CfP Scale of Nature: Long Nineteenth-Century Culture and the Great Chain of Being

One-Day Conference. Saturday 18 March 2017
Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies and Centre for Visual Arts and Culture
Durham University, UK

Keynote Address: Professor Peter Bowler (Queen’s University, Belfast)


Amongst the paradigms current in nineteenth-century culture the Great Chain of Being frequently held pride of place, vying against Darwinian approaches in what historian of science Peter Bowler described broadly as the ‘non-Darwinian revolution’. Arming scientists with a scale of nature - a fixed hierarchical arrangement of the natural world from the lowest rudimentary forms of life to its apogee in man – the Great Chain helped Victorian Britain reassert order and control in the face of perceived threats by the inherent randomness, chance and uncertainty of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Paradoxically, in the battle between The Great Chain and Darwin, it was the Great Chain of Being that was frequently the fittest survivor. This one-day interdisciplinary conference examines this phenomenon, exploring Britain’s understanding of the Scale of Nature by investigating the Great Chain of Being in the context of the pre-, non- and post-Darwinian as well as Darwinian evolutionary culture in the long nineteenth century. It pays particular attention to visual representations of natural hierarchies.

We invite academic and institutional staff, postgraduates and other researchers to submit abstracts of 300 words for 20-minute individual papers, and 500 words for panels (three papers). Topics might include, but are not limited to:

• The history of The Great Chain as diversely and divergently reinterpreted by nineteenth-century figures
• Visual and spatial representations of The Great Chain of Being and competitor evolutionary ideas, as found in drawings, paintings, book illustration, cinema, photography, sculpture, architecture, museum design, exhibition and taxidermy spaces, and zoological gardens
• Implications for literary contexts, such as fiction, poetry, history and biography
• Its cultural influence in the arts more broadly, including evolutionary impacts in theatre, dance and music and other performance-related activities

Abstract Submission Information
Please send abstracts to Bennett Zon at cncs[at] by Friday 29 July 2016
Confirmation of acceptances will be made by Tuesday 1 September 2016. 

For more information, please contact Bennett Zon at bennett.zon[at] or 
Ludmilla Jordanova at ludmilla.jordanova[at]

Further information about the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies can be found here
Further information about the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture may be found here.

This event is supported by the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University