2-day conference, Falmouth University 24-25 July 2014
Prof. Chris Welch – Professor of Astronautics (ISU, Strasbourg), and Vice-President of the British Interplanetary Society
Prof. Philip Gross – Professor of Creative Writing (The University of South Wales, UK), T. S. Eliot prizewinner and author of Deep Field (2011)
Dr. Niamh Downing (Senior Lecturer in English and Writing); Dr. Dario Llinares (Senior Lecturer in Film); Dr. Sarah Arnold (Senior Lecturer in Film)
In his introduction to Space Travel and Culture (2009), David Bell suggests that the neglect of ‘outer space’ in the humanities and social sciences is in part due to the negative stance towards the technological utopianism of the mid-twentieth-century ‘space race’, where ‘Apollo stands now as a future that never happened, or a history that seems not to connect with our present’ (4). For James Hay the emergence or invention of ‘outer space’ as a ‘historical, geographic, and theatrical stage for shaping discourse about rights and responsibilities, war and peace, security and risk’ is profoundly tied to the cold war era (2012: 29). Yet even while the ‘space race’ may be understood as historically and culturally last century, ‘outer space’ continues to serve as a sphere of human technological enterprise, a battleground of political discourse and, a rich source of socio-cultural production.
The critical neglect of ‘outer space’ has been remedied in part by Bell, Denis Cosgrove, Fraser MacDonald, whose work collectively offers the beginnings of a ‘critical geography of outer space’ (MacDonald 593). MacDonald observes that ‘the last fifty years has seen the outer-Earth become an ordinary and accessible sphere of human endeavour, our presence in (and reliance on) space making it one of the enabling conditions for our current mode of everyday life in the west’ (593). Further interventions, such as Alexander Geppert’s, Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century (2012), provide a historiographical perspective, interrogating the ‘heterogeneous array of images and artifacts, media and practices that all aim to ascribe meaning to outer space while stirring both the individual and the collective imagination’ (8). A cross-disciplinary series of essays published in Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries, and Cultures (2012), edited by Lisa Parks and James Schwoch, along with Dario Llinares’ study, The Astronaut: Cultural Mythology and Idealised Masculinity (2011) attempt to bring together geographical, historical and cultural/ media studies approaches to examine astro-culture.
A common aspect of these approaches is an acknowledgement of the need to encompass cultural, filmic, artistic, and literary engagements with outer space as objects of enquiry. The influence of spatial thinking on film and literary scholarship, demonstrated by an increasing concern with urban space, mobility and the proliferation of terms such as ‘cinematic-’ or ‘literary geographies’, has rarely resulted in a turn towards ‘outer space’. Indeed, the arrival of ‘cyberspace’ could arguably be said to have had a profound effect on the cultural understanding and importance of ‘outer space’ in the collective imaginary. Visual and textual scholarship has arguably under-engaged with the fields of cultural geography, cultural history and cultural studies that are re-imagining ‘astroculture’/‘celestial space’ as part of what Cosgrove calls a ‘cosmography for the twenty-first century’ (35).
This 2-day conference seeks to explore the significance of ‘outer space’ in textual and visual culture, including literature (fiction/non-fiction/scientific or legal texts), film (cinema/documentary/youtube/television/NASA or ISS clips or broadcasts), digital media (games/twitter/social media), photography, material culture, ephemera and popular culture.
We especially welcome papers that move beyond the paradigms of science-fiction studies, and engage with geographical or historical approaches to visual or textual cultures of ‘outer space’. We invite papers on the following themes (but not limited to):
Abstracts of 250-300 words for final presentations of 15-20 minutes should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight Monday 28th April. Please include name, affiliation, title of paper, and brief bio. Participants will be notified by Friday 2nd May.
1. An edited journal issue
2. An edited collection of essays. We have had preliminary discussions with a major commercial academic press and aim to have a proposal based on selected abstracts with publishers prior to the conference.