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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Human Scale: Time on a Human Scale Public Lecture series - Tales of Space and Time: H.G. Wells and Victorian time travel

6th December 2016, 18:15 to 19:15, PG20, Pemberton Lecture Rooms, Palace Green, Professor Simon J James (Durham University)


Professor Simon James' research interests are largely in the literary culture of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century periods, especially late Victorian and Edwardian fiction.

He have co-curated the following exhibitions at Palace Green Library: Outrageously Modern!' Avant-garde magazines 1884-1922, Robots! and Books for Boys: Heroism, Adventure & Empire at the Dawn of the First World War.

Unsettled Accounts: Money and Narrative in the Novels of George Gissing was published by Anthem Press in 2003, the centenary year of Gissing's death. He has also published in The Gissing Journal and in four edited collections; he co-edited, with Christine Huguet, George Gissing and the Woman Question: Convention and Dissent (Ashgate, 2013), and, with Pierre Coustillas, George Gissing's Charles Dickens: A Critical Study.

In 2012, OUP published his second monograph Maps of Utopia: H. G. Wells, Modernity and the End of Culture, the first full-length study of H. G. Wells's aesthetics. He has also edited four H. G. Wells novels for Penguin. Until the 2016 issue, he was the editor of The Wellsian, the scholarly journal of the H. G. Wells Society. He has published with Nicholas Saul a collection of essays on literature and Darwin, The Evolution of Literature.

He has also recently completed articles on Victorian best-selling authors Marie Corelli and George du Maurier, and is presently editing Wells's The First Men in the Moon and Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall for Oxford University Press. Current research also includes a monograph on the male bond in fin-de-siècle literature, and an interdisciplinary project on time, memory and consciousness in Dickens.


Tales of Space and Time: H.G. Wells and Victorian time travel

No body of writing has ever foreseen the future more perceptively than the work of H. G. Wells, and no writer has ever been in more of a hurry to establish the present in the future.

Now remembered as one of the founders of science fiction, in his lifetime Wells was one of the world’s most widely read public intellectuals, and an influential social and political thinker who enthusiastically promoted utopian projects such as world government. Wells’s political beliefs in the inevitability of progress, however, were often in tension with his scientific training, in particular with the degenerative possibilities of Darwinian evolution. Wells’s first full-length work of fiction The Time Machine sees the Time Traveller journeying to the year 802,701 and witnessing the eventual cultural and evolutionary consequences of the nineteenth century’s poor

social organisation; this lecture will consider Wells’s relationship to ideals of progress in different versions of The Time Machine and across his fifty-year writing career.

Time on a Human Scale: modernity and the present in Europe, 1870-1930

On what scale do modern humans experience the flow of time? Can the passage of time in modernity be understood with concepts such as progress, revolutionary rupture or acceleration? Or do modern societies and cultures find a more ‘human’ scale of time – that of the present and near future – more conducive to living together? Many scholars have drawn attention to the phenomenon of ‘social acceleration’ in modern culture. And the dream of a utopian future has been at the heart of the modern imagination. But as these timeframes of the future have challenged and disturbed European society, it is increasingly important to find a way to understand the idea of the present, the most intimate scale of human existence.

From the later nineteenth century, artists, philosophers, politicians and sociologists tried to put human experience back into the modernist vision of change and progress. Pragmatic social reform, sociology, and the management of day-to-day politics reflected a sense of ‘disenchantment’ with the time-frames of social upheaval. But this shift to the present, away from the modernist dream, was in turn shaken up by the experience of World War, mass exile and genocide. Ultimately, these violent ruptures showed that Europe must re-calibrate its vision of time, finding a new ‘human scale’ for social and political change.

With an interdisciplinary workshop on 21st and 22nd September 2016 involving senior and upcoming scholars from around the UK, and a distinguished speaker series commencing 23rd November running through until May 2017 which will bring European scholars to Durham, this project will develop new perspectives on how the modern vision of time was recalibrated. It seeks a new understanding of the ‘human scale’ of time in philosophy, politics, literature, art and sociology. With the period 1870-1930 as its testing-ground, this interdisciplinary project offers both a new temporal perspective on this critical period in European history, and an opportunity to ask how European society in the early twenty-first century might itself benefit from the recalibration of time ‘on a human scale’.

All lectures are open to the public; dates, times, venues and speakers noted in the full calendar of events.

Contact Julian Wright, Department of History, for further information.

Contact for more information about this event.