CfP In Extremis: The Limits of Life, Death and Consciousness in the Long Nineteenth Century. University College Dublin, 10-11 January 2020

Keynote Speaker: Professor Angela Wright

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore the ways in which the fundamental understanding of embodied human life and consciousness was challenged by developments in science and medicine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Spurred on by public experiments and mass casualties resulting from war, famine, disease, poverty and oppression, natural philosophers, poets and novelists, spiritualists and enthusiasts interrogated the limits of death and life. Social and intellectual cross-currents between imaginative and scientific discourses produced a flourishing culture of enquiry in which old certainties and taboos no longer defined the parameters of human existence. However, the body, rather than being tamed and comprehended by advancements in science, seemed more alien than human, a thing apart from consciousness yet intimately tied to mental processes.  From the grotesque and mutilated female bodies of William Hunter’s The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774) to the distorted figures of Henry Fuseli’s nightmarish paintings and on to Stevenson’s metamorphic identities in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), eighteenth- and nineteenth-century intellectual life reimagined the boundaries of sex, disease and deformity in many ways.

Proposals are invited for 20-minute papers and/or 3-paper panels relating to bodies and minds in extremes, in transformation and in distress in the culture of the two centuries.

Proposals of no more than 300 words should be emailed no later than Friday October 25th to Lucy Cogan and Michelle O’Connell at

Two travel bursaries of €100 each will be awarded to the best proposals submitted by postgraduate students. Please indicate in the email submitting your proposal if you wish to be considered.


Suggested topics include:

Interdisciplinary intersections and intellectual relationships e.g. John Hunter and Joanna Baillie, Joseph Priestley and the Aikin-Barbauld circle,  Godwinian necessitarianism and scientific determinism

Medicalised bodies and minds—hysteria, insanity, anatomised and/or diseased bodies

Spiritualism/mysticism and the occult

Representations of the ‘madhouse’

Radical religious sects, e.g. millenarianism, antinomianism, Gnosticism

Death, life and empire

Anatomised/magical/experimental/folkloric bodies

Thresholds of consciousness and life

The body and the archive/oeuvre

Dreams and double consciousness/existence

Othered bodies, colonial – miscegenation, hypersexuality, corruption, exploitation, degeneration

Monstrous production/reproduction

Catastrophic bodies: Famine, epidemic and death in the open

Altered states, altered minds, altered consciousnesses