Portrait of Professor Charlotte Sleigh

Professor Charlotte Sleigh

Professor of Science Humanities
Director of the Centre for the History of the Sciences

About

Professor Charlotte Sleigh studied at the Department for the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. Prior to joining the University of Kent in 2000, she taught at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Research interests

Charlotte's research concerns the sciences where they intersect with the humanities, including history, literature, art and communication. 

One major area of Charlotte's research interests encompasses the history of modern sciences and their intersection with literature, art and communication. Her books on this topic include Ant (Reaktion, 2003); Six Legs Better (Johns Hopkins, 2007); Frog (Reaktion, 2010); Cosmopolitan Animals (Palgrave, 2015); and The Paper Zoo (British Library/Chicago, 2016). 

A second theme of Charlotte's research concerns the historical and textual relationships between science and writing. Her first book on the topic, Literature and Science, was published by Palgrave in 2010, and she is currently working on another, Engineering Fiction, about science fiction and its fans in interwar Britain. 

In more recent years Charlotte has developed her interest in art and science, collaborating with a number of artists to produce shows including Chain Reaction! (Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, 2013) and Biological Hermeneutics (Chetham’s Library, Manchester, 2017). 

Teaching

Charlotte's undergraduate teaching focuses on 19th and 20th-century science. She co-founded the successful Master's programme in science communication at Kent, in which context she has developed and taught modules on science, ethics and controversy, visualising science, and knowledge in the ‘real world’.

Supervision

Charlotte has supervised numerous PhD students to completion on topics including the science and literature of Samuel Butler; the history of human relations; and Popper as hero of British science. She is currently accepting PhD students in the history of modern science and other areas of science humanities.

Professional

Charlotte is the current editor of the British Journal for the History of Science. She has given many public lectures, written for the mass media, and appeared on a number of radio and TV programmes speaking on a variety of science-related matters. 

Publications

Article

  • Sleigh, C. and Craske, S. (2017). Art and science in the UK: a brief history and critical reflection. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews [Online] 42:313-330. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/03080188.2017.1381223.
    During the first decade of the twenty-first century, a conjoint activity, ‘SciArt’, was constructed, whose supposed interdisciplinarity very often shaded into a species of science communication. In this decade, discussions about the complementarity of art and science were conceived in terms of epistemology, notably the qualities of imagination and curiosity. Having briefly established this historical background, this paper moves on to discuss how, during the current decade, Art and Science (A&S) discourse has altered due to a number of changes in the cultural politics of both its constituent fields, emerging as a ‘transdiscipline’ characterised by ‘creativity’. Eighteen in-depth surveys with leading practitioners in A&S form a substantial part of the research material. The paper examines, in large part through their critically engaged responses, what the disciplinary, economic and cultural implications of this changed discourse may be. Though potentially angled, at times, towards the solution of so-called ‘wicked’ problems, transdisciplinarity also sacrifices the specific critical expertise of art, fetishizes tech at the expense of science, and selectively ignores institutional problems inherent in funding and power structures.
  • Sleigh, C. (2017). ‘Not one voice speaking to many’: E.C. Large, wireless, and science fiction fans in the mid-20th century. Science Museum Group Journal [Online] 8. Available at: https://doi.org/10.15180/170802.
    In this paper, E. C. Large’s 1956 novel Dawn in Andromeda is examined, using literary analysis, as a work of public history of science. The novel recounts how God places a pioneer population on a new planet, challenging them to work from nothing to the creation of a ‘seven-valve all-wave superhet wireless’ in a single generation. On a general level, this article presents Dawn in Andromeda as a history of science firmly rooted in the human and material efforts of engineering. As such, it is shown to chime more particularly with the hopeful definitions of science explored by wireless enthusiasts and the first generation of science fiction fans in Britain during the 1930s. However, the optimism of the 1930s is not borne out by the novel; ultimately, Dawn in Andromeda satirises the wireless as a form of corrupted science that did not deliver what the fans had hoped for.
  • Sleigh, C. (2017). Contexts of Encounter: How and Where to Criticise Art and Science. Journal of Literature and Science [Online] 10:106-112. Available at: http://www.literatureandscience.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Sleigh-FINAL.pdf.
    Art and science as a practice and interdiscipline must bear the weight of critical discourse if it is to be anything more than a lightweight cultural artefact, or window dressing to one or other of its constituent practices. In this short article I briefly review the possible unintended consequences of post-humanism for art and science (A&S), and, re-asserting the value of the Science and Technology Studies (STS) critique, sketch its often unrecognised compatibility with research-based contemporary art. The essay goes on to reflect on how different spaces of display can bring one or another discipline to predominate in the presentation of A&S. The need for neutral, interdisciplinary spaces of display for A&S is highlighted, along with the value of curation as critical practice.
  • Sleigh, C. (2017). Editorial: Past editors’ favourite papers published during their time in office. British Journal for the History of Science [Online] 50:173-179. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087417000061.
  • Sleigh, C. (2015). Writing the scientific self: Samuel Butler and Charles Hoy Fort. Journal of Literature and Science [Online] 8. Available at: http://www.literatureandscience.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/JLS-8.2-Sleigh.pdf.
    Samuel Butler (1835-1902) and Charles Fort (1874-1932) were both scientific outsiders of the turn of the twentieth century, critiquing orthodox science whilst attempting to participate in it. Both of them also wrote experimental and innovative autobiographies (1884 and c. 1899-1904 respectively), challenging in their narrative form. Their self-construction in relation to science, it is argued, was effected through these autobiographies. The texts are considered here on multiple levels: in their own right; intertextually with their authors’ other writings; and paratextually with their authors’ lives. This essay builds upon Sally Shuttleworth’s observation that the projects of autobiography and science, in Butler’s oeuvre, are both about ‘the difficulties of defining or maintaining … selfhood’, and extends it to Fort’s case. This selfhood, it is argued, was for both Butler and Fort articulated through the same scientific model: orthogenesis – the pre-ordained unfolding of evolutionary fate. Orthogenesis was for both men a way of accounting for the transformation of self into writer; whilst it was already-being a writer, in having produced an autobiography, that enabled the leap-frogging of orthogenetic inheritance – both blood and money – into a new selfhood. As such, the autobiographies of Butler and Fort are an abductive and symbiotic plotting of science and self. The science and the self, qua practitioner and exemplar of science, are mutually affirming. The closure of autobiography – the final plotting – is done differently in each case, although open-endedness – a refusal to commit – is central to both. For Butler, the transformation is pushed forward into a future-judged authorial self, re-embodied as a textual self. For Fort, things are less clear and the uncertain ending is projected into the cosmos of his later works.
  • Sleigh, C. and Rogers, J. (2012). "Here is my honey-machine”: Sylvia Plath and the Mereology of the Beehive. Review of English Studies [Online] 63:293-310. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/res/hgr106.
    This article discusses Sylvia Plath’s ‘bee poems’, a short poetic sequence in her posthumous collection Ariel. These poems have been predominantly treated in relation to the most common themes in Plath scholarship: gender, psychology and what one might term the interpretative trap of biography. By approaching Plath’s bee sequence through poetic form and the history of entomology, however, we aim to reframe its interpretation. Bees, which had been the subject of her father’s scholarly study as well as her own amateur efforts, are suggestive of many of Plath’s important themes—gender, identity, family and so on. But as this article principally examines, their hive identity also provided her with a powerful means of examining her poetic practice. To focus upon Plath’s examination we employ the concept of mereology, the study of wholes and parts. Honeybees—whose individual existence is defined in relation to the whole of the hive—naturally placed the theme at centre stage in Plath’s poems. Together with their ‘outlier’ texts, the bee poems address the ‘wholes’ of poems and their ‘parts’ of words, the ‘whole’ of tradition and the ‘part’ of the poet. This article first focuses on the poetic sequence—of which the bee poems are an example—as a mereological question of literary form. Then, via a discussion of entomology that was contemporary to Plath, it treats apian self-organization as a possible model for poetry, and its implications for the question of authorship and reputation.
  • Sleigh, C. (2012). Jan Swammerdam's Frogs. Notes & Records of the Royal Society [Online] 66:373-392. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2012.0039.
    Having discussed insect metamorphosis at length, Jan Swammerdam's Bybel der Natuure (1679/1737) reached its climax with a substantial description of the generation and muscular activity of frogs. This paper explores the rhetorical role of frogs in Swammerdam's 'great work', showing how they were the Archimedean point from which he aimed to reorder all of creation-from insects to humans-within one glorious, God-ordained natural history and philosophy. Swammerdam linked insects to frogs through a demonstration that all underwent epigenesis; and frogs were then linked to humans through a demonstration of their identical muscular activity. The success of Swammerdam's strategy required a theological reconstruction of the frog, traditionally an ungodly creature, such that trustworthy knowledge could be obtained from its body. Perhaps surprisingly, this act of theological cleansing is shown to be somewhat prefigured in the distinctly non-experimental natural history of Edward Topsell (1608). The paper also examines Swammerdam's interactions with the mystic Antoinette Bourignon, and his challenges in reconciling a spirituality of meletetics with a material epistemology in natural philosophy. Differences are revealed between the natural analogies given by Swammerdam in his published and unpublished writings, undermining to a certain extent the triumphal insect-frog-human rhetorical structure of the Bybel.
  • Sleigh, C. (2010). The Judgements of Regency Literature. Literature and History [Online] 19:1-17. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.7227/LH.19.2.1.
    This article outlines two Regency modes of reading: one drawn from the political philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), and the other from the gentleman of science William Whewell (1794-1866). Bentham's readings are presented as an experiment in radical democracy that was almost, but not quite, effaced by the idealist mode introduced one generation later by Whewell. These modes of reading, and the textual judgements that they entailed, are used to help understand the epistemology of scientific evidence in the Regency era. It is claimed that both literary and scientific judgements were, at root, political, and furthermore that judgement in the courtroom formed their model. Multiple levels of nested and epistolary fiction enabled readers to rehearse and attend to political arguments about the nature of scientific evidence: evidence that, in an era of high political tension, decided the case about nothing less than their own selfhood.
  • Sleigh, C. (2009). Plastic body, permanent body: Czech representations of corporeality in the early twentieth century. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C [Online] 40:241-255. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.09.001.
    In the early twentieth century, the body was seen as both an ontogenetic and a phylogenetic entity. In the former case, its individual development, it was manifestly changeable, developing from embryo to maturity and thence to a state of decay. But in the latter case, concerning its development as a species, the question was an open one. Was its phylogenetic nature a stationary snapshot of the slow process of evolution, or was this too mutable? Historians have emphasised that the question of acquired inheritance remained open into the twentieth century; this paper explores how various constructions of the individual as a phylogenetic episode—a stage in the race’s evolution—related to representations of the body in the same period.
    A discussion of the work of the brothers Josef and Karel C?apek offers a contextualised answer to the question of bodily representation. Karel C? apek (1890–1938) explored the nature of the ‘average man’ through two different organisms, the robot and the amphibian, epitomes respectively of corporeal permanence and plasticity. Josef C? apek (1887–1945), along with other members of the Group of Plastic Artists, explored visual representations of the body that challenged cubist Bergsonian norms. In so doing, he affirmed what his brother also held: that despite the constrictions imposed by the oppressive political conditions in which the Czechs found themselves, the individual body was a fragile but fluid entity, capable of effecting change upon the future evolution of humankind.
  • Sleigh, C. (2002). Brave new worlds: Trophallaxis and the origin of society in the early twentieth century. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences [Online] 38:133-156. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jhbs.10033.
    Trophallaxis, the process of feeding by mutual regurgitation amongst insects, was named by the North American entomologist William Morton Wheeler in 1918. I argue that entomologists, both before and after 1918, saw mutual feeding as an integral part of the behavioral whole of the nest, and moreover related its explanatory power to theories about human society. In particular, feeding behavior was seen as the key to the riddle of the origin of sociality. I show how entomologists' precise interpretations of trophallaxis varied and explore the increasingly functional, sociological, and economic constructions of the phenomenon that they developed - without breaking with earlier tradition - into the early 1930s. The article ends by demonstrating how Aldous Huxley's bleak vision of humanity in the novel Brave New World, and its ambiguous prescription for meaningful life amidst the trappings of modernity, has much in common with metaphors generated by those studying ants.
  • Sleigh, C. (2001). Empire of the Ants: H. G. Wells and Tropical Entomology. Science as Culture [Online] 10:33-71. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09505430020025492.
  • Sleigh, C. (1998). Life, Death and Galvanism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C [Online] 29:219-248. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1369-8486(98)00016-8.

Book

  • Sleigh, C. (2016). The Paper Zoo: 500 Years of Art and Science. British Library Publications.
  • Sleigh, C. (2012). Frog. Reaktion Books.
  • Sleigh, C. (2010). Literature and Science. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Sleigh, C. (2010). God’s Green Book. London: SPCK.
    The Bible is bursting with teaching about nature: how God created it, how humans fit into it, and how it is part of his big story of justice, love and redemption. But what does the Bible have to say about the environmental issues that face us? These seven Bible studies explore such questions as: How well rooted are you in God's creation?, Can you take your ethics to the shops?, Does what you eat really make a difference?, Is an environmentally friendly lifestyle just too painful to contemplate?
  • Sleigh, C. (2007). Six Legs Better: A Cultural History of Myrmecology. UK: John Hopkins University Press.
    Ants have long fascinated linguists, human sociologists, and even cyberneticians. At the end of the nineteenth century, ants seemed to be admirable models for human life and were praised for their work ethic, communitarianism, and apparent empathy. They provided a natural-theological lesson on the relative importance of humans within creation and inspired psychologists to investigate the question of instinct and its place in the life of higher animals and humans. By the 1930s, however, ants came to symbolize one of modernity's deepest fears: the loss of selfhood. Researchers then viewed the ant colony as an unthinking mass, easily ruled and slavishly organized. In this volume, Charlotte Sleigh uses specific representations of ants within the field of entomology from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries to explore the broader role of metaphors in science and their often unpredictable translations. Marking the centenary of the coining of "myrmecology" - the study of ants - as a science, "Six Legs Better" demonstrates the remarkable historical role played by ants as a node where notions of animal, human, and automaton intersect.
  • Sleigh, C. (2003). Ant. UK: Reaktion.

Book section

  • Sleigh, C. (2018). ‘Come on you demented modernists, let’s hear from you’: science fans as literary critics in the 1930s. in: Bud, R. et al. eds. Being Modern: The Cultural Impact of Science in the Early Twentieth Century. UCL Press, pp. 147-165. Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/being-modern.
  • Sleigh, C. (2017). The novel as observation and experiment. in: The Routledge Research Companion Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Science. Taylor & Francis.
  • Sleigh, C. (2017). Communicating Nature. in: Morus, I. R. ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of Science. Oxford University Press.
  • Sleigh, C. and Leggett, D. (2016). Scientific governance: an introduction. in: Leggett, D. and Sleigh, C. eds. Scientific Governance in Britain, 1914-79. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Available at: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9780719090981/.
  • Sleigh, C. (2016). ‘An Outcry of Silences’: Charles Hoy Fort and the Uncanny Voices of Science. in: The Silences of Science: Gaps and Pauses in the Communication of Science. Routledge. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/The-Silences-of-Science-Gaps-and-Pauses-in-the-Communication-of-Science/Mellor-Webster/p/book/9781472459978.
  • Sleigh, C. (2016). Science as heterotopia: The British interplanetary Society before WWII. in: Leggett, D. and Sleigh, C. eds. Scientific Governance in Britain, 1914-79. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Available at: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9780719090981/.
  • Sleigh, C. (2015). "Only a spectacle”: frogs and the environmental crisis. in: Jones, K. R. et al. eds. Cosmopolitan Animals. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
    In what ways can we conceptualise cosmopolitanisms which are not solely human? What does it take to embrace other animals as fellow creatures; where and how are such relationships made possible? With a preface by Donna Haraway, Cosmopolitan Animals is the first edited collection to place the question of animals at the centre of cosmopolitical inquiry. Drawing upon recent scholarship on cosmopolitanism and animal studies, the volume asks what new possibilities and permutations of cosmopolitanism can emerge by taking seriously our sharing, co-existing and 'becoming-with' animals. Edited by a team of six, and featuring chapters by leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines, this collective effort examines knots of human-animal relationships from different angles. It is argued that animals are important players in cosmopolitics, and that worldliness is far from being a human monopoly.
  • Sleigh, C. (2015). Hospitality. in: Cosmopolitan Animals. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 75-78.
    In what ways can we conceptualise cosmopolitanisms which are not solely human? What does it take to embrace other animals as fellow creatures; where and how are such relationships made possible? With a preface by Donna Haraway, Cosmopolitan Animals is the first edited collection to place the question of animals at the centre of cosmopolitical inquiry. Drawing upon recent scholarship on cosmopolitanism and animal studies, the volume asks what new possibilities and permutations of cosmopolitanism can emerge by taking seriously our sharing, co-existing and 'becoming-with' animals. Edited by a team of six, and featuring chapters by leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines, this collective effort examines knots of human-animal relationships from different angles. It is argued that animals are important players in cosmopolitics, and that worldliness is far from being a human monopoly.
  • Sleigh, C. (2008). The curious incident of science in the novel. in: Bell, A. R., Davies, S. R. and Mellor, F. eds. Science and Its Publics. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 99-116.
  • Sleigh, C. (2006). Inside Out: The Unsettling Nature of Insects. in: Brown, E. C. ed. Insect Poetics: Literary and Cultural Entomologies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 281 -297.
  • Sleigh, C. (2005). "This Questionable Little Book": Narrative Ambiguity in Nineteenth Century Literature of Science. in: Zwierlein, A. -J. ed. Unmapped Countries: Biological Visions in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture. London: Anthem Press, pp. 15-26.
  • Sleigh, C. (2004). "The Ninth Mortal Sin": The Lamarckism of W. M. Wheeler. in: Lustig, A., Richards, R. J. and Ruse, M. eds. Darwinian Heresies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 151-172.

Conference or workshop item

  • Sleigh, C. (2012). Tiny Brains, Big Psychologies: How Ants Changed Our Understanding of the Mind. in: History and Philosophy of Psychology Section 2012. pp. 1-10.
    In Mental Evolution in Animals (1883), George Romanes wrestled with the relationship between brain size and intelligence. He could not quite bring himself to say that a creature with a brain so tiny as the ant’s was truly complex in its psychology. Romanes’ opinion was in keeping with a long-standing tradition that the ant was the greatest flower of instinct in the invertebrate kingdom, perhaps the animal world altogether – but that it lacked intelligence, a quality found in the higher animals only. However, Romanes was radically out of step with the psychological developments that were shortly to follow, starting in continental Europe and spreading to the US. Beginning with the Swiss psychiatrist Auguste Forel, theorists began to dissociate ants’ psychology from their (limited) physical brains. As in the nineteenth century, the family Formicidae continued to provide one of psychology’s greatest challenges, but ants’ minds became dispersed across the colony, rather than residing in the individual brain. This paper explores how that physical unseating of the mind interplayed with human concerns of the twentieth century, and with the differing ontologies of human psychology associated with them.

Edited book

  • Jones, K.R. et al. eds. (2015). Cosmopolitan Animals. [Online]. Palgrave MacMillan. Available at: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137376275.
  • Nagai, K. et al. eds. (2015). Cosmopolitan Animals. [Online]. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan UK. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9781137376282.
    In what ways can we conceptualise cosmopolitanisms which are not solely human? What does it take to embrace other animals as fellow creatures; where and how are such relationships made possible? With a preface by Donna Haraway, Cosmopolitan Animals is the first edited collection to place the question of animals at the centre of cosmopolitical inquiry. Drawing upon recent scholarship on cosmopolitanism and animal studies, the volume asks what new possibilities and permutations of cosmopolitanism can emerge by taking seriously our sharing, co-existing and 'becoming-with' animals. Edited by a team of six, and featuring chapters by leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines, this collective effort examines knots of human-animal relationships from different angles. It is argued that animals are important players in cosmopolitics, and that worldliness is far from being a human monopoly.

Edited journal

  • Sleigh, C. ed. (2014). British Journal for the History of Science. British Journal for the History of Science [Online]. Available at: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=BJH.
    This leading international journal publishes scholarly papers and review articles on all aspects of the history of science. History of science is interpreted widely to include medicine, technology and social studies of science. BJHS papers make important and lively contributions to scholarship and the journal has been an essential library resource for more than thirty years. It is also used extensively by historians and scholars in related fields. A substantial book review section is a central feature. There are four issues a year, comprising an annual volume of over 600 pages.
  • Sleigh, C. and Marsden, B. eds. (2012). Notes and Records: the Royal Society journal of the history of science. Notes and Records of the Royal Society [Online]. Available at: http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/.
    member of editorial board

Show / exhibition

  • Craske, S., Park, S. and Sleigh, C. (2016). Mundus Subterraneous. [Event].
  • Craske, S., Park, S. and Sleigh, C. (2016). Unfolding Realities. [Event].
  • Craske, S., Park, S. and Sleigh, C. (2015). No Title. [Event].
  • Craske, S., Park, S. and Sleigh, C. (2015). No Title. [Event].
  • Craske, S., Park, S. and Sleigh, C. (2015). No title. [Event].
  • Craske, S., Park, S. and Sleigh, C. (2015). ‘Black box’. [Event].
  • Sleigh, C. and Lloyd, D. (2013). Chain Reaction! [mixed artistic media].
    This show of art and science communication celebrated 30 years of the PCR machine.
  • Sleigh, C. (2009). Charles Darwin Presents .. Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals. [Dramatic performance with music].
    A comic monologue interspersing movements of the Carnival of the Animals. In celebration of Darwin Bicentenary.

Monograph

  • Sleigh, C. and Leggett, D. (2016). Scientific Governance in Britain, 1914-79. Manchester University Press. Available at: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9780719090981/.

Forthcoming

  • Sleigh, C., Craske, S. and Park, S. (2018). Lowering the tone in Art and Science collaboration: An analysis from Science and Technology Studies. Journal of Science & Popular Culture.
    This paper analyses a collaborative project in art and science (Metamorphoses) from a Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective, focusing on pragmatic challenges in the areas of expertise, credit, space, institutions and money.
  • Sleigh, C. (2018). War and peace in British science fiction fandom, 1936-45. Osiris.
    Fans of science fiction offer an unusual opportunity to study that rare bird, a “public” view of science in history. Of course science-fiction fans are by no means representative of a “general” public, but they are a coherent, interesting and significant group in their own right. In this paper we follow British fans from their phase of self-organisation just before WW2 and through their wartime experiences. We examine how they defined science and science fiction, and how they connected their interest in them with their personal ambitions and social concerns. Moreover, we show how WW2 clarified and altered these connections. Rather than being distracted from science fiction, fans redoubled their focus upon it during the years of conflict. The number of new fanzines published in the mid-century actually peaked during the War. In this article, we examine what science fiction fandom, developed over the previous half-dozen years, offered them in this time of national trial.
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