Alex van Stipriaan on ‘The Enslaved Body’. Van Stipriaan prefers the term slaafgemaakt (enslaved) to slaaf (slave) when speaking about a person or people, as it places the emphasis on the state a person is placed in (he was enslaved), rather than associating that state directly with the person (he is a slave). He dealt with an extremely broad range of topics – and actually went quite a bit over time – but gave a good overview of the ways the enslaved body (in this case the black body) was portrayed and perceived in nineteenth-century Holland and its colonies. Some points that particularly stood out were the comparison between the brand as a symbol of slavery and scarification as a symbol of resistance, the mass ‘lightening’ of the coloured population in Suriname as a form of upward mobility, and the fact that unlike enslaved men, who were often described purely in bodily terms, as machines or animals, enslaved women were typically written about or envisioned in terms of their characters or actions, humanising them in a small sense.

In a completely different tone, Jelle Zondag from the Radbound University in Nijmegen presented on the writings of C.M.J Muller Massis (1870-1900), who published extensively on sports in the context of national health and nationalism. The material he presented is difficult to translate into an English context (though Muller Massis apparently cited sports teams at English boarding schools as the reason for their success as an empire), but it involved an interesting discussion of the concept of a ‘natural’ and ‘national’ body, and the emergence of the bicycle as a Dutch national icon.

"Dear diary, today I was indisposed..."
“Dear diary, today I was indisposed…”

Dr Leonieke Vermeer, also from Groningen, is working on a long-term project examining nineteenth-century diaries to learn more about the way sickness and health care was experienced by the patients, which represents a gap in the current, professionally dominated discourse. She has already discovered some interesting uses of terms and remedies, including the fact that most diary keepers describe illness (from mild to serious) using the word ongesteld (literally ‘indisposed’, but used today only to describe menstruation). Although she only had time to mention it briefly, one aspect of Vermeer’s research that I found very interesting was the use of ‘silence’ or empty space in diaries, particularly following traumatic events or entries. One woman left an entire blank page after an entry on the death of her mother. Using examples of the ways diary writers record illness to help them deal with emotion, for reflection, or simply to make themselves feel better, she explained how a ‘bottom up’ approach to studying illness in the nineteenth century has a lot to offer us. Among other things, it shows us how the medical discoveries of the nineteenth century were actually being implemented, and the kinds of things patients would have expected (and accepted) from medical professionals.

Finally, we had a lecture by Dr Marjan Sterckx from the University of Ghent on female artists from Belgium, France, and the Netherlands who created nude sculptures. Nude sculpture was still quite scandalous in the nineteenth century, though less so in France, and female sculptors of nudes generally either sculpted children or used classical tropes, both of which were less controversial. You can actually read an article by Sterckx in English on what seems to be a very similar topic at this link. Specifically, Sterckx looked at the work of French/Belgian sculptor Marie-Louise Lefevre-Deumiers (1812-1877), in particular her 1861 La Nymphe Glycera and her 1865 Diana, which was also exhibited in the Hague. Sadly no photographs of Diana exist (that we know of.

This is actually a nineteenth-century drawing

We closed the session with a general 45-minute panel discussion on the body in the nineteenth century, which mainly consisted of several rounds of questions. All in all it was a productive day, and I can’t imagine where else I could have heard papers on such vastly different topics in so short a span of time. Also, where else but the Netherlands do you get books like Seks!… in de negentiende eeuw (‘Sex!… in the nineteenth century’) with awesome covers like the one pictured here. The conference book stand was full of interesting titles, though I didn’t take any home this time around.

And naturally, we wrapped up the day with a good borrel, where we could mingle with each other and with the speakers over a glass of something tasty. I managed to get in a couple of questions that I would never have been brave enough to ask the speakers in the public, post-lecture rounds, and I got some great blog suggestions (Quigley’s Cabinet and Morbid Anatomy anyone?) from Tinne Claes and Veronique Deblon, who also blog themselves (in Dutch).

New to the Reading List (11/12/2014)

New books 12/12/2014The second round of the books I ordered from the library have now arrived, and two of them were in hardcover no less. Not something you see every day, and certainly not in the “popular fiction” realm of theory, which tends to be relegated to trade paperback – not too shabby, but not quite as satisfying as a nice hardcover edition. This week’s haul includes:

Levine, Elana, and Lisa Parks, eds., Undead TV: Essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008). This one is a long shot, but I’m hoping it will have a few interesting articles relating monsters (and slayers) to posthumanism, and to cross-media adaptations.
Khair, Tabish, and Johan Höglund, eds., Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires: Dark Blood (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Who could resist a book with this title? I read more of less all of the contemporary theory on vampires out there while I was writing my BA and MA theses, but this is a new one. Again, hoping for some good approaches to adaptation and monstrosity.
Byron, Glennis, and Dale Townshend, eds., The Gothic World (London: Routledge, 2014). This one is on the list purely because of the authors and the subject. A new overview of the Gothic (particularly focussed on new media) by two scholars who have done good work on the Gothic together in the past is a must-read text. And because it only just came out no one else had requested it yet – though I’m sure it would have made it to the library eventually.

Today I hop a flight back to the Netherlands for the Christmas holidays, and tomorrow bright and early I’ll be headed into Amsterdam for a Dutch-language day conference called Well and Unwell: The Body in the 19th Century. Hoping to meet lots of people with similar interests there, hear some new ideas, and also to start building up a Dutch network of contacts. You never know where a good job might open up.