On a chilly January night, 35 delegates from over 15 European universities assembled by the illuminated Brighton pier for the ninth BSHS postgraduate conference. As in previous years, this enjoyable event provided a friendly introduction to the world of academic presentation, questioning, and networking.
Starting with Picasso (Chiara Ambrosio, UCL) and ending with power stations (Sorcha O’Brien, Brighton), the range of topics covered was broad, and demonstrated the strength and diversity of current graduate student scholarship. We appreciated Dickens’ fear of potential purple houses (Charlotte Nicklas, Brighton), found out what happens when you rub a lodestone with garlic (Andrew Campbell, UCL), laughed at cartoons of the babyish Professor Branestawm (Alice Bell, Imperial), as well as experimenting with a replica mathematical compass (courtesy of Benjamin Wardhaugh, Oxford).
Several themes emerged from the rainbow of PowerPoint presentations. Interest in medical history continues, represented by seventeenth-century receipts for the cure of gout (Michelle Di Meo, Warwick), the story of Margery the diabetic dog (Andrew Gardiner, Manchester), and the grotesque pathologies presented to society-goers in Victorian Newcastle (Vicky Blake, Durham). Mathematics featured strongly, including Josipa Petrunic’s (Edinburgh) brave attempt to introduce non-Euclidean space first thing in the morning. A cluster of papers dealt with Italian topics, from the Vatican’s censorship lists (Neil Tarrant, Imperial) to the Futurist ‘Telegraphic style’ (Meg Greenberg, Cambridge). Many students were concerned with communities, be it in the form of provincial geological societies (Leucha Veneer, Leeds) or diverse institutions such as science museums (Louise Thorn, Imperial), Bethlem asylum (Bob Wycherly, Brighton), and the ‘holiday camp’ atmosphere of the Common Cold Unit (Tal Bolton, Kent).
Most papers concentrated on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with some dealing with very recent issues; for example, Sarah Davies (Imperial) chronicled evolving attempts at science communication, from PUS to PEST, and Morgan Clarke (Oxford) introduced Lebanese reactions to the new reproductive technologies. Appropriately, then, the modern motif of computers recurred: Alexi Baker (Oxford) and Gaël Lancelot (Manchester) both argued for the increased use of IT resources in historical research. We even earned our own ‘Home Computing’ certificate, courtesy of Tom Lean’s (Manchester) engaging talk on microcomputer magazines.
Outside the official programme, conversations flowed over tea, coffee, beer and seemingly-endless tapas, and during walks along the pebbly seafront or through the gardens of the ostentatious Royal Pavilion. New collaborations and friendships were forged, and many agreed to meet soon at future history of science events.
Many thanks to Fern Elsdon-Baker, the BSHS programmes committee, and everyone else who helped with the organisation of such a successful conference. As the multicoloured sticks in our conference packs attested, we all agreed that Brighton rocks!
This report first appeared in Viewpoint, the newsletter of the BSHS.