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. From 2006 to 2008 I held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship on Darwinism, Poetry and Poetics. My research for this project came out as Darwin’s Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (2009), in which I examined how poetry can inform and shape our responses to and understanding of the Darwinian condition. Since then I have published a number of articles on Victorian poetry and science and an edited collection of essays on twentieth-century poetry and science, and I have recently co-edited The Routledge Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Science (2017) with Professor Sharon Ruston at Lancaster University. My first monograph was on the sonnet sequence in the nineteenth century, and I have written a number of articles too on the sonnet and the epic in this period. I have recently been working on several discrete studies of epic and evolution in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, from Erasmus Darwin to Ezra Pound, as preparation for another large 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 Fellowship I held from 2012 to 2013 to work on the Pre-Raphaelites and science. 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 third monograph The Pre-Raphaelites and Science is being published by Yale University Press in June 2018. Since 2015, I have been working on a further project on natural history museum architecture specifically, in Britain, Ireland 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, is 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 kinds of cross-disciplinary engagements, it is possible to build up a much richer understanding of the significance of scientific practices and discoveries, and a fuller sense too of how the arts can engage constructively with science.