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8 posts categorized "Literature"

18 May 2016

Shakespeare on the couch: The bard and psychology

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To celebrate the opening of the British Library’s Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition, Paul Allchin explores Shakespeare’s perceptive understanding of human psychology.   

 “What makes Shakespeare eternal is his grasp of psychology. He knew how to nail stuff” Martin Freeman (Actor) 

Shakespeare -The Chandos portrait
The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London.


As far back as the ancient Greeks and Egyptians we have reflected on human behaviour and yet psychology was considered a branch of philosophy until the 1870s, from when it developed as an independent scientific discipline in Germany and the United States. Much has been written in the last couple of centuries on the psychology of Shakespeare and his dramatic works.

Shakespeare understood our inner demons and knew how to express them on the written page. For example Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”, pinpoints man’s flaws, that so well, feeds the fuel for his dramas:

But man, proud man, Drest in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he’s most assur'd; 

His glassy essence, like an angry ape, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven, As make the angels weep.

Whether it is man’s inflated views of himself or the range of emotions from love to anger, Shakespeare seemed always to have something to say. In Henry VIII, Act 1, Scene 1, he advises on  anger management:

“Be advised, heat not a furnace for your foe so hot, that it do singe yourself”.

The British Library has a rich and varied collection in psychology, counselling and psychoanalysis, both historical and current, as well as electronic journals and databases such as PsychInfo and PsychExtra.  Both the humanities and science reading rooms include works on the open shelves and we hold a wealth of psychology texts in our storage areas. Some of these are in our lending collection and can be requested through college and public libraries using their inter-library lending services.

An example of such reflective literature is the book entitled “The Vale of Soulmaking: the post-Kleinian model of the mind” by Meg Harris Williams, H.Karnac (Books) Ltd. 2005, shelf mark YC.2006.a.12437, which includes Chapter 7, “Cleopatra’s monument”. This chapter outlines the post Kleinian psychological perspective on some of Shakespeare’s works. 

The post Kleinian model of the mind is an aesthetic one, developed by W.R. Bion and Donald Meltzer and takes Melanie Klein’s ideas of our infant Self’s relationship to evolving “internalised objects”, often parental and the resolution of emotional turmoil through symbol formation, dreaming, envisioning, and counter-transference.

Procession of characters from Shakespeares Plays by an unknown artist
Procession of Characters from Shakespeare's Plays by an unknown 19th-century artist

Shakespeare’s literary power resides in him being one of the great literary symbol makers and metaphor developers, along with Milton, Keats, Homer and Sophocles, able to articulate and give form to man’s deepest desires and dilemmas. Shakespeare’s role in feeding food to psychology and the 19th and 20th century psychoanalysis tradition through his plays and dramas is a testament to his insights into human nature.

Freud, Jung, Klein, and the post Kleinians provide psychological meaning making frameworks, varied lenses through which contemporary thinkers can appreciate and understand Shakespeare’s works.

William Shakespeares First Folio
William Shakespeare's First Folio (Image: WIkipedia)

 

Some of our out of copyright books have been digitised and are available through Google books and the British Library Explore catalogue remotely e.g. The Psychology of Macbeth, a lecture, etc. by George Sexton, (active 1857-1887).

What is clear is that Shakespeare has an uncanny ability to create characters that are archetypal and sets up in his plays, the conflicts, challenges, resolutions and pitfalls found in our daily lives. He gave us the psychodramas on the stage through which we can project our internal worlds and learn from the characters he invented.    

Paul Allchin, Science Reference Specialist.


The British Library's current exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts is a landmark exhibition on the performances that made an icon, charting Shakespeare’s constant reinvention across the centuries and is open until Tuesday 6th September 2016.

To find out more about Shakespeare collections at the British Library join our reference team for a special tour where you can find out how to access and research Shakespeare related collections not on display in the exhibition. Tickets are available here.

Find out more about Shakespeare and psychology here

After Oedipus : Shakespeare in psychoanalysis, Julia Reinhard Lupton and Kenneth Reinhard. Ithaca/Cornell University Press, 1993. Shelfmark: 93/12357 DSC 

Elizabethan psychology and Shakespeare’s plays by Ruth Leila Anderson. Shelfmark: W42/6604 DSC  

The mad folk of Shakespeare, John Charles Bucknill, (1817-1897), Second edition, revised, 1867, Shelfmark 2300.c.3. 

The mind according to Shakespeare : psychoanalysis in the bard's writing, Marvin Bennett Krims. Shelfmark YC.2007.a.1806 and m06/.37542 DSC   

Psyche & symbol in Shakespeare, Alex Aronson. Bloomington. Shelfmark: 72/10648 DSC 

Psychoanalysis and ShakespeareNorman N. Holland. New York : Octagon Books, 1976, c1966. Shelfmark: 77/30526 DSC

The psychology of Shakespeare, by Bucknill, John Charles, 1970, Shelf mark X11/1303 DSC 

Shakespeare and psychoanalytic theory, Carolyn E. Brown, Shelfmark  YC.2015.a.10365

Shakespeare on the couch : on behalf of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy  by Michael Jacobs. Shelfmark YC.2009.a.9109 

The Vale of Soulmaking: the post-Kleinian model of the mind, by Meg Harris Williams, shelf mark YC.2006.a.12437 and  m05/.26094 DSC   

13 May 2016

Shakespeare: a King of Infinite Space?

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To celebrate the opening of the British Library’s Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition, Richard Wakeford (information specialist in science, technology and medicine) looks at how Shakespeare wove contemporary science into his work.

William Shakespeare lived in a remarkable time, on the cusp of the medieval world view and the scientific revolution. But how far was he aware of this new thinking and how much did it appear in his writing? Certainly Shakespeare did not make any scientific ideas obvious, any more than he made his views on religion or politics obvious. The clues are scattered but have been explored in a recent book by Dan Falk.

The Starry Messenger

One striking resonance is that the play Cymbeline, written in 1610 and first performed in 1611, drew upon Galileo Galilei’s publication of Siderius Nuncius (The Starry Messenger) in 1610. Incidentally, Shakespeare and Galileo were exact contemporaries, born two months apart in 1564.

In Cymbeline, a tangled tale of death, rape and cross-dressing, the character Postumus is in prison awaiting execution. In a masque scene, four ghosts of his dead family appear in a dream to dance around the god Jupiter, pleading for his life. This chimes directly with Galileo’s observations in the Starry Messenger that Jupiter is orbited by four moons.

The Starry Messenger
Left: Frontispiece of The Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius) 1610. Right: Inside page.  (Images: Wikipedia)

 Galileo recorded the movement of four new objects around Jupiter over several successive nights.

“I therefore concluded and decided unhesitatingly, that there are three stars in the heavens moving about Jupiter, as Venus and Mercury round the Sun; which at length was established as clear as daylight by numerous subsequent observations. These observations also established that there are not only three, but four, erratic sidereal bodies performing their revolutions round Jupiter...the revolutions are so swift that an observer may generally get differences of position every hour.”

He hath overthrown all astronomy

This discovery cracked Aristotelian cosmology apart and rang around Europe. It is known that the mathematician and astronomer Thomas Harriot had read the work in London during the summer of 1610, soon after its publication in March in Venice1 and the English ambassador in Venice, Sir Henry Wotton, had immediately sent a copy to Sir Robert Cecil, the Lord Chamberlain, for the attention of the King, writing that “he [Galileo] hath first overthrown all former astronomy”.

It is likely that a book with such a high profile was read, or even more likely, gossiped about, by the King's playwright. Shakespeare’s company had become the Kings Men on the accession of James the First with Shakespeare made a “groom extraordinary of the chamber”. Furthermore the King was a science and technology fan, an enthusiastic collector of clocks and mechanical devices, and an admirer of the German astronomer Kepler2.

What was Shakespeare attempting to do in the masque scene? Scholars have disagreed over his knowledge of science, seeing him either as a native of the medieval world of astrology, or a science nerd writing Hamlet as a detailed, coded exposition of Copernican astronomy. Or maybe it was neither of these two extremes but simply that he sprinkled fashionable new ideas over his play to catch the fancy of the King. It is not known if Cymbeline was performed at court but a masque, accompanied by music, dancing and spectacular staging, strongly suggests a court performance.

William Herschel and Hubble Space Telescope
Left: William Herschel, discover of Uranus' moons Titania and Oberon. Right: Hubble Space telescope used to identify the moons Mab and Cupid (Images: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare’s links to astronomy have continued down the centuries. Sir William Herschel, after discovering Uranus in 1781, went on to locate the first two of its many moons in 1787, naming them Titania and Oberon. In 2003 the moons Cupid (after a character in Timon of Athens) and Mab (after Queen Mab in Romeo and Juliet), were discovered using the Hubble space telescope.

Richard Wakeford, Science Reference Specialist


To find out more about Shakespeare collections at the British Library join our reference team for a special tour where you can find out how to access and research Shakespeare-related collections that not on display in the exhibition. Tickets are available here

The British Library's current exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts is a landmark exhibition on the performances that made an icon, charting Shakespeare’s constant reinvention across the centuries and is open until Tuesday 6th September 2016.

An original copy of the Starry Messenger is displayed in the science case in the Treasures of the British Library gallery. It opens at one of the pages illustrating the surface features of the Moon, another of Galileo’s discoveries that broke with the traditional concept of celestial perfection. Galileo’s sunspot letters are also on display and can be seen here.

The title of this blog "A king of infinite space" is taken from a quote by Shakespeare's Hamlet: "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams" (Act II, Scene 2)

 Read more about Shakespeare and Galileo here:

  1. Bloom T,F., Borrowed perceptions: Harriot’s maps of the moon. Journal for the History of Astronomy, 1978, 9: 117-122. An online version is here.
  2.  Feingold, M. The mathematicians' apprenticeship : science, universities and society in England 1560-1640.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.General Reference Collection X.800/38615
  3.  Galileo, G. The starry messenger or Galileo's O, edited by Horst Bredekamp. Berlin: AkademieVerlag, c2011. General Reference Collection YD.2012.b.2230
  4. 4Shakespeare W. Cymbeline; edited by John Pitcher London: Penguin, 2005 General Reference Collection YC.2005.a.2678 (John Pitcher’s introduction also explores the link between Shakespeare and Galileo.)
  5. Richard Wakeford: Science Reference Specialist

01 February 2016

Alice's Adventures in Numberland - answers

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Here we reveal the answers of our Lewis Carroll-inspired brainteasers. (The questions feature in a previous blog post)

 

MAZE Knight

Can you find a route from the outside of the maze to the centre?

Maze_solution

DOUBLETS KnightKnight

For each pair of words, can you find a series of words which link them, changing just one letter each time? All links must be real words.

Drive PIG into STY – PIG/WIG/WAG/WAY/SAY/STY

Make WHEAT into BREAD – WHEAT/CHEAT/CHEAP/CHEEP/CREEP/CREED/BREED/BREAD

Raise FOUR to FIVE – FOUR/FOUL/FOOL/FOOT/FORT/FORE/FIRE/FIVE

Prove GRASS to be GREEN – GRASS/CRASS/CRESS/TRESS/TREES/FREES/FREED/GREED/GREEN

Change OAT to RYE – OAT/RAT/ROT/ROE/RYE

Cover EYE with LID – EYE/DYE/DIE/DID/LID

Raise ONE to TWO – ONE/OWE/EWE/EYE/DYE/DOE/TOE/TOO/TWO

Crown TIGER with ROSES – TIGER/TILER/TILES/TIDES/RIDES/RISES/ROSES

 

DOUBLE ACROSTIC POEM KnightKnightKnight

Each couplet in this poem clues an 8-letter word. If you find all 8 words, their first letters will spell out a word, and their last letters will spell out another word.

 

They’ll jump off a cliff from a great height, for fun

In a computer game from 1991

LEMMINGS

 

Just the right tipple for a long run

To match your own chemical composition

ISOTONIC

Dl-portrait-npg-lewis-carroll
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Kids won’t touch it - they prefer jam

Sounds like it’s near Lewisham

BROCCOLI

 

Practise makes perfect, that’s what they say

Regarding the vehicle that takes you away

REHEARSE

 

Brenda with three Es is feeling pretty

Confused about this northern city

ABERDEEN

 

Caesar’s troubled by its bite

Maybe a candlelit dinner tonight?

ROMANTIC

 

It’s almost like there’ll be bows and knots

At the time of year you give presents lots

YULETIDE

 

First letters spell out: LIBRARY

Last letters spell out: SCIENCE

 

AMBIGRAMS Knight

Can you devise a rotation ambigram for the word FISH? Or a reflection ambigram for BIRD?

  Fish and bird ambigrams answers

Rotation ambigram for the word FISH (from bigforrap.wordpress.com): Reflection ambigram or the word BIRD  (from ambigramme.com):

 

OVERLAPPING SQUARES Knight

Can you draw this shape made from three interlaced squares, using one continuous line, without going over any parts of the line twice, without intersecting the line you’ve already drawn, and without taking your pen off the paper?

Overlapping squares

 

A DINNER PARTY KnightKnightKnight

At a dinner party, the host invites his father’s brother-in-law, his brother’s father-in-law, his father-in-law’s brother, and his brother-in-law’s father. What’s the smallest number of guests there could be?

A dinner party solution

Males are denoted by upper case and females are denoted by lower case letters. The host is C and his guest is E. His father's brother-in-law is B or C. His brother's father-in-law is C. His father-in-law's brother is C. His brother-in-law's father is C. Therefore the smallest number of guests is 1, C.

 

ANAGRAMS KnightKnight

Can you unscramble these sentences to form relevant phrases?

HELP V. KEEN TRIO OF DAFTNESS - FESTIVAL OF THE SPOKEN NERD

“LESS TOKEN GREENERY”, SHE SANG - GEEK SONGSTRESS HELEN ARNEY

SEE ME OUT, TV’S MISTER EXPLODER MAN - EXPERIMENTS MAESTRO STEVE MOULD

BRB, I HIRE TRASHY LIT - THE BRITISH LIBRARY

I WANTED DEAN IN CD’S SURREAL NOVEL - ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

AM AUS, AND ATTEMPT ARITHMETIC PRANK - STAND-UP MATHEMATICIAN MATT PARKER


With thanks to Katie Steckles (@stecks) for compiling these puzzles. Katie Steckles is a mathematician based in Manchester, who gives talks and workshops on maths. She finished her PhD in 2011, and since then has talked about maths in schools, at science festivals, on BBC radio, at music festivals, as part of theatre shows and on the internet. She enjoys doing and writing puzzles, solving the Rubik's cube and baking things shaped like maths.These puzzles furst featured in the Alices Advemtures in Numberland event featuring geek comedy trio Festval of the Spoken Nerd

Alice's Adventures in Numberland

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Tonight we are celebrating the science and maths of Lewis Carroll in our Alice's Adventures in Numberland event with geek comedy trio Festival of the Spoken Nerd. As well as being a best-selling children’s author, Lewis Carroll was also a mathematics lecturer at Oxford University and an avid puzzler. He loved musing over word, number and logic problems and sharing them with his friends and colleagues. Special guest geek Katie Steckles has compiled this collection of Carroll-inspired brainteasers for your puzzling pleasure. How many can you complete? Answers can be found in this blog post.

 
DIFFICULTY LEVELS Alice-exhibition-web-page

Easy          Knight   

Hard          KnightKnight   

Fiendish    KnightKnightKnight 

 

   


 

MAZE Knight

Can you find a route from the outside of the maze to the centre?

  Maze

A similar, but more complicated maze like this, created by Carroll in his early twenties, appeared in his family’s homemade puzzle magazine, Mischmasch.

 

DOUBLETS KnightKnight

For each pair of words, can you find a series of words which link them, changing just one letter each time? All links must be real words. As an example, you can get from HEAD to TAIL using four links as follows:

    HEAD

    heal

    teal

    tell

    tall

    TAIL

Drive PIG into STY (4 links)

Make WHEAT into BREAD (6 links)

Raise FOUR to FIVE (6 links)

Prove GRASS to be GREEN (7 links)

Change OAT to RYE (3 links)

Cover EYE with LID (3 links)

Raise ONE to TWO (7 links)

Crown TIGER with ROSES (5 links)

Carroll introduced this type of puzzle, now more commonly known as a Word Ladder, in a letter to Vanity Fair in March 1879, and after initial trials, they began using it as their regular puzzle competition – the examples above are taken from there.

 

DOUBLE ACROSTIC POEM KnightKnightKnight

Each couplet in this poem clues an 8-letter word. If you find all 8 words, their first letters will spell out a word, and their last letters will spell out another word.

 

They’ll jump off a cliff from a great height, for fun Alice

In a computer game from 1991

 

Just the right tipple for a long run

To match your own chemical composition

 

Kids won’t touch it – they prefer jam

Sounds like it’s near Lewisham

 

Practise makes perfect, that’s what they say

Regarding the vehicle that takes you away

 

Brenda with three Es is feeling pretty

Confused about this northern city

 

Caesar’s troubled by its bite

Maybe a candlelit dinner tonight?

 

It’s almost like there’ll be bows and knots

At the time of year you give presents lots

 

The double acrostic is often thought of as the forerunner to the modern crossword puzzle, and Carroll made many contributions to the form. In his collection of poems Phantasmagoria (1869), he published an example in which the stanzas were more connected to form a readable poem, rather than disjointed as in the example above. Another, written by Carroll for Miss E M Argles, was printed in the catalogue for the exhibition in London to commemorate the centenary of Carroll’s birth.

 

AMBIGRAMS Knight

An ambigram is a word or phrase which is written in such a way that it reads the same when rotated, or reflected. Examples of different rotation and reflection ambigrams are given here. Can you devise a rotation ambigram for the word FISH? Or a reflection ambigram for BIRD? Or, you can try to devise one for your own name, or a word of your choice – some words are harder than others! You can use whichever type of letters you like, and add interesting serifs and decorations, as long as it still reads as that word. Sometimes ambigrams read as one word in one direction, and a different (sometimes opposite) word in the other.

  Ambigrams

 

OVERLAPPING SQUARES Knight

Can you draw this shape made from three interlaced squares, using one continuous line, without going over any parts of the line twice, without intersecting the line you’ve already drawn, and without taking your pen off the paper?

Threesquares

In Collingwood’s Life and Letters, Isabel Standen recalls being shown this puzzle by Carroll in 1869.

 

A DINNER PARTY KnightKnightKnight

At a dinner party, the host invites his father’s brother-in-law, his brother’s father-in-law, his father-in-law’s brother, and his brother-in-law’s father. What’s the smallest number of guests there could be?

This puzzle originally appeared in Lewis Carroll’s Eligible Apartments.

This puzzle originally appeared in Lewis Carroll’s Eligible Apartments.


With thanks to Katie Steckles (@stecks) for compiling these puzzles. Katie Steckles is a mathematician based in Manchester, who gives talks and workshops on maths. She finished her PhD in 2011, and since then has talked about maths in schools, at science festivals, on BBC radio, at music festivals, as part of theatre shows and on the internet. She enjoys doing and writing puzzles, solving the Rubik’s cube and baking things shaped like maths. (Ambigram credits: dreamworld: www.wowtattoos.com; mirror: www.otherfocus.com; fantasy: www.cogsci.indiana.edu; Coffee: www.elusiveillustration.com)

05 October 2015

New opportunities for collaborative PhD research exploring the British Library’s science collections

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Applications for collaborative PhD research around the British Library’s science collections are now open to UK universities and other HEIs

AHRC logoThe British Library is looking for university partners to co-supervise collaborative PhD research projects that will open up unexplored aspects of its science collections.  Funding is available from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships programme, through which the Library works with UK universities or other eligible Higher Education Institutes around strategic research themes.

Our current CDP opportunities include a project to examine the culture and evolution of scientific research, drawing on scientists’ personal archives, and another project to develop digital tools for the investigation of scientific knowledge in the 17th and 18th centuries:

The Working Life of Scientists: Exploring the Culture of Scientific Research through Personal Archives

This project will involve a detailed mapping of the key personal relationships of 20th century British scientists to shed light on the nature, communication and reception of scientific research. It will draw on the Library’s Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts collections, which include personal archives and correspondence from the fields of computer science and programming, cybernetics and artificial intelligence, as well as evolutionary, developmental and molecular biology. As well as being situated within social and cultural history, particularly the history of science and the history of ideas, this cross-disciplinary project is applicable to research in areas such as social anthropology, sociology and social network analysis. It will open up a nuanced understanding of the BL’s collection of the personal archives of twentieth century British scientists. It will enable us to better exploit these valuable collections to research audiences across a number of disciplines.

Hans Sloane’s Books: Evaluating an Enlightenment Library

SloaneEngravedPortraitCroppedThis Digital Humanities projectwill evaluate the library of Hans Sloane (1660-1753): physician, collector and posthumous ‘founding father’ of the British Museum. For over sixty years, Hans Sloane was a dominant figure on London’s intellectual and social landscape. At the heart of his vast collections stood a library of 45,000 books, which – alongside his voluminous correspondence and thousands of prints, drawings, specimens and artefacts – bears witness to his central position in a globalised network of scientific discovery. The CDP project will apply digital techniques to exploit the raw data on over 32,000 items in the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue, and will break new ground by developing digital tools to cross reference, contextualise and analyse the data. This will forge fresh insights into how medical and scientific knowledge was gathered and disseminated in the pre-Linnaean period, with relevance to the history of science, medicine and collecting.

 

Moving beyond our science collections, there is also a third CDP opportunity for a project on ‘Digital Publishing and the Reader’. This will investigate the changing nature of publishing in digital environments to consider how new communication technologies should be recorded or collected as part of a national collection of British written culture.

Applications are invited from academics to develop any of these research themes with a view to co-supervising a PhD project with the British Library from October 2016. Our HEI partners receive and administer the funds for a full PhD studentship from the AHRC and, in collaboration with the Library, oversee the research and training of the student. We provide the student with staff-level access to our collections, expertise and facilities, as well as financial support for research-related costs of up to £1,000 a year.

View further details and application guidelines.

To apply, send the application form to Arts-Humanities@bl.uk by 27 November 2015.

 

04 October 2015

From fiction to fact: the science of Animal Tales

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Alice Kirke investigates the facts behind the fiction of the British Library’s Animal Tales exhibition.

The Animal Tales exhibition at the British Library explores what our portrayal of animals within literature tells us about ourselves. The natural environment and its inhabitants have inspired generations of writers, but how do some of our favourite, anthropomorphised fictional creatures compare to their real-life counterparts? I set out to discover what the science says about the creatures lurking among the pages.

Cats: aloof and independent?

Valued for their companionship, skill in hunting vermin, and role in numerous ‘funny cat videos’ on YouTube, the domestic cat was first classified as ‘Felis catus’ by the Swedish botanist and zoologist Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. The exhibition features French philosopher Michel de Montaigne’s Essays,[1] in which he famously asked ‘When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?’ People have kept cats as pets for thousands of years. Though they are commonly thought to have first been domesticated by the Ancient Egyptians, who considered them to be sacred, there is evidence of earlier domestication dating from around 9,500 years ago.[2] There are many theories and misconceptions about the behaviour of these enigmatic pets. As predators, cats are very focussed on their environment leading to the common misreading of their behaviour as aloof, and although they are seen as ‘independent’ they are in fact social animals. Cat communication includes a variety of vocalizations as well types of cat-specific body language.[3]

 

Snakes: slithering and sinister?

Lamia
A 17th century depiction of Lamia from Edward Topsell's The History of Four-Footed Beasts L.R.301.cc.3.

Snakes have a sinister reputation in literature and culture. In ancient Greek mythology Lamia, the mistress of Zeus was transformed into a terrifying serpentine demon by Zeus’ jealous wife Hera. In Keats’ poem Lamia[4], displayed in the exhibition, the protagonist appears in her beautiful human form before being transformed back into a serpent at her wedding feast. To an extent, this was a comment on science itself; knowledge of the natural world destroyed its beauty.

 

 

 Snakes are perhaps so often portrayed as evil in literature because some species are dangerous to humans, but snakes are diverse creatures- there are over 3,000 species of snake in the world, with at least one type of snake on every continent except Antarctica. There is debate among evolutionary psychologists over whether the fear of snakes is innate. Since those with a phobia of snakes would be more likely to stay away from them and avoid the dangers of being bitten, they had a better chance of surviving and passing on their genes. Recent research suggests that although the fear of snakes is a learned behaviour, people do have a knack for spotting them; when shown images of snakes surrounded by objects of a similar colour babies and young children detected snakes faster than other objects.  

Spiders: creepy crawlies?

Frequent scare stories in the UK press about invasions of deadly spiders prey on a common fear of arachnids. There are over 40,000 different species worldwide, and although the vast majority are venomous most are not dangerous to humans. Arachnologists, experts who study spiders emphasise their diversity in terms of their appearance, habitats and behaviour.

Due to their wide range of behaviours, they have become symbolic of various attributes, including patience, cruelty and creativity in art and mythology.  The character of Anansi, a spider who often acts and appears as a man in West African and Caribbean folklore, has taken on a variety of different traits over time. Anansi Company,[5] featured in the exhibition, is a modern version of tales about Anansi and his friends which are central to Caribbean culture.

Crow: cruel or cunning?

Crow
The Crow and the Pitcher, illustrated by Milo Winter in 1919

In common English, corvids including crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays and magpies, are all known as ‘the crow family’.  Ted Hughes’ Crow draws on mythology surrounding the much maligned creature, which is often connected with death.[6] In Irish mythology, crows are associated with Morrigan, the goddess of war and death, and the collective name for a group of crows is a ‘murder’. However, they have also been linked with prophesy, cunning and intelligence. In one of Aesop’s fables, a thirsty crow spied a pitcher containing a small amount of water, which was out of reach of its bill. The crow began dropping pebbles into the pitcher one by one, thereby raising the level of water and enabling it to drink. A 2009 study published in Current Biology which replicated Aesop's fable, found that four captive rooks used stones to raise the level of water in a container, allowing a floating worm to move into reach, showing that the goal-directed behaviour of Aseop’s crow is reflected in actual corvid behaviour. European magpies have demonstrated self-awareness in mirror tests, and crows and rooks have been shown to have the ability to make and use tools, previously regarded as a skill specific to humans and a few other higher mammals. This scientific research suggests that crows are one of the most intelligent animals in the world.

Animal Tales showcases many more familiar yet enigmatic creatures. The wealth of material in the Library collections can be used to trace animals in literature as well as the latest scientific research about their characteristics- come and see the exhibition and follow up with some research into your favourite fictional beasts!



[1] Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne. (Paris, 1602) C.28.g.7

[2] Vigne JD, Guilaine J, Debue K, Haye L, Gérard P (April 2004). "Early taming of the cat in Cyprus". Science 304 (5668): 259

[3] Dennis C. Turner, and Patrick Bateson, The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour. (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2000) m00/46105

[4] John Keats, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes & other poems. (Waltham St. Lawrence, 1928) C.98.gg.16

[5] Ronald King & Roy Fisher, Anansi Company. (London, 1992) C.193.c.8

[6] Ted Hughes & Leonard Baskin, Crow: from the life and songs of the Crow (London, 1973)

30 September 2015

Overpowered! The Science and Showbiz of Hypnosis

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Performer and entertainer Christopher Green's new book "The Science & Showbiz of Hypnosis" is published by British Library Publications on 16th October 2015. In this blog post Christopher explores the intriguing history of hypnosis and investigates some of the science behind this curious practice. Hear more from Christopher at the launch event at the British Library on 13th October. Tickets are available here.

OverpoweredWhat we call hypnosis now has been going on in our brains since we were first human, and it will carry on until there are no more humans.  At this stage of our cultural development we happen to call it hypnosis.  It also happens to be regarded by the vast majority of human beings as something of a joke, by many others as irrelevant and, even those of us who are fascinated tend to focus more on the big moustaches and kitchsy, campy, quirky notions of the big-mouthed practitioners of the subject.  But it belongs to all of us.  It’s a human process.  What exactly is going on chemically, biochemically and bioelectrically isn’t known, but we are fools if we think it’s just the preserve of fellas in spandex shirts.  It’s the people in the white coats that we should be interested in.  Especially in our age of increasing mental dis-ease.  These days, it’s much more acceptable to alter your brain chemistry using powerful drugs in the hope that a tiny percentage of it’s efficacy will help with lifting your mood.  And yet, harnessing what is after all a perfect natural human process – one person simply helping another to experience something – is thought of as a bit sinister and weird.  So I salute the neuro-hypnotism research.  I suspect in a few hundred years when some irreverent and light-hearted comedian writes a round up of their thinking of hypnosis using books from our time, that they look at this and say “Christopher was over-focused on type-face, bill matter and moustaches, but he was right about the neuro-science.  It was, after all, what they called hypnosis back then, that proved the turning point in helping human beings fight back from the damaging mental ill-health caused by fighting the squishing effects of capitalism on a daily basis”.  I can dream, can’t I?

Karlyn
Christopher's second favourite old-time hypnotist 'Karlyn'

This stuff might only be taken seriously once we move on from the word ‘hypnosis’.  It needs serious rebranding.  I think that’s a shame, because as you see from this book, I celebrate all the bright shouts and all the dark shameful whispers in the history of the hypnosis, but to the average person it’s too bleedin’ confusing.  Could it be time to change the name?  A modern day hypnotic hero is Dr Amir Raz.  He started off as a magician while studying to be a doctor.   He says “Magic taught me a lot about psychology in terms of attention, directing attention and how the mind works. At one point I started reading about hypnosis and decided to marry the two."  But he acknowledges the need for the rebrand and I like his solution, although it’s a bit worthy and not spunky enough. 

"Hypnosis is tricky because it has such a checkered history. Many people feel uncomfortable with it, even within the scientific community, because they think it's not something that a serious scientist should get involved in. Part of the reason it has this bad reputation is because of things like stage hypnosis, where you see a bunch of people clucking like chickens."  Dr Raz suggests ditching "hypnosis" in favour of "focused attention" or "susceptibility to suggestion”.

This is not a million miles away from the term coined by James Coates in 1905 “suggestive therapeutics” though as I’ve pointed out in my book, this is likely to get people in cahoots with pimps rather than psychiatrists.  But though his new names don’t zing, Dr Raz makes a rallying cry for the future of the subject.  "I don't consider myself a hypnosis researcher. If anything, I'm more of a neuroscientist with an interest in attention. I see hypnosis as an interesting tool for illuminating interesting scientific questions about consciousness, volitional control and authorship”

Of course, I want to challenge myself and think of a new term for hypnosis that takes all of the history and all the modern neuroscience into account.  I want to be a 21st Century rebranding Braid.  But then he cocked up with the name Hypnosis, introducing all sorts of notions of sleep etc that have misled people ever since.  I’m sure I’ll do the same.  But I’ll have a go.  Please contact me with your own suggestions and let’s solve this one, fam.

Suggestnosis

Relaxed wakefulness

Suggest-Ability

Attention Therapy

…. or following in the footsteps of the arch egotist hypnotist Walford Bodie who coined the term Bodic Force, I suggest calling it after myself - Green Power.

Oh dear!  Your turn!

Christopher Green

22 September 2015

‘Impossibly bold and Utopian’: H.G. Wells on education

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Alice Kirke investigates HG Wells’ views on science education ahead of our upcoming TalkScience event.

Although he is better known as ‘the Shakespeare of science fiction,’[1] H.G. Wells began his career as a school science teacher. Science education today needs to cater for the budding professional scientist in order to tackle global challenges such as population growth, climate change, and food security. But it also needs to nurture a greater public understanding of science. In light of these challenges, the anniversary of Wells’ birth, on 21st September 1866, prompted me to revisit his educational ideas.

H. G WellsBorn into a lower-middle class family, Wells immersed himself in books from the library at the Sussex mansion of Uppark, where his mother worked as a lady's maid. He continued to educate himself while he trained as a pupil-teacher,[2] and was eventually awarded a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in South Kensington in London, now Imperial College.

 

Whilst there, he was taught by the eminent advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution, T.H. Huxley. Wells founded the Science Schools Journal, which provided a forum for the development of his views on science and society. Darwinian notions of progress and degeneration came to inform his understanding of history, the future of mankind, and the importance of education.

In 1937, during his presidential address to the Educational Science section of the British Association, he outlined his concerns over ‘the contents of the minds our schools are turning out.’[3] His address was judged by Nature to be of such historical significance that they published it on the centenary of his birth in 1966. So, what did he have say about education?

In his address, Wells insisted that he was speaking not as a scientist, educator or author but as a ‘citizen’. Ignorance, he argued, led to tyranny, and was a consequence of the failure of elementary education to ‘properly inform’ citizens. He posed the question:

‘What are we telling young people directly about the world in which they are to live?’

Wells advocated a child-centred approach to learning which stimulated curiosity, rather than the old-fashioned rote learning which he believed still characterised schooling in the 1930s. He suggested that instead ‘the weather and the mud pie’ should introduce children to biology and that ‘we ought to build up simple and clear ideas from natural experience.’ Further, he argued that ‘natural experience’ should be the foundation not only of scientific instruction but of education more generally. Geography should give children:

‘a real picture in their minds of the Amazon forest, the pampas, the various phases in the course of the Nile… and the sort of human life that is led in these regions.’

Wells believed that telling children about the physical environment of different areas, and the lives of the people who lived there, would teach them to respect and appreciate the world as ‘one community.’ He described himself as a democratic socialist, and saw education as fundamental to peace; in his Outline of History he claimed that ‘human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ He argued that History should be the ‘main subject of instruction’ in schools, and that to avoid the ‘crazy combative patriotism that plainly threatens to destroy civilisation’, it should be based on the recent discoveries of archaeologists, not the squabbles and affairs of past kings and queens.

The education system Wells envisaged would lay down a ‘foundation of knowledge’, enabling people to continue learning throughout their lives, and to engage with issues which were of public concern, including those related to science and technology. In the world conjured up by his A Modern Utopia engineers and scientists have figured out how to meet all human needs, and are part of the elite ruling group known as the ‘Samurai’. But in the real world, Wells believed that science education was not only for scientists.

Image-utopia-pb-no2cLARGE
Frontispiece, H. G Wells, A Modern Utopia (Chapman and Hall, 1905) Shelfmark: 012631.aa.9

Education meant more than the pursuit of reason and intellect, and was not oriented towards purely instrumental economic goals. It was about discovery, questioning and knowledge, and was part of the whole education of the citizen. He concluded his address by reflecting that his educational vision seemed ‘impossibly bold and Utopian’. But he maintained that a reinvigorated education system which would enable people to engage with political, social and scientific challenges was an achievable aim, and a vital one for anyone concerned about the future of civilisation.

Wells’ reflections on education raise important questions for science education today; how should it be taught, and to what end? To debate these issues with an expert panel, come along to our next TalkScience event on 27th October.



[1] Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundwall (eds), The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction: an anthology (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) p.133 Shelfmark: YC.1987.a.3902

[2] A senior pupil who acted as a teacher to younger children

[3] Supplement to Nature, September 3, 1966