Reading and Replicating Bodies:
Mimicry in Medicine and Culture, 1790-1914
26th March 2015
10.45-18.00 (registration from 9.45)
In the Nineteenth century, to read a body was to replicate it. From making
anatomical drawings to designing prosthetics, medical practices duplicated human tissue
on an unprecedented scale. Yet this urge to copy was also tainted, and literary depictions
of scientists – from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau –
cast the desire to replicate a living body as absorbing and abhorrent in turn.
Replication was also an important topic in the era’s sciences of mind. Writers
such as Charles Bell, Charles Darwin and James Mark Baldwin, depicted humans as
mirrors, believing an innate compulsion to imitate could explain the development of
sympathy (later empathy) language and laws. Yet, here imitation was also problematic,
framed as a primitive impulse, most violently displayed by the period’s ‘othered’ bodies:
hysterics, non-Europeans, women, the deaf and the degenerate.
This workshop will explore how Victorian science, medicine and the arts
interacted to construct the body as an object and subject of imitation. It will consider
how much of today’s ambivalence about replicating bodies – from ethical questions
about cloning to the much-hyped concept of ‘mirror neurons’ – do we owe to practices
and concepts from the Nineteenth century.
* Registration is free, but booking is essential as places are limited. *
* Postgraduate Bursaries Available*
Organised by Dr Will Abberley (Oxford) and Dr Tiffany Watt Smith (QMUL)
Christopher Pittard (University of Portsmouth): ‘V for Ventriloquism: Powers of Vocal
Mimicry in Henry Cockton’s Valentine Vox’.
Tiziana Morosetti (University of Oxford): ‘Exotic Bodies on the 19th-century British
Stage: Empire in Miniature’.
Louise Lee (University of Roehampton), ‘Re-reading the Scientist as Specimen: Edward
Lear, the Fugitive Poets and the Politics of Whimsy’.
Carolyn Burdett (Birkbeck, University of London), ‘Mimicry, Motor Types and
Memory: Vernon Lee and Aesthetic Empathy’.
Angie Dustan (University of Kent) ‘Reading Sculptural Replication: Authentic Bodies in
Two postgraduate bursaries are available to cover the costs of travel to and from Oxford
and one-night’s accommodation. To apply, please email the organisers with a brief bio
and personal statement (max 400 words) explaining why you should receive a bursary
before the deadline of Friday the 27th February 2015. Preference will be given to
applicants whose research interests align with the workshop theme and those who will
have further to travel.
The workshop is free to attend, but spaces are limited. To reserve a place, please book a
ticket at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/reading-and-replicating-bodies-mimicry-inmedicine-
Seminar Room, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), Radcliffe
Humanities Building, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2
For more information, please contact the organisers:
Dr Will Abberley, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Tiffany Watt Smith, email@example.com