My research concentrates on the relationship between science, literature and the arts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It has two main strands. The first strand concerns the relationship between poetry and evolutionary theory. In Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (2009) I examined how poetry can inform and shape our responses to and understanding of the Darwinian condition. Since then, I have edited a collection of essays on twentieth-century poetry and science and I co-edited The Routledge Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Science (2017) with Professor Sharon Ruston at Lancaster University. I am currently working on a new research project looking at how evolutionary theory and epic literature have drawn on one another over the last 200 years. The second major strand of my research on science and culture stems from an AHRC Science in Culture Fellowship on the Pre-Raphaelites and science (2012-13). For this project, I examined their paintings, sculpture and poetry in the light of their art criticism, which repeatedly invokes science as a model for the arts. I also researched the shaping influence of Pre-Raphaelitism on Victorian science itself, particularly through natural history museum architecture and periodical culture. My book The Pre-Raphaelites and Science has recently been published by Yale University Press. Since 2015, I have been working on a further project on natural history museum architecture specifically, in Britain, Europe and Canada, in collaboration with Professor Janine Rogers at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick. Our project, Building the Book of Nature: The Poetics of the Natural History Museum, has been funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
Both in my research on poetry and in my work on museums, I aim to engage scientists and those interested in science as well as literary scholars. I have worked closely with a number of leading scientific institutions over the course of my research, including the Royal Society, the Natural History Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Royal Ontario Museum, and I am one of the co-authors of a report for the AHRC on the value of humanities research on biology to biologists. Through these cross-disciplinary collaborations, I have been aiming to build up a much richer understanding of the significance of scientific practices and discoveries, and a fuller sense of how the arts can engage constructively with science.