This interdisciplinary one-day conference will bring together perspectives from science and the humanities to explore the significance of Vesuvius as a natural phenomenon, as a cultural object, as a site of imaginative and psychological fascination; its role in the evolution of ideas in literature, art, and science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; its potential for allowing insight into the experience of imagining climate catastrophe and contributing to current environmental debates.
The registration fee includes tea/coffee breaks, lunch, and evening drinks.
The 1822 eruption of Vesuvius fed into contemporary discussions and imaginings on the themes of disaster, change, and the power and beauty of the natural world. It was also a focus for the emerging sciences of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology, both as a natural laboratory and a crucible for innovations in measurement and analysis, and inspired new ideas about the links between volcanoes, Earth’s interior, and deep time. Vesuvius also fired the imaginations of writers and artists to create works exploring the sublime, natural power, colour, ruins, destruction, and Apocalyptic visions. As the best-known volcano in Western culture, well documented since Pliny’s accounts of the 79 AD eruption, Vesuvius also offers a unique record of human responses to and anticipation of disaster. The Herculaneum excavations in the eighteenth century, conditioned by the classical past, intensified interest in subsequent eruptions, especially that of 1822, as evident in the many scientific and creative responses. Writing and art in the period not only allow unusual insight into the complicated responses to disaster but also into the psychology of living with the threat of cataclysm, which may, in turn, shed light on our contemporary responses – rational, creative, psychological – to the impending climate emergency.
To mark the 200th anniversary of this eruption, we will hold a one-day conference in Oxford, on Friday, 21st October 2022, accompanied by a Vesuvius-themed exhibition in the Weston Library from 21 to 24 October, and a ‘Volcano Day’ at Compton Verney on Friday, 28th October 2022. On Monday, 24th October, at the exhibition’s closing event, Dr Will Bowers (Queen Mary University of London) will deliver a public lunchtime lecture exploring the significance of volcanoes in Romantic-Period literature and culture. The lecture will be held in the Weston Lecture theatre at 12.30 p.m.