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Through the Wonderglass: Alice in Science and Medicine, in the Victorian Age and Beyond 

August 12, 2023 , 2:00 pm 3:00 pm EDT

Watch Through The Wonderglass on YouTube.

11AM Pacific/ 2PM Eastern/ 7PM UK

alice in wonderland and science

Presented by Dr. Franziska Kohlt

When discussing the immensely varied history and legacy of the Alice books, science has traditionally played a marginal role. But what if I told you that a major way in which the book and its author were understood in its time was through its contributions to public discussions around and understanding of scientific and medical topics? That its author was deeply involved in scientific, medical, ecological issues of his time? And that Alice has been since his, and until our day, a major vehicle for scientists to communicate mind-bending – as well as unsettling – discoveries in their fields, and the far-reaching consequences they have on our worlds?  

This talk will take you on a journey through the scientific cultural history of the Alice books. Re-examining Carroll’s own engagement with science, from his childhood reading to his engagement with microscopy, alongside his literary writing, one will cast a fresh light on the other. The whistle-stop tour will spotlight tea-parties and their role within the Victorian history of psychiatry, the presence of microscopes, magic lanterns and photography in Carroll’s works through Victorian optical culture, in education and childhood culture. And it will explain the perhaps surprising connections between the centrality of ecology and entomology in Through the Looking-Glass, and Victorian theories on the science and theology of acting, in the light of Alice’s stage adaptations.  

As well as illuminating the Alice books, this little-studied history will also illuminate some earlier and later Carroll favourites from Photography Extraordinary, or Phantasmagoria to Bruno’s Revenge or the enigmatic Wasp in the Wig chapter.  

Looking finally at the little-known history of Alice in popular science, in early mentions in, Alice through the Microscope, or ephemeral concepts, such as “Quantum Cheshire Cats” and “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome,” obvious appearance of Alice as scientific explorer, as in Alice in Rainforest-land, or Alice, the Cat Zeta and Climate Change, and less obvious, but all the more significant appearances, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, this talk will show how Alice is as inseparable from the history of Science, in which she became explorer, guide, and questioner – as she is from Wonderland.    

About Your Speaker

Dr. Franziska Kohlt is a Leverhulme Research Fellow in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds, where she currently researches the history of public science education in early nineteenth-century Britain. She holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford, where her DPhil thesis investigated the historical intersections of the history of psychology and psychiatry and the works of Victorian writers of fantastic literature. She is also the Inaugural Carrollian Fellow at the University of Southern California in LA, where she is currently finishing her book Through the Wonderglass: The Unexpected Histories of a Children’s Classic, which will appear with Reaktion Press, into which this talk will give an exclusive preview.