CfP “Imagineers in Circus and Science” Conference (abstract deadline 15 September)

Humanities Research Centre (Australian National University) – April 2018

Scientists seek to investigate the ways in which nature works and to ask how humanity can best comprehend different aspects of the universe. By challenging conventional wisdom, scientists can act as rebels against the status quo and common sense. In cultural and fictional contexts, they may appear and behave like artists: creative, skilled craftsmen; ‘imagineers’ and bewildering performers. These fictional scientists do not merely domesticate the unknown and the uncanny, they also invent and stage it.

One of the most productive breeding grounds for the invention, amalgamation, and staging of scientific knowledge and creative imagination has been the circus and related cultural phenomena, such as freakshows, carnivals, and 19th-century ‘scientific’ museums. These sensational, kaleidoscopic institutions present(ed) manifold wondrous exhibits, including automatons, wax figures, and mummies, but they also presented scientific discoveries. Barnum’s American Museum, for example, made hundreds of previously unseen specimens accessible to a broad audience.

Exhibitions and shows of this type united science with mystery, acted as mediators of knowledge, and were often the primary public source of information about the current state of scientific research. They are reminders that science and its pursuits are matters of perspective, and the product and producer of good stories. What do these stories tell us about the “two cultures” of the humanities and science?

Keynote speakers

  • Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Emory University)
  • Professor Jane Goodall (University of Western Sydney)
  • Professor Richard Weihe (Accademia Teatro Dimitri/SUPSI Verscio, Switzerland)
  • Professor Peta Tait (La Trobe University)


We welcome proposals for individual, 20-minute papers addressing any aspect of science and the circus (and related phenomena) including:

  • Cultural and literary studies
  • Circus studies, Theatre and performance studies
  • Indigenous literatures from around the world and their relation to science and performance
  • Posthumanism
  • Zoopoetics, animal art and critical animal studies
  • Intersections of aesthetic and scientific treatments of cultural issues
  • Imaginaries of technology and performance (e.g. in films)
  • Museology, and applied art and science

While this conference is concerned primarily with culture and literature, we envisage it as a multi-disciplinary event and will welcome proposals from any disciplinary perspective.

Abstracts are due 15 September. Please see the conference website for more information.

Feel free to circulate madly.

Thank you.
Very best wishes,
Anna-Sophie Jürgens

Dr. Anna-Sophie Jürgens


Feodor Lynen Postdoctoral Fellow (Humboldt Foundation)

Early Career Fellow, University House

National Library of Australia Fellow
Humanities Research Centre – Australian National University

Office 3.46, Sir Roland Wilson Building, 120 McCoy Circuit, Acton, ACT 2601


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