Circulating Science and the Descriptive Turn (RSVP 2020)

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Scott C. Thompson

UPDATED DEADLINE: January 15th, 2020

Circulating Science and the Descriptive Turn

Panel Proposal, RSVP 2020


From specialized journals to penny dreadfuls, periodicals provided a platform for the communication of scientific knowledge well beyond the scientific community. The juxtaposition of information and ideas—between journals, issues, articles— and serialized publication format created an unique intellectual environment in which new scientific developments were shaped according to various social concerns within Victorian periodicals. From Alvar Ellegård’s seminal work, to the current efforts of Geoffrey Cantor, Sally Shuttleworth, Gowan Dawson, and others, much scholarship has been dedicated to demonstrating the interconnectedness of science and the periodical outlets of the nineteenth century.


In order to theorize this relationship, in Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical (2004), Cantor et al. argue against what they call “compartmentalized historiography” (reading articles in isolation from their publication context) in favor of reading “across” periodicals, in search of “developing patterns of discourse.” To continue tracing the connections embedded in this multi-faceted discursive ecosystem, this panel turns to new theories of reading and description, gathered under the broad category “the descriptive turn.” What can we learn about how scientific knowledge was communicated and constructed in Victorian periodicals from our new conceptions of reading and description, such as surface reading, distant reading, thin description, Actor Network Theory, object-oriented ontology, and the like?


This panel invites submissions that draw on new theories of reading and description in order to reexamine the way that Victorian periodicals actively shaped scientific knowledge within their pages and across their various publication outlets. Papers that draw on digital humanities methods are also welcome.


Abstracts of 250 words for 20-minute papers and a 1-2 page CV can be sent to by January 15th, 2020.