The Editor of this Site
I am Nicholas Russell, Emeritus Reader in Science Communication at Imperial College London.
I have degrees in Plant Science and History of Technology. My PhD thesis was on ideas about inheritance and their application to breeding improved farm and sporting animals in the Early Modern period. I have published a small number of articles and one book on the history of science and technology.
I taught applied biology and history of science in technical education, which ultimately led a spell of curriculum development with the Nuffield Foundation. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a freelance science and education journalist. I began teaching on postgraduate Science Communication courses at Birkbeck College London in the early 1990s and then became course director for the MSc Programme in Science Communication at Imperial College London. Later I was Head of the small Humanities Department there.
Genesis of This Site about fiction with a Focus on Working Lives
While teaching and thinking about Science Communication (entirely concerned with real science in factual news and documentary genres) I became interested in how science was portrayed in fiction. A large amount of reading ultimately led to a slim trio of academic papers.
It does not seem surprising that there is not much science to be found in fiction; after all most writers are not familiar with its methods and its main outcome of new knowledge is often hard to understand. Nevertheless there are quite a few scientist characters in novels and many authors are concerned about the wider social and cultural implications of scientific knowledge and technological development. But almost entirely missing in fiction is any account of the practice of science; what scientists do all day, how individual scientists relate to each other, and to their social institutions, which both allow and regulate their professional activities.
Then after some reflection it dawned on me that it is not just the ‘business of doing science’ that is missing from fiction, so is the ‘business of doing’ many other professional and skilled jobs. The absence of science is not a special case, the consequence of its inaccessibility, it seems that lack of interest in working lives is a general property of fiction. I began to think about why this is the case (I haven’t come up with answers), to think about having a go at writing about workplaces myself (with no particular success so far), and trying to encourage other professional and aspiring writers to explore this subject area (not many seem interested).
So this is a hard problem. But if it were easy it would not be a challenge! This website is an effort to kick start a potential new genre of fiction, novels and stories that focus on characters’ working lives.
Publications of Potential Relevance
Russell, Nicholas (1986), Like Engend’ring Like. Heredity and Animal Breeding in Early Modern England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Russell, Nicholas (1988), Towards a History of Biology in the 20th Century. Directed Autobiographies as Historical Sources, British Journal for the History of Science, 21/1, 77-89.
Russell, Nicholas (1988), Oswald Avery and the Origin of Molecular Biology, British Journal for the History of Science, 21/4, 393-400.
Nicholas Russell (1993), Independent Discovery in Biology: Investigating Styles of Scientific Research, Medical History, 37/4, 432-441.
Russell, Nicholas (18 February 2006), Thomas Hardy, Richard Proctor and the dialogue of the deaf. How scientists evolved to be resistant to public accountability. LabLit.com the culture of science in fiction and art.
Russell, Nicholas (9 April 2006). Henrik Ibsen and public science policy. Taking STEPS to enhance PEST. LabLit.com the culture of science in fiction and art.
Russell, N.C. (2007), Science and Scientists in Victorian and Edwardian Literary Novels; Insights into the Emergence of a New Profession. Public Understanding of Science, 16, 205-22.
Russell, N.C. (2009), The New Men. Scientists at Work in Popular British Fiction Between the Early 1930s and the Late 1960s. Science Communication, 31(1), 29-56.
Russell, N.C. (2010), Communicating Science. Professional, popular, literary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. In parts IV and V, I review elements of the presentation of science in fiction and drama.
Russell, Nicholas (2014), What Did Scientists Do All Day? Scientists at Work in British Fiction from the 17th to the Mid 20th Century, Working Paper 1, Fiction Meets Science Project, University of Bremen, http//www.fictionmeetsscience.org.