CFP: Sights and Frights

‘Sights and Frights: Victorian Visual Culture, Horror and the Supernatural’

 University of Sussex – 19 June 2014

‘Sights and Frights’ is a one day interdisciplinary conference, aimed at both academics and post-graduate students, whose aim is to explore and interrogate cultural cross-currents between nineteenth-century visual culture, science and social practice, particularly where these concern attitudes to, and instances of, the supernatural and horrific.

The image of Victorian Britain in popular culture is synonymous with discipline, propriety and sentimentality, yet there was also a dark, subversive undercurrent to these mainstream ideals, manifest in such cultural phenomena as Gothic and ghost literature, freak shows, drugs cults and quasi-religious movements such as spiritualism and theosophy.

At the same time, the Victorians were engaged, more than ever before, in attempting to make the invisible world visible to the eye. Improvements in the manufacture of lenses led to the increased circulation of microscopes and telescopes, which, along with the invention of photography, led to a growth in empirical discovery and scientific innovation. The new visual technology of the panorama, diorama and magic lantern also proved to be highly popular forms of entertainment, enabling large numbers of Victorians to witness images, both real and imaginary, never seen before. In particular, the public demonstrated a voracious appetite for visual entertainment relating to ghouls, ghosts and Gothic horrors. Whilst the new ‘magic’ of optical technology appeared to promote scientific claims, it also served to stimulate a belief in the existence of invisible and occult forces.

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers from anybody working in this field.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Spiritualism and spirit photography;
  • Images of demonology and witchcraft;
  • Parapsychology, the paranormal and the occult (i.e. mesmerism, hypnotism, alchemy, astronomy);
  • Death and mourning practices, memento mori, and death masks;
  • The iconography of ghosts, hauntings and ghost stories;
  • The Gothic in literature, art, photography, visual and wider culture;
  • Imaging of supernatural beings such as fairies, vampires etc;
  • Visual entertainment (magic lanterns, phantasmagoria, panorama/diorama) focusing on supernatural subjects;
  • The visual presentation of horrific aspects of science and medicine;
  • Images (photographs, illustrations, art) of opium dens and the drugs underworld; and
  • Violent crime, crime scene photography and the figure of the serial killer.

We are fortunate to have two keynote speakers for this event: Dr Tatiana Kontou of Oxford Brookes University and Professor William Hughes of Bath Spa University.

Please submit proposals of 300 words, along with a short biographical note, by Monday 16 December 2013 to the following email address or use the form on our website If you have any questions about the Conference, or about a potential proposal, please do not hesitate to contact us by email at the above address.


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