OGOM postgraduate successes: Matt Beresford and Daisy Butcher

Dr Sam George has supervised some very fruitful research projects at the University of Hertfordshire with her PhD students and we’d like to announce two great achievements.

First, we’d like to congratulate Dr Matt Beresford for successfully defending his thesis, ‘The Lord Byron/John Polidori relationship and the foundation of the early nineteenth-century literary vampire’.

And Daisy Butcher, who is working on her thesis on vampires, mummies, and killer plants and the representation of the female monster from nineteenth-century literature to contemporary film and television , has compiled a fabulous collection of tales of the botanical Gothic: Evil Roots: Killer Tales of the Botanical Gothic.

Daisy has done an interview/podcast with Radio Verulam in the series ‘Local Life – Talking About Books’, which is available from for seven days on Listen Again (via the website here). Congratulations are due to Daisy, too, for being nominated for the Dean’s Award for outstanding contributions to culture and the humanities.

If you are interested in doing PhD research into the Gothic, the fantastic, and the folkloric with the OGOM Project at the University of Hertfordshire, look at the web page here. Sam also conducts an undergraduate module on Young Adult fiction and the Gothic and an MA module on Reading the Vampire.

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CFPs: Reimagining the Gothic, Gothic politics, Byron, folklore, Vampire Diaries, Japanese horror

A batch of conference calls for papers and calls for chapters:

1. Reimagining the Gothic 2020: Bodies and Genders, University of Sheffield, 1-3 May 2020. Deadline: 2 December 2019.

Reimagining the Gothic is an ongoing project that seeks to explore how the Gothic can be re-read, re-analysed, and re-imagined. We encourage both public interest and new academic avenues from students and scholars who wish to present on the Gothic using interdisciplinary and creative methods. Bodies and genders have long been a key focus for Gothic texts and creators: either through positive, powerful self-identification with the Other or the expression of repressed fears and prejudices manifested in monstrosities.
Papers for ‘Reimagining the Gothic: Bodies and Genders’ should explore the way in which the Gothic mode has constructed and deconstructed physical and metaphorical bodies across various .

2. Politics and Horror, University of Stirling, 31 July – 1 August 2020. Deadline: 28 February 2020.

The University of Stirling invites paper, panel, and poster proposals focused on the role of horror and fear tactics in political commentary, political policy, and in film, literature, video games, comics, web series, and other media that demonstrate a clear connection to political sensibilities using horror imagery or affect.

3. Byron: Wars and Words: The 46th International Byron Conference, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, 29 June-5 July 2020. Deadline: 31 December 2019.

The aim of this conference is to look at how war in all its meanings, symbolisms, and manifestations influenced Byron’s words and worlds, and shaped his poetic and political sensibility. Drawing on recent scholarship in Romantic studies, it will also explore Romantic authors’ preoccupations with war, and how these intersected with Byron’s.

4. Folklore, Learning and Literacies: The Annual Conference of the Folklore Society, London, 24-26 April 2020. Deadline: 12 January 2020.

Lore is learning: folklore is a body of knowledge and a means of transmission. Vernacular knowledge, and vernacular transmission, each rooted in language. [. . .] Formal education and training is no more – or less – formative than the informal, everyday vernacular literacies that we absorb from our peer groups or families. A proverb is a condensed lesson; a ballad or a fairy-tale has a moral more often than not; a rite of passage may encapsulate a trade’s culture. And the landscape, whether rural or urban, is a theatre of memory and the backdrop of local legend.
So yes, lore is learning. But how do we learn folklore? How do we learn about folklore?

5. Critically Reading “The Vampire Diaries” – call for Papers/Abstracts: edited collection. Deadline: 1 March 2020.

Contributions can cover television studies, intertextuality, the role of social media in the TVD fandom, gender, adolescence, mind control, the Gothic, and can also relate to the original novels, the spin-off novels, or either or the television spin-offs.

6. Call for Chapters: Japanese Horror: New Critical Approaches to History, Narratives and Aesthetics (Extended Deadline). Deadline: 25 November 2019

The cultural phenomenon of Japanese Horror has been of the most celebrated cultural exports of the country, being witness to some of the most notable aesthetic and critical addresses in the history of modern horror cultures. Encompassing a range of genres and performances including cinema, manga, video games, and television series, the loosely designated genre has often been known to uniquely blend ‘Western’ narrative and cinematic techniques and tropes with traditional narrative styles, visuals and folklores. Tracing back to the early decades of the twentieth century, modern Japanese horror cultures have had tremendous impact on world cinema, comics studies and video game studies, and popular culture, introducing many trends which are widely applied in contemporary horror narratives. The hybridity that is often native to Japanese aestheticisation of horror is an influential element that has found widespread acceptance in the genres of horror.

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The Haunted Landscape: Magic and Monsters of the British Isles; 23rd November, Conway Hall, London

‘The Haunted Landscape: Magic and Monsters of the British Isles’ is a one-day symposium on folklore, magic and beyond. Authors and researchers discuss fairies, witchcraft, werewolves, vampires, dragons, the lore of autumn, and the magic of common folk.

Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren’t go a-hunting, For fear of little men (William Allingham)

Programme of Talks

‘The Rites and Wrongs of Autumn’ , Doc Rowe

‘Magical House Protection: The Archaeology of Counter-Witchcraft’ , Brian Hoggard

‘The Croglin Grange Vampire’, Deborah Hyde

‘Old Stinker and Other UK Werewolves’, Dr Sam George

‘Fairies: A Dangerous History’, Dr Richard Sugg

‘English Witches and their Familiars’, Dr. Victoria Carr

‘England’s Historic Graffiti: Voices Preserved in Stone’, Crystal Hollis

‘Hollow Places: The Dragon Slayer’s Tomb’, Christopher Hadley

The event is at Conway Hall, London, Saturday 23rd November 10:00 am – 5:30 pm Tickets are available here £22.00 £16.00 concession

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YA Gothic, fairytale retellings, demon lovers, mermaids and Scottish myths

Here’s a selection of interesting articles on OGOM-related topics.

First, an article on YA Gothic with some recommended novels in the genre. Much of our research has focused on these texts–they are often more adventurous than their adult counterpart, especially in the realm of paranormal romance. Dr Sam George has pioneered the teaching of these novels in her BA module Generation Dead: Young Adult Fiction and the Gothic. This is Amanda Pagan,of the New York Public Library, on ‘Dark and Beautiful: Young Adult Gothic Fiction‘.

Much YA Gothic involves the retelling and reworking of the vast heritage of myth and fairy tale; intertextuality of this sort is again this a special area of interest for OGOM. Angel Cruz has compiled a very useful list of ‘100 must-read retellings of myths, folklore, and classics‘.

The upsurge of tales of loving the vampire and the monstrous in the genre of paranormal romance is part of this Gothic intertextuality. The figure of the Demon Lover from ballads and folklore that these stories build upon is explored here by Lewis Hurst in ‘“Well met, well met, my own true love”: Five Demon Lovers’.

Mermaids figure frequently in these narratives of love between human and supernatural Other. The scholar Cristina Bacchilega, who has just published The Penguin Book of Mermaids, writes here on ‘How Mermaid Stories Illustrate Complex Truths About Being Human: The Tropes, Tricks, and Tools We Find in Tales of Merfolk‘.

Vampires and fairies are among these otherworldly creatures, too. Scottish folklore is rich in these and Karin Goodwin writes here on ‘Scottish myths and legends: vampire fairies, shape shifting selkies and the Loch Ness monster‘.

And finally, to complete this set of resources on folklore reworkings and intertextuality, here’s a list by Courtney Rodgers of ‘7 books of folkloric fiction‘.

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OGOM Halloween Countdown: 31 Days of Spookiness

Those who believe that the spirit world and the living world co-exist, always hidden from each other, will see the barrier between them open in the witching hour. Here at OGOM we are leaving the doors of perception open. We have been celebrating 31 days of Gothtober. You can view our Twitter ‘moment’ to mark this below. Have a wonderful Halloween OGOMERS!!!

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UK Werewolf Hauntings: Are We Living in Gothic Times?

In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, with Trump in the White House and Brexit on the horizon, Angela Carter’s famous assertion of 1974 that ‘we live in Gothic times’ has never been more apt. This theme of ‘Gothic Times’ was addressed earlier this month at Gothic Manchester Festival symposium. The supernatural and paranormal have always been a means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are now being reassembled and re-presented as hauntings, shadows or phantoms – a nod to Marx, perhaps, who used the image of spectrality, a gothic phantom haunting Europe, in the Communist Manifesto (1848).  

Since 2015 there have been increased reports of werewolf activity in the UK which point to our living in gothic times. The myth of Old Stinker, an eight-foot werewolf with a human face and very bad breath (supposedly from eating corpses) has re-emerged in Hull and there is renewed interest in the Dogdyke werewolf of Lincolnshire. This creature was originally recorded in 1926 by one Christopher Marlowe, who lived in nearby Langrick Fen and told of a skeleton of a half-wolf half-man creature found buried in the peat.

The Dictionary of English Folklore informs us that there are no werewolf tales in English folklore, presumably because wolves have been extinct here for centuries.  In fact Old Stinker, is associated with the Yorkshire wolds, a country once infested with wolves. There was a wolf bounty for anyone killing them. It was believed that the wolves dug up the corpses from graveyards. From that sprung the idea that they were supernatural beings, who took the form of werewolves. It is true that few accounts of werewolfism in British folklore exist prior to this, but there is instead a strong history of hauntings or spectres in landscapes where there were once wolves.

In 1912, Irish author and ghost hunter Elliott O’Donnell described wolf phantoms in remote parts of Britain. The first was in North Wales, where a grey thing, not unlike a man in body, but with a wolf’s head was supposedly spotted in lonely farmland in Merionethshire. In one of the quarries, close to the place where the phantasm had vanished, some curious bones, partly human and partly animal had been unearthed. O’Donnell concludes that what had been seen might very well have been the earth-bound spirit of a werewolf. Similar incidents occur in Cumbria, the Valley of the Doones in Exmoor and in the Hebrides where, according to  Montague Summers in The Werewolf in Lore and Legend (1933)  a human skeleton with a wolf’s head was unearthed in a tarn by a geologist.

Such watery hauntings, absences and phantoms are notably repeated in descriptions of ‘Old Stinker’, the Hull werewolf or ‘The Beast of Barmston Drain’  The myth of ‘Old Stinker’, the spectre werewolf in the weird wolds, is a powerful example of what Robert Macfarlane has defined as the English eerie or  ‘the skull beneath the skin of the English countryside’  The eerie is located, like the story of Old Stinker himself, within a spectred rather than a ‘sceptred isle’. This is more than supernaturalism – it is a cultural and political response to contemporary crises and fears. Such concerns are not new. The contemporary eerie feeds off its earlier counterparts, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) for instance, and the Witchfinder General (dir. by Michael Reeves, 1968), films whose landscapes reveal an underlying sense of psychotic breakdown and brutal violence rather than invoking an English idyll. Adam Scovell defines this genre in relation to (mostly British) landscape as ‘the evil under the soil, the terror in the backwoods of a forgotten lane, and the ghosts that haunt stones and patches of dark, lonely water; a sub-genre that is growing with newer examples summoned almost yearly’ . 

There is an element of ‘folk horror’ here too, a term popularised by Mark Gatiss in his A History of Horror documentary for BBC4 in 2010 to refer to films which shared a common obsession with the British landscape, its folklore and superstitions. It would be easy to dismiss such myths as an excess of dark mysticism or an unnecessary eruption of gothic tourism. What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the twenty-first century, through a landscape of ruins, pits, drains, fringes, relics, buried objects, hilltops, demons, and dark pasts. Here, suppressed or violent forces pulse and flicker beneath the ground and within the air or water, waiting to erupt or to condense.

Elliot O’Donnell’s accounts of werewolf hauntings feature landscapes full of seams and fissures and gloomy slate quarries half full of foul water. ‘Old Stinker’ is famously associated with the ill-smelling Barnston Drain (a 200-year-old drainage channel that flows across 25 miles of open countryside through Hull, emptying into the River Humber). This drain runs through derelict factory and industrial sites, as well as along the edge of two graveyards. It also has a macabre reputation because of supposed accidental drownings in the heavily polluted water, and as the site of murders and suicides (though this is unproven). This werewolf is firmly situated within the English eerie and possibly represents suppressed forces.

So what are the sources of this unsettlement? Clearly, the recent rise of the eerie coincides with the era of late capitalism and a phase of severe environmental damage. This has not taken the form of a sudden catastrophe but rather a slow grinding away of species, such as the native wolf. This is the climate in which the spectre of the English werewolf has re-emerged (rising from the ashes of the last flesh and blood wolf).

Sam George, University of Hertfordshire, Convenor, Open Graves, Open Minds project

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‘I am Dracula’: The Count comes to Hertfordshire (by Ivan Phillips)

Dracula: The Vampire Play in Three Acts, dramatised by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston (from the novel by Bram Stoker) will be performed by the Settlement Players at the Little Theatre, The Settlement, 229 Nevells Road, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, SG6 4UB, on Friday 8th November, Saturday 9th November, Friday 15th November, and Saturday 16th November 2019.

Doors open 7.15pm, curtain up 7.45pm.

What connects Coronation Street and Bela Lugosi? Much as I’d like to believe that the ‘King of Horror’ (disputed title – Ed.) spent time supping pints of mixed in the snug of the Rover’s Return the answer is, of course, Albert Tatlock – or, to be precise, Jack Howarth, the Rochdale-born actor who played Albert Tatlock in the TV soap opera from 1960 to 1984.

More than twenty-five years before Coronation Streetbecame a glint in the eye of screenwriter Tony Warren, Howarth – working as the Stage Manager for a regional repertory theatre – loaned his copy of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897) to actor-producer Hamilton Deane. Deane, an Irishman (born in Wexford, raised in Dublin), had grown up in the same area as both Stoker’s family and that of his wife, Florence, and was loosely associated with the writer through his own mother. In 1899 he began his theatrical career as a member of Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum, London, so became well-acquainted with the saturnine and mercurial actor upon whom the character of Count Dracula is widely believed to have been (at least partly) based.

Stoker had already produced a one-off stage version of Dracula in the year of its publication, mainly to secure the theatrical rights to the tale and to tempt Irving towards a more developed adaptation. Irving was unimpressed, however, so the scheme came to nothing. By the early 1920s, with both Stoker and Irving dead, Deane set about bringing the vampire to the stage himself, initially trying to find someone else to write the script but eventually doing it himself during a bout of man flu.

When Deane approached Florence Stoker to discuss performance rights, she was already embroiled in a dispute with the German studio Prana Film over Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, F.W. Murnau’s unauthorised (and utterly brilliant) 1922 film adaptation of Dracula. Stoker’s widow was, in other words, happy to secure some royalties and Deane was able to go ahead with staging his own version. It opened on 5 August 1924 at the Grand Theatre, Derby, with Edmund Blake as Dracula and Deane himself as Van Helsing. (Jack Howarth, meanwhile, was given the role of Warder at Dr Seward’s asylum, while his wife, Betty Murgatroyd, played the Housemaid.) The play was an enormous success, touring for three years before establishing itself in London at the Little Theatre in the Adelphi in February 1927. Over ninety years on Deane’s Dracula is about to be performed across four evenings at the Little Theatre in the Settlement in Letchworth – and I’m excited to say that the vampire’s cape has been passed to me.

The version of Deane’s play that the Settlement Players will present in November of this year is actually that which was first produced at the Fulton Theatre on Broadway by Horace Liveright, who had brought in John L. Balderston to cut down Deane’s script and angle it towards a New York audience. Opening on 5 October 1927 (and running for over 250 performances), Balderston’s revision starred Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. Both men would resume their roles for the Universal Pictures adaptation of the Deane-Balderston play of 1931, written by Garrett Fort. The rest, as they say, is history and Lugosi (born in 1882 in what was then Austria-Hungary but is now Romania) would carry the Count with him to the grave, being buried in one of the vampire’s capes on his death in Los Angeles in 1956.

To an audience in 2019, the 1927 play of Dracula is likely to be surprising in a number of ways. There is, for instance, no initial excursion through the Borgo Pass to the vampire’s decaying castle in the Carpathian mountains. When the drama begins, the Count is already installed at Carfax Abbey and paying regular visits to the house-cum-lunatic-asylum of his neighbour in Purley, Dr Seward. That’s right: Purley, not (as in Stoker’s novel) Purfleet. And there is no mention of an eerie shipwreck on the shores of Whitby – no mention of Whitby at all, in fact. Instead, we discover that Dracula has availed himself of international air travel to arrive in England via Croydon Aerodrome – the only major airport in the UK between the world wars and conveniently close to Purley, after all.

The core elements of the Dracula mythos remain in place, however, with bloodlust, wolf-howls and a bat (a singular challenge for the Players’ backstage team). Some of the lines might sound oddly camp to the twenty-first-century ear – ‘My footfall is not heavy and your rugs are soft,’ is a particular favourite of mine – but the power of the story to thrill, grip and unsettle is as strong as ever. The play is a lot of fun – it is proving a lot of fun to rehearse and it will be a lot of fun to watch – but is it still frightening? Well, it is unlikely that the advice given in the production notes about having a nurse on hand with smelling salts will need to be followed:

Unless your audiences are more hardened than the audiences played to in New York and on the road, you will have people fainting in the auditorium for the nurse to take care of, and this is always good for press material.

But define ‘frightening’. We live in frightening times, when the monsters within and the monsters without seem increasingly hard to distinguish. My friends in the Settlement Players, led by Director Jim Anderson and Assistant Director Amanda Franklin (who also plays Mina) are a talented and passionate bunch and they have a track record of producing outstanding community theatre, dating back to 1923, the year before Deane’s Dracula was first performed. When the shadow of the vampire falls across the town of Letchworth in a few weeks’ time, it will provide a much-needed distraction from current preoccupations but it might also hold up a mirror to them, however briefly. Whether we glimpse our own reflection remains to be seen…

Tickets are £10, available online at www.settlement-players.co.uk or from David’s Music, Eastcheap, Letchworth.

Ivan Phillips is Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. Since completing a PhD on the poetry of Paul Muldoon at the University of Wales, Swansea in 1998, he has written for The Times Literary Supplement, Critical Studies in Television, The Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies, The Conversation and HuffPost, and published on subjects ranging from Thomas Chatterton to The Phantom of the Opera. A contributor to Sam George and Bill Hughes’s Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present (Manchester University Press, 2013) and The Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves and Wild Children (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming), he has also written chapters for Paul Booth’s Fan Phenomena: Doctor Who (Intellect, 2013) and Andrzej Gąsiorek and Nathan Waddell’s Wyndham Lewis: A Critical Guide (University of Edinburgh Press, 2015). His book Once Upon A Time: The Myths and Stories of Doctor Who will be published by Bloomsbury Academic later in 2019.

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OGOM Supernatural St Albans Halloween Tour

Join the Open Graves, Open Minds Project on 31st October to explore the magical and spectral history of St Albans. Your hosts will be vampire expert Dr Sam George and Dr Kaja Franck (a specialist in werewolves); together they will draw on the dark folklore of Hertfordshire’s finest supernatural city, home to hidden tombs, ghostly monks, pagan gods, grotesque carvings, a medieval dragon’s lair, succubi, winged skulls, witches, Sir Guy de Grevade, a notorious wizard, Wicca communities, folklore rituals and more!!

spooky carving alert

Highlights of the tour will include a cloven-footed succubus, a path made out of gravestones and a winged skull or ‘death’s head’, which represents death taking flight and the soul’s journey to the afterlife. This memento mori has become a symbol of studying Open Graves with an Open Mind, which is what we will be encouraging on the night.  

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‘I absolutely loved the tour. I learnt so much about the dark side side of the town that I have lived in for 32 years’ (Angela Silverman, 2018 Tour)

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Winged female grotesque
  • Date 31st October
  • Venue meet at the Clock Tower, St Albans at 16.00
  • Tour lasts 90 minutes
  • Price £10.00 (£8.00 concession)
  • Booking Required (Email: sam@opengravesopenminds.com)
  • Please have appropriate footwear for graveyards & muddy paths
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H.G. Wells Society Annual Conference 2019

 Men in the Moon: The Ideas and Correspondence of H.G. Wells and Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AQ
21 September 2019

Keynote Speakers: Richard Jones, Professor Michael Smith, and Professor Richard Toye, University of Exeter.

The year 2019 marks the anniversary of the first draft of Churchill’s essay, Are We Alone in Space? (1939), which was closely preceded by Orson Welles’s broadcast of The War of the Worlds. ‘I read everything you write,’ Churchill told Wells with whom he shared a passion for science fiction, scientific discovery and a concern over the impact of technological advances on warfare and the future of mankind. This conference is set against a backdrop of ever-changing London, the city with which Wells and Churchill are closely linked, a place of visions, nightmares and dreams.

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CFPs: Folk horror, folklore and fantasy, enchanted environments, literature and science

* Hurry! Some of these deadlines are very soon!

1. Contemporary Folk Horror in Film and Media, Leeds Beckett University, 30-31 July 2020. Deadline: 30 December 2019.

The 1960’s and 70s folk horror canon brought the ‘Unholy Trinity’ of Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973), establishing a platform for rural horror and isolated cults. There is a current folk horror revival, with films such as Kill List (2011), A Field in England (2013), The Witch (2015), and Midsommar (2019) heading the film and media popularity. But what does this mean? What cultural, political and social reflections are part of the folk horror renaissance?
This conference aims to represent folk horror in today’s film and media, to delve into theories and critical thoughts on the genre.

2. Call for Submissions: Articles, creative writing and reviews relating to the work of Prof. Bill Gray in folklore, fairy tales and the fantastic.
The next deadline for submissions is 21 September 2019

The Chichester Centre for Fairy Tale, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction seeks articles, book reviews and creative writing relating to literary and historical approaches to folklore, fairy tales, fantasy, Gothic, magic realism, science fiction and speculative fiction for a special issue of Gramarye, its peer-reviewed journal published by the University of Chichester, celebrating the life of its founder Prof. Bill Gray (1952-2019). We are particularly interested in articles on fairy tales, fantasy literature and the work of C.S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald and ETA Hoffman.

3. Enchanted Environments: one-day symposium, University of Worcester, March 2020. Deadline: 6 December 2019.

We invite proposals for papers of 20 minutes as well as proposals for exhibiting practice based work exploring ‘enchanted environments’. For papers, please send abstracts of no more than 300 words; for practice based work, please send a brief outline detailing the work you’d like to exhibit. 

4. The British Society for Literature and Science Winter Symposium 2019, University of Liverpool, 16 November 2019. Deadline: 23 September 2019.

In 2019, extinction is no longer the province of dinosaurs, the Dodo, or species far away in space and time. As Greta Thunberg argued in her Davos speech earlier this year, and as the ongoing socio-political efforts of the Extinction Rebellion suggest, extinction of the human (as well as the non-human) is an immediate concern and a very possible outcome of the climate crisis, unless significant action is taken by all. With this in mind, the ‘Extinctions and Rebellions’ symposium will think about the varied cultural discourses of extinction, past and present. It will not only be a platform to discuss current environmental and ecological concerns of the Anthropocene in the cultural imagination, but it also offers a space to think about how previous literary and scientific forms have imagined extinction as a process or finality, and how these conversations speak to and could offer a means to think about our current climate crisis. Moreover, we will explore ‘extinction’ and ‘rebellion’ as they pertain to questions of literary form and scientific theory and practice. This one-day event will allow postgraduates, early-career researchers, and academics to think about how the sciences and humanities can work together, inform, and facilitate the “clear language” needed to rebel against human and non-human extinction.

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