19 June 2014
University of Sussex
Keynote speakers: Dr Tatiana Kontou, Oxford Brookes University & Professor William Hughes of Bath Spa University + Magic lantern show by Trevor Beattie
Sponsored by The Centre for Visual Fields at the University of Sussex & supported by the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative (RLI) Fund
‘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. Our provisional programme is now available and you can also register to attend the conference.