CFP: Abnormality and the Abnormal in the Nineteenth Century, Durham

Date: 7th May 2015

Location: Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies, Durham University, UK (in association with Newcastle University and Northumbria University, supported by British Society for Literature and Science)


Keynote address: Professor Martin Willis, Chair of Science, Literature and Communication, University of Westminster

‘Neither moral philosophy nor poetry condescends to the monstrous or the abnormal,’ Thomas De Quincey, 1848.

The words ‘abnormal’ and ‘abnormality’ first emerged in the nineteenth century; contemporary usage reflects their pejorative connotations.

The first recorded use, in 1817, contrasts ‘abnormal’ with ‘healthy,’ suggesting that ‘abnormality’ was initially a medical term. In medical discourse it became an ostensibly objective descriptor – in 1847 The Lancet defined abnormality as ‘something that is abnormal; an instance of irregularity.’ However, the term eventually came to mean an aberration from any kind of ‘normal’ concept, behaviour, expectation, or way of being: indeed, the construction of ‘normal,’ and the values associated with normality, is itself implicated in nineteenth century constructions of the abnormal.

This one-day interdisciplinary conference aims to explore categorisations, explanations, and implications of abnormality in the long nineteenth century, asking what the abnormal can tell us about long nineteenth century constructions of aberration, deviancy, and normality.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Measuring and/or quantifying (ab)normality
  • Abnormality as/and spectacle
  • Decadence, deviance and abnormal tastes
  • Degeneration of behaviour and race
  • Imperialistic perceptions of the ‘other’
  • Locating & segregating the abnormal

We invite proposals for 20-minute individual papers, or for 1 hour three-paper themed panels, from postgraduates of all disciplines and stages. Please send abstracts (individual papers 300 words / panels 500 words) including the title, all names, affiliations and a contact email address, as a Word or .pdf document, to the conference organisers at with the subject heading ‘CNCS PG Conference: Abnormality’.

The deadline for submission is 16th January 2015.

This conference is organised by the Postgraduate Representatives for the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies at Durham University. For more information about CNCS, please visit our website or follow us on Twitter (@durhamcncs).

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