University of Birmingham academic wins book prize

John Holmes, Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at the University of Birmingham, has been awarded the British Society for Literature and Science (BSLS) book prize for the best book in the field of literature and science published in 2018 for his book The Pre-Raphaelites and Science (Yale University Press).

John Holmes’ book was selected by a prize review committee consisting of BSLS executive committee members and scholars who presented the award at a gala dinner in April.

This revelatory book traces how the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their close associates put scientific principles into practice across their painting, poetry, sculpture, and architecture. In their manifesto, The Germ, the Pre-Raphaelites committed themselves to creating a new kind of art modelled on science, in which precise observation could lead to discoveries about nature and humanity. In Oxford and London, Victorian scientists and Pre-Raphaelite artists worked together to design and decorate natural history museums as temples to God’s creation.

At the same time, journals like Nature and the Fortnightly Review combined natural science with Pre-Raphaelite art theory and poetry to find meaning and coherence within a worldview turned upside down by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Offering reinterpretations of well-known works by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, and William Morris, this major revaluation of the popular Victorian movement also considers less-familiar artists who were no less central to the Pre-Raphaelite project. These include William Michael Rossetti, Walter Deverell, James Collinson, John and Rosa Brett, John Lucas Tupper, and the O’Shea brothers, along with the architects Benjamin Woodward and Alfred Waterhouse.

Professor Holmes says: "I am delighted to have been awarded the BSLS Book Prize for The Pre-Raphaelites and Science. It is an honour to have my work recognised in this way by an academic community with which I have been closely involved for over ten years, and which has done so much to foster research in the field of literature and science. "

is ranked among the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

was founded in 2005 who aim to promote and advance the study of all aspects of the relationships between literature and science. They are a worldwide network of scholars, scientists, students and teachers, working on texts and cultures throughout history, from the ancient world to the present day, and on science in all its forms, including medicine and technology.

completed his doctorate on ‘The Victorian Sonnet Sequence and the Crisis of Belief’ in 2001. After teaching briefly for the Open University, he was a lecturer in English literature at the University of Reading from 2001 - 2015. Since 2015 he has been working as Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at the University of Birmingham.

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