Conference | Imagineers in Circus and Science: Scientific Knowledge and Creative Imagination

Conference | Imagineers in Circus and Science: Scientific Knowledge and Creative Imagination
Photo by Jurgen Burgin



The Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University presents

Imagineers in Circus and Science: Scientific Knowledge and Creative Imagination


Tuesday 3 - Thursday 5 April 2018


Scientists seek to investigate the ways in which nature works and to ask how humanity can best comprehend different aspects of the universe. By challenging conventional wisdom, scientists can act as rebels against the status quo and common sense. In cultural and fictional contexts, they may appear and behave like artists: creative, skilled craftsmen; ‘imagineers’ and bewildering performers. These fictional scientists do not merely domesticate the unknown and the uncanny, they also invent and stage it.

One of the most productive breeding grounds for the invention, amalgamation, and staging of scientific knowledge and creative imagination has been the circus and related cultural phenomena, such as freakshows, carnivals, and 19th-century ‘scientific’ museums. These sensational, kaleidoscopic institutions present(ed) manifold wondrous exhibits, including automatons, wax figures, and mummies, but they also presented scientific discoveries. Barnum’s American Museum, for example, made hundreds of previously unseen specimens accessible to a broad audience.

Exhibitions and shows of this type united science with mystery, acted as mediators of knowledge, and were often the primary public source of information about the current state of scientific research. They are reminders that science and its pursuits are matters of perspective, and the product and producer of good stories. What do these stories tell us about the “two cultures” of the humanities and science?

Conference speakers

  • Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Emory University)
  • Professor Jane Goodall (University of Western Sydney)
  • Professor Richard Weihe (Accademia Teatro Dimitri/SUPSI Verscio, Switzerland)
  • Professor Peta Tait (La Trobe University)
  • Professor Graham Durant AM (Questacon/ANU)

While this conference is concerned primarily with culture and literature, we envisage it as a multi-disciplinary event and will welcome proposals from any disciplinary perspective.

The conference will be held at the Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, from the 3rd to the 5th of April, 2018. 


For inquiries about the conference, please email Dr Jürgens or


Date & time

Tue 03 Apr 2018, 9am – Thu 05 Apr 2018, 5pm


Sir Roland Wilson Building


Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
Professor Jane Goodall
Professor Richard Weihe
Professor Peta Tait
Professor Graham Durant AM


Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens
6125 6767


Updated:  27 March 2018/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications