Parallel panels, session 6

Saturday, May 15, 1:50 pm (UTC+2)

Setup phase for presenters starts at 1:30 pm.

6.1 – Forgotten Histories of Science

Jennifer Leetsch, University of Würzburg:
“I trust England will not forget one who nursed her sick”: Nursing the Empire in Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (1857)

In this paper, I examine the self-narrative of nineteenth-century Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, the “black Florence Nightingale”. In her autobiographical travelogue, one can not only see at play fluctuating notions of race and belonging of the time, but also how descriptions of nature, climate and health/disease slot right into larger discussions of identity and nation-building as Seacole travels from the Caribbean to Cuba to Colombia to the Crimea. Simon Gikandi has astutely noted that “beneath Seacole’s optimistic portrait of the colonial subject in the service of empire […] lies the author’s barely suppressed sense of crisis, a crisis about her own identity and authority” (1996, 142). I argue that this crisis is reflected in how Seacole’s self-dramatizations play out along fault lines of geography, environment and medical knowledges. Seacole cannily references stereotypical nineteenth-century representation of the tropics while at the same time positioning herself as the authority over nature/her British patients. Intersecting portrayals of landscape and human ailments function as a means to set herself apart from either white British or black Caribbean subjectivity as she instead inhabits multiple spheres at once: the “native/local” sphere in which she is able to diagnose the British who have fallen ill from the tropical climate or who have fallen on the battlefields of the Crimea; the “foreign” sphere in which she is able to judge the living conditions (dirty, damp, rotten) and natural environments (floods, etc.) which cause the outbreak of fever and disease in Central America. As Sandra Gunning observes, “the sickly English pale in comparison to Seacole and her ability to survive physical challenges the world over, whether she resides in Jamaica, Panama, the Crimea, or England” (2001, 962). Seacole’s autobiography constructs her as Jamaican mammy and Mother Britain simultaneously, a black woman who nurses back to health the British while travelling the globe.


Dr. Jennifer Leetsch is a researcher and lecturer at the Department for English Literature and British Cultural Studies at Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg (Germany). She is currently working on a postdoctoral project which intertwines forms and media of life writing with 19th-century ecologies. Before joining the University of Würzburg, Jennifer completed a MA in English, Comparative, and American Literature at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and King’s College London. At JMU, she convenes graduate and undergraduate modules on postcolonial and diaspora literature and theory, organises international conferences and summer schools, and coordinates the department’s DAAD/IGP-funded project “Literature in a Globalized World”. Her research interests include, amongst others: black autobiography, feminist ecocriticism, Victorian ecologies and digital diasporas.

Laura Zander, University of Münster:
Blank Spaces and Hidden Figures – Rewriting the Gendered History of Science

The history of science, at its core, is a big book of brilliant individuals and their singular discoveries; individuals that were almost exclusively western, white and male. It is a history written from the perspective of the perceived masculinity of all scientific endeavour, whether practical knowledge, dedicated study or experimental activity, to the exclusion of ‘feeling’, which is associated with femininity. (Cf. Wagner & Wharton, “The Sexes and the Sciences,” 2019). To fill the blank spaces in scientific history, scholarship has increasingly turned to rewriting alternative histories from different, and particularly differently gendered, perspectives. In a similar vein, historians, scientists and philosophers have set about reclaiming forgotten women scientists, those hidden figures of science, and to restoring their lost voices. Subsequently, this rich literature explores the ways in which alleged scientific objectivity is both culturally bound and constructed, effectively marginalizing non-male, non-white or non-western contributions, whether Julie Des Jardin’s The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science (2010), Angela Saini’s Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story, (2017), Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures (2016), Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe or Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls (2016). Emily Temple-Woods, Wikipedia editor, practicing physician and co-founder of the WikiProject Women Scientists (2012) is dedicated to countering the effects and causes of gender bias, particularly through the creation of articles about women in science. “None of us controls who tells our stories,” she says, “but we do get to choose the stories we tell.” Accordingly, in my paper, I want to shed new light on some of the blank spaces in scientific history, on its hidden figures, and also the unacknowledged and often biased legislation processes that accompany, enable and promote the partial writing of the history of science.


Laura A. Zander is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) “Law and Literature” at the University of Münster, funded by the German Research Foundation. Previously a lecturer in the English Department at the University of Munich, she also worked as a Research Assistant and taught at the Faculty of Law at the Universities of Munich, Frankfurt and Saarbrücken, for a master’s program in Digital Forensics. She holds an MA in English Literature and Linguistics and both state examinations in Law after completing her postgraduate judicial service traineeship. Her first book Writing Back / Reading Forward: Reconsidering the Postcolonial Approach was published with Peter Lang in February 2019. She was the Postgraduate Representative of EACLALS between 2014 and 2017 and hosted the 2016 Postcolonial Narrations conference in Munich.


6.2 – Bodies in Crisis/Environments in Crisis

Lara Choksey, University of Exeter:
Interiority after Genealogy: States of Somnambulance in Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille

Invigorating recent consolidations of the race-concept alongside the hyper-militarisation of national borders, the genealogy plot continues to legitimise the discontinuity of citizenship and statelessness. While the postgenomic era has been characterised by a wave of scalar and temporal reorientations of embodiment across the biosciences and social theory, it has also retrenched imaginaries of ethnonational influence – soil, environment, culture.

This paper asks if the genealogy plot is really in crisis, and if so, what alternative descriptions of interiority offer roots and trajectories of habitation. To think interiority after genealogy is also to reimagine the continuities of the modern nation-state and its analogical infrastructure, ‘the body politic’, in forms of community that move beyond them.

Departing from “the limits of racial community” (Gilroy), this paper explores sleep states, scenes of recruitment, and ambivalent communities in Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille. McKay’s long-banned novel moves its protagonist across the Atlantic, from Marseille to New York and back again, in a sea-level plot where falling asleep means rapid and traumatic bodily transformation. Going between states of non-visibility and hypervisibility, discarded and picked back up again, Lafala takes himself back to Marseille’s Vieux Port, a site for wayward transactions and hidden transitions, in the hope of giving his new shape a different future. States of somnambulance enable new forms of mobility, where the psychological intuition of living in more than one place at one time propels Lafala through the Port’s fragile infrastructure of social compromise, volatile and joyful.


Lara Choksey is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Wellcome Centre for Cultures of Environments of Health at the University of Exeter and Visiting Research Fellow at the UCL Sarah Parker Remond Centre. A scholar of literary and cultural studies, her research interests span science and technology studies, critical race and decolonial theory, and world-systems theory. She is the author of Narrative in the Age of the Genome: Genetic Worlds (Bloomsbury, 2021).

Rebecca Macklin, University of Leeds/University of Pennsylvania:
“Seeing through the end of the world”: Storytelling and Environmental Crisis in the Fiction of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Following Kyle Powys Whyte, who argues that climate change must be understood as an intensification of colonialism, this paper considers Indigenous North American responses to the threats posed by rising waters. When ways of life are dependent on enduring connections to specific landscapes, changing waterscapes can result in changing forms of community, disrupting how peoples relate to water, lands and local ecosystems. In the fiction of Anishinaabe author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, waterscapes are centred in terms of the connection they provide to Indigenous traditions and forms of knowledge. In order to contemplate the rising waters caused by anthropogenic climate change, Simpson’s collection This Accident of Being Lost draws on Anishinaabe origin stories that begin with the image of a flood. These stories tell of a world being brought into existence through the combined efforts of non-human creatures.

Implicit within Simpson’s fiction is the suggestion that the apocalypse has already happened for Indigenous peoples, placing the ‘event’ of anthropogenic climate change on a continuum of colonial violence. Yet, her stories assert the resilience of Indigenous peoples and cultures, conveying how traditions have survived and adapted over centuries. At the “last big flood”, Simpson writes, “we danced a new world into existence”. While many people are now looking to Indigenous communities in the hope that Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can help humanity to respond to the climate crisis, Simpson’s work crucially rejects the extractive and exoticising dynamic that characterizes the way that Indigenous groups are frequently incorporated into settler society. Further, I suggest that Simpson’s recovery of Anishinaabe stories and ways of knowing refutes colonial definitions of science, instead locating storytelling as central to environmental adaptation behaviours.


Rebecca Macklin is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, University of Pennsylvania, having completed her PhD at the University of Leeds in 2020. Her current research project examines literary and cultural engagements with gender, indigeneity and environmental justice. She has published work in ariel, Interventions and The British Journal of Canadian Studies, and in 2019 co-edited a special issue of Transmotion on Native American Narratives in a Global Context.


6.3 – Science and Fiction in Postcolonial Counterfactuals

Haley G. Toth, University of Leeds:
The Limits of Postcolonial Counterfactual Histories: Responses to Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses (2001) and the BBC television adaptation Noughts + Crosses (2020)

Since its publication in 2001, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses has become highly popular among children and young adults, in part because it has been integrated into the KS3 (ages 11-14) National Curriculum in the UK. The first in a series of novels, Noughts & Crosses strategically inverts events, motifs, and strategies of racial oppression from different historical formations to create a dystopian alternative history in which dark-skinned ‘Crosses’ hold power over light-skinned ‘noughts’. The 2020 BBC television adaptation differs from the novel. Most significantly, where the novel tends to individualise racism, partly because of the YA genre’s emphasis on Bildung, the television series locates racism in academic and intellectual discourse, with allusions to the discourse of racial science. As a result, Noughts + Crosses attracted significant negative media attention. Writing in the Daily Mail, Calvin Robinson criticised the television series’ representation of racism as formalised by institutional, legal, and cultural practices. An avowed fan of the novel, Robinson bemoaned that, in the adaptation, “[e]ven the most liberal black politicians and professors believe white people are sub-human” while “[t]he all-black police treat white youths as vermin and the black-dominated media backs them up”.

Drawing on real responses to the book and television series, this conference paper interrogates the efficacy of each form in responding to and challenging racial science and its cultural, political, and legal manifestations. It identifies a potential limit of both texts and of the genre of postcolonial alternative histories. Specifically, responses suggest that, by foregoing the historical specificity of racism and its ratification in racial science, such counterfactual histories risk inviting readers to entertain the possibility of ‘reverse racism’ and to project a counterfactual future. As one viewer warned of the trailer to Noughts + Crosses: “[it] romanticiz[es] the irrational fear that White people generally have that if Black people were to ever have greater/equal socioeconomic power than Whites, we’d do what they’ve done to us”.


Hayley G. Toth gained her PhD from the University of Leeds in March 2020, and works as a Postdoctoral Teaching Assistant in the School of English at Leeds. She specialises in global reading and print cultures, and has published articles and review essays in Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Modern Language Review, Comparative Critical Studies, and African Identities. She is currently working on a monograph based on her PhD thesis, focusing on professional and non-professional responses to postcolonial literatures.

Alena Cicholewski, University of Oldenburg:
Science as an Empowering/Exploiting Force in Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black (2018)

In this presentation, I will show how Canadian author Esi Edugyan’s novel Washington Black represents science as potentially liberating practice for the black protagonist but simultaneously characterizes the scientific community as a sphere that exploits the labor of marginalized people without acknowledging or recompensating their contributions.

Combining generic influences of (neo-)slave narrative, bildungsroman and adventure writing (Davies 6-7), Washington Black tells the story of the eponymous protagonist who grows up enslaved on a Barbadian plantation where he is recruited by the plantation owner’s scientist brother Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde to help with his experiments. A friendship-like relationship develops between Wash and Titch who eventually helps him to escape. In the course of the novel, Wash becomes a proficient scientific illustrator, autodidactic marine biologist and creator of the first aquarium in London, but his accomplishments are never publicly recognized.

At the center of my analysis is the protagonist’s journey which I suggest exemplifies the struggles of black scientists in white supremacist societies that persist long after emancipation. Bringing Dominic Davies’ ideas concerning Washington Black’s engagement with the (neo-)slave narrative genre in conversation with Lisa Yaszek’s concept of the Black Technoscientific Genius, I aim to disentangle the novel’s representation of science as a potentially empowering force for the protagonist that simultaneously makes him vulnerable to exploitation by a scientific community that is dominated by wealthy white men. Reading Wash as a reinterpretation of the black technoscientific genius trope of earlier Afrofuturist fiction allows me to grasp the emancipatory implications of Wash’s scientific practice, whereas Davies’ suggestion that “Washington buys into [the] idea that his humanity — tautologically synonymous with freedom — might be attained through artistic and scientific achievement” (14) makes its problematic aspects visible.

Through selected close readings, this presentation will set its focus on the protagonist’s self-realization through his engagement with science.


Alena Cicholewski teaches at the Institute for English and American Studies at the University of Oldenburg (Germany), where she completed her PhD in English literature in 2020. In her dissertation “Chronopolitical Interventions in the Afterlife of Slavery: Forms and Functions of Temporal Disruptions in Contemporary Speculative Neo-Slave Narratives,” she analyzes how the incorporation of elements such as time travel, reincarnation or alternate history enables speculative neo-slave narratives to reflect on the past and transform it for the purpose of envisioning different futures by destabilizing conventional notions of temporality and history. Her research interests include, but are not limited to, Afrofuturism, science fiction and young adult literature.