How will the Davy Letters have an impact?

Dear blog,

So, I’m right in the midst of this Fellowship application and I’ve come to the bit where I have to say who the work will impact and how this impact will occur. I have lots of public engagement activities planned, eg. public talks, an exhibition, etc. But it’s really difficult to say exactly why it’s beneficial to know about Davy and his letters (and early C19th science) etc. It’s a difficult language for me, when I tend to think these things are self-explanatory, that of course they’re good for us, and haven’t really tried to put this into words. I guess it’s good to know more about Davy because he was an important figure in so many different ways (as a scientist, for the safe extraction of coal, as a chemist who wrote poetry). But how does it change you for the better to know about this? I suppose it means that we’re reflecting upon and preserving our national heritage, but we’re also thinking about what role the sciences play, and what the relationship of science might be with the arts. But why is this beneficial? I guess discussions of these kinds of topics encourages people to actively participate research and to shape the kinds of work that is done in this area in the future. Answers on a postcard please…

I’ve managed to get almost two whole days to work on this (today and yesterday), though I’ve also done a million other things in the early morning and late at night. It still won’t be finished before I go back into the office tomorrow though! We’ve got a conference in the department at Lancaster tomorrow, part of our jubilee celebrations (the university is 50!): https://anothersideof1964.wordpress.com/. And, on Thursday, for the same reason, there’s an event at the castle (which is now sold out) called ‘Beyond the Lancashire Witches’ which promises to be lots of fun (http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/steps/events/public-lecture-beyond-the-lancashire-witches–writing-and-freedom/).

All best,

Sharon

November already?

Dear blog,

It’s half way through term: it’s reading week this week. And what a term it’s been so far. I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy except that probably that isn’t true. Maybe it’s always this busy… This week alone I attended the creative writing poetry reading by Zaffar Kunial (which was excellent) on Monday; on Tuesday, Prof Peter Hulme came to give a research seminar paper on the pan-American dinner attended by poets in New York in 1919 (which was brilliant); and on Thursday I interviewed Stella Rimington, the first female Director General of MI5 and now novelist of Liz Carlyle spy novels, at Manchester High School for Girls. The final event was obviously a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet someone who broke the glass ceiling so spectacularly and occupied such a critical position. Dame Stella was absolutely lovely; really modest and humble, very bright, and said all the right things about, say, how GCHQ shouldn’t be doing anything that breaks any laws. It was a very enjoyable event.

The Davy Letters project continues apace, not that I am getting any time to devote to it. The MHRA Research Associate, Andrew Lacey, is a wonder: he’s updated the website, copyedited Tim’s annotations of the first two tranches of letters, and has compiled a Calendar of Letters, which will be used in the edition. I’m still trying to write the AHRC Fellowship proposal which would enable me to spend some more time on the project. I started it in August and it’s taken ages for me to find any time to work on it this term. I’m hoping that I’ll get it in by December though. I’ve got lots of ideas…!

I’ve written a couple of new lectures this term so far, on Ovid and Dante; I really enjoyed doing them. Their for a new course for our first years called World Literature. It’s been hard but really fun to write these. But, right now, I’m just relieved to be back in Manchester for a couple of days and to work on this application. I’m going to Chawton House near Southampton on Thursday to give a talk about Wollstonecraft. I’ve never been there before so that’s exciting too.

Wish me luck with the proposal; I’m hoping to finally get it in this side of Christmas!

Sx

September Psychosis

Dear blog,

Well, not really psychosis, that definitely was an exaggeration for alliterative effect, but it is still crazy busy in my world and showing no signs of letting up. I did manage to get two days in the British Library last week, which was excellent, except that it was impossible to get everything done that I wanted to get done in two days. Still, I guess that’s better than nothing! I was trying to research the essay I’m writing for the Ashgate Research Companion to C19th Literature and Science. I’m writing the chapter on literature and chemistry. I read some absolutely fascinating stuff — lots about alchemy and its resurgence in the later C19th and early C20th. They called the discovery of radium ‘modern alchemy’ and then nuclear physics too. That’s all outside the reach of the essay but still brilliant. I also did read some things that were useful for the essay – lots of C19th textbooks that had some really interesting definitions of chemistry. I’m still preoccupied with the idea that the major discovery in chemistry in the early C19th was that there was a finite number of elements in the world that were organised and arranged in a multitude of ways. This is so suggestive for theories of creativity, such as Mary Shelley’s stated idea in the Preface to Frankenstein that her book was ‘invention’ rather than ‘creation’ because nothing can come from nothing. She writes that ‘Invention [is not created] out of the void, but out of chaos. The materials must first be there.’

I’ve left the essay again now to return to my application for the AHRC Fellowship, which I am really struggling with. It’s not really worth going into this since I’m boring myself with the ins and outs of the application, which is huge, and time-consuming (I’ll have spent at least a month full time on it), and to be completely honest I’m not sure how likely it is that I’ll get it. There’s about a 10% chance looking at the stats on the scheme.

Some nice news though, I wrote three articles for the Discovering Literature section of the British Library website (www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians) and the section is doing really well. Apparently they have had 150,009 unique visitors and 410,952 page views since launching in mid-May! How cool is that!

Anyway, I shall plough on. I am looking forward to a Exec Meeting of the British Society of Literature and Science in London this coming Monday and the start of term comes ever closer (though it’s not till 6th October in Lancaster!).

Best,

Sharon

August madness

Dear blog,

Even though it’s August, I’ve still been really busy. It’s funny because there are still people out there who think that we get three months holiday over the summer. Actually I get 25 days plus the university closure days and bank holidays and they seem to go pretty fast.

I’ve shortlisted for the Davy Letters MHRA research associate now: it was tough. There were lots of applicants many of whom were really very good. One easy way to get rid of a few applicants was to only interview people who had their PhDs since there were so many of them. We also looked at the historical period covered by PhDs in an attempt to get someone who knew as much as possible about Davy’s period. In the end we shortlisted four people and the interviews are next Friday.

I’m reading an MRes for Edge Hill University and the viva is next week. My last student at Salford, Jess Roberts, got her PhD nearly two weeks ago — that was absolutely brilliant. Mainly my time has been taken up with writing the Case for Support for the AHRC Leadership Fellow scheme. It’s incredibly time consuming and I feel quite despondent about my chances of success but nonetheless you have to put everything into it to have any chance at all. Add to all of this the usual admin related to being Research Director in the department. I took five days leave to see friends in the French Alps last week (only three were working days) but I had to spend a full day responding to emails on my return. It’s August! This is madness.

Enough moaning already. I need to get back to work…

Sharon

Hello World (again)

Dear blog,

So, it’s been a while. I haven’t posted for a year I think. First there was the upheaval of getting the blog moved to Lancaster when I got my post there in September and since then I’ve been too busy and have gotten out of the habit of blogging. But, I’m going to give this thing a go again and see how it turns out.

It’s been a great year: Lancaster is great; the students are just brilliant and I’ve really enjoyed teaching them (even though I was teaching Theory and well out of my comfort zone!); my colleagues are just lovely and very clever indeed; the whole year has been exhilarating and exciting. It’s been hard work too, particularly all the teaching prep, and the admin role I have can be time consuming.

I had a great time at two conference last month: NASSR in Washington, which was brilliant. It was organised by Richard Sha who writes on science and medicine in the Romantic period and perhaps partly because of this there were loads of fantastic papers on these subjects. Then I went to the John Thelwall @ 250 conference in London and learned more about what an amazing man he was. He had a number of medical interests (he wrote an essay on vitality in the 1790s, decades before Abernethy and Lawrence’s spat), he was the friend of a number of important surgeons in London (including Henry Cline), and he spent a great part of his life as a speech therapist and using poetry to teach how to say words correctly. All of this was aligned with his radical politics (he was one of those tried and acquitted in the 1794 Treason Trials). He’s a fascinating figure and it was great to find out more about him.

So now I’m beginning to write a grant application to fund the next stage of the Davy Letters project, which needs to be submitted to OUP at the end of 2017. Monday is the deadline for the MHRA part-time research assistant post (http://hr-jobs.lancs.ac.uk/Vacancy.aspx?ref=A1039) and we’ll be interviewing for that on the 29th August for someone to start on 1st October. It’s all very exciting though still leaves little time for research, fingers cross for this grant application which might help with that…

It’s good to be back. More soon,

Sharon

 

Papers and articles

Dear blog,

So as the sun shines I sit inside and try to write. I’m sure that everyone’s feeling resentful about the glorious weather outside and the fact that we still have to work… I’ve been trying to write my conference paper this week for the ICHSTM conference to be held here in Manchester (http://www.ichstm2013.com/). It’s the most enormous event, with about 1600 delegates, and a whole suite of sessions on science and literature. I had spent a few days in the Royal Institution archives recently, researching my paper about whether there is evidence of an interest in poetry during the early days of the RI, and I came up with loads of interesting stuff from the General Managers’ Minutes and the Annual Reports. I’ve established that there were significant numbers of lectures on ‘non-scientific’ subjects from very early on in the Royal Institution’s existence. I’ve got lots of data: what the lectures were on, who gave them, how much they got paid, how much money they brought into the RI etc etc. I looked into the people who gave the lectures and have found some reports of them. I just don’t have many conclusions to draw from this, other than, that 1) in some years there are even more lectures on non-scientific subjects than scientific subjects, and that 2) it seems as though Davy had a hand in the whole enterprise. Neither of these are going to set the world alight.

Oh well, I can’t spend longer on the paper because I have to get on with writing my article for the Routledge Critical Debates book on ‘Romantic Transformation’. My hunch is that transformation is used as a metaphor in a number of arenas, political, literary and scientific in the early nineteenth century. In fact, I’ve already found it being used in chemistry, geology and physiology. Transformation means that the essential thing itself remains intact but is changed in shape or form: this would fit the idea of a revolution. It’s not that there are new things involved, but that the old thing has changed its form or appearance. Some transformations are specifically monstrous too. I’m still formulating my ideas on this and now its time for some more reading…

All best,

Sharon

Back to the Davy letters

Dear blog,

So, I’ve had a week in the British Library, checking and transcribing more Davy letters. It’s great to get back to this work, although I’m not going to manage to finish what’s here in this trip. The last letters I transcribed and checked here during a trip that was almost three years ago to the day. I’ve been here loads in between — how can I have left it three years to come back to these?

I’ve been reading some great stuff. There is a commonly-held belief among recent scholars that Davy never patented his miner’s safety lamp because he didn’t want there to be a full-scale investigation into whether it was really him or George Stephenson who had invented it. He presented himself on the occasion as a benefactor to humankind, benevolently presenting his invention for the good of the nation and as being above such petty concerns as profit. It’s been interesting to read the letters to his friend John G. Children on the subject of a new gundpowder that Davy helped him to develop a few years before this around 1812-13. Even in this episode, Davy is adamant (if not a little hysterical) that the labels on the gunpowder cases make it clear that he has only helped by offering the results of his experiments and that he will make no profit by the sale of them. The idea that it might be called Davy’s gunpowder nearly sends him into paroxysms. There is something similar again in his explosions over the copper-sheeting of ships debacle in 1824. It is in regard to a critical essay in the press over this, that Davy utters these words:

The abusive article is in the Chronicle of Thursday. The Chemist & Mechanics magazine made overtures to me by sending me their first numbers &c; the Chemist being filed [sic] with exaggerating praises: but I never shake hands with chimney sweepers even when in their may day clothes & when they call me “your Honour” (letter to Children, late October 1824).

Doesn’t this shock you? It’s clear how far Davy has come from his humble origins in Penzance when we hear this kind of thing.

I had a tip-off that I want to share, which came from Frank James in the Royal Institution: the Spencer card catalogue, and the reserved photographic card catalogue (both in the manuscript room at the British Library) look as if they may turn up some stuff that I hadn’t found using the normal electronic catalogue. Perhaps everyone else already knew about these but I certainly didn’t.

Anyway, for those who haven’t already heard, I will be starting a new job on 1st September, Prof of Romanticism at Lancaster University. I’m hugely excited and I am aiming to continue this blog there.

All best,

Sharon

Marking in Moscow

Dear blog,

So it’s been ages since I last wrote. I’ve been completely sideswiped by the amount of work that I’ve had to do this semester. Even by my standards, it’s been something else and writing the blog was one of the many things that I haven’t managed to do. (As was keeping my email inbox at below 100 messages.) I’m now on leave in Moscow and so have found the time to write this. I’ve also spent 13 hours working here so far, even though this is supposed to be a holiday.

It looks as though Salford University is about to announce more restructuring (a euphemism for more redundancies), at almost the same time as we went through this last year. It’s because of the redundancies last year that I had so much more teaching than usual this semester: I wrote nine new lectures in seven weeks this semester. They were written faster than I would have liked and were on a range of topics at varying distances away from my area of expertise. I have written lectures on Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, etc etc. All of the topics that I gave lectures on were of interest to me (generally I have lectured on poetry this semester and on some of the greatest poems in the English language), and I enjoyed doing the few hours of research that I was able to do for the lectures, but it would have been good to have more time to spend on them.

I’ve also given some research papers, firstly at the University of Sheffield and then at the Medical Matters conference in York, both in March. These were great events, which I enjoyed very much, though they added pressure to an otherwise already stressful term. The Medical Matters conference was excellent. I really enjoyed Mike Brown’s paper, which reassessed the idea that there was a move towards an unfeeling and desensitized surgeon in the early nineteenth century. He used sources such as Astley Cooper’s lectures to trainee surgeons in which he urges them to become men of feeling and to empathise with the patient. This work has really interesting implications for John Keats and the usual accounts of his reasons for leaving the medical profession that I’d like to think about some more. Corinna Wagner’s book, Pathological Bodies: Medicine and Political Culture, due out this September (http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9781938169083), sounded excellent too and I’m looking forward to reading that. Clark Lawlor spoke about his Leverhulme funded project ‘Fashionable Diseases’ (http://www.northumbria.ac.uk/browse/ne/uninews/23907560), which builds on his earlier research interests in consumption and depression to take a wider view on a number of such diseases. Jo Wharton gave a very persuasive paper arguing that Anna Barbauld’s engagement with Joseph Priestley may have begun earlier than has been thought.

Moscow has been fun despite the fact that I’ve worked almost every day I’ve been here. I’m here because my partner’s book, Consuming History (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415399456/), has been translated into Russian and is being published by the New Literary Observer’s book series (http://nlobooks.ru/sites/default/files/old/nlobooks.ru/eng/111/112/index.html). It’s amazing to see what an impact his work has had here; it’s a central text for a new MA programme in Public History, and it’s clear that the subject is a hugely important one for this country. Today we leave Moscow for St Petersburg where I’m hoping that the hotel we’re staying in won’t have wi-fi and I might have four days relaxation. On Wednesday we return to the UK and I go straight to Cardiff for the British Society for Literature and Science conference, which I’m sure will be great.

I’m hoping to keep the blog up now since there are only a few weeks of teaching left and no new lectures to write! Let’s see.

Sharon

RI, the Lancet, and lots of work

Dear blog,

I haven’t written since Friday 8th December, which was my final day at the Royal Institution. Unfortunately the place has been in the press recently and not for good reasons. Due to continuing financial problems they are considering – as one among many options – to look into selling the Albermarle Street building (see the Chairman’s statement: http://www.rigb.org/contentControl?action=displayContent&id=00000006895). This would be such a loss. It was a wonderful place to work for three months, such a vibrant atmosphere with each day bringing new visitors to see the building, have tours of it and the museum downstairs, as well as lectures and schools events. The building was being used to its capacity and it is the building, its historical objects, and its heritage that really brings something special to the event taking place. I’m glad to see that the danger of this has brought out our best scientific writers and thinkers in support of the RI and I really hope that something can be done.

I’ve not written this blog since then because I had lots of lovely holiday, all owed to me because I’d been unable to take many of my 27 days earlier in the year, a week before Christmas, Christmas to New Year, and then a week off in January too. At the end of the first week of the new semester it’s incredible how far away these seem. My timetable this semester is really very hard, a new MA module (which is very exciting too), plus I’m teaching Victorian Literature and one of my special options Monstrous Bodies to second year undergrads. I have nine new lectures to write mainly due to one of our nineteenth-century team leaving when redundancies where threatened.

I have papers to give too, a staff research seminar on February 13th, a paper at Sheffield Uni’s research seminar on 4th March, a paper to give at the excellent-looking conference ‘Medical Matters’ being organised by Mary Fairclough and Joanna Wharton at the University of York (http://www.york.ac.uk/eighteenth-century-studies/events/conferencemedicalmatters2013/). This is on top of a number of research projects that are at various stages of completion, with some in the very early stages of being thought through.

Good news has come in the form of the copy editor also wanting me to respond within a matter of days with copy editing queries on my new book, Creating Romanticism, which should be out with Palgrave Macmillan in July. My Lancet article is out today I think, which is brilliant and I’m very proud of that.

Anyway, it’s going to be a tough few weeks and I’m already struggling. I shall do my best not to moan on this blog but I’d like folk to know just how much work academics are routinely doing and how impossible this is to fit into anything like 9-5 hours for five days of the week.

Best,

Sharon