Literature, History, and Cognition

Special Session, Society for Literature and Science Annual Convention
"Thinking the Brain and Beyond"
University of Florida, November 5-8 1998

Organized by Alan Richardson, Boston College


Literary theorists and critics have begun the exciting and important task of forging a dialogue with researchers in the cognitive neurosciences. Recent work by literary scholars like Holland, Tsur, Turner, Spolsky, and Scarry, as well as by their counterparts in cognitive psychology (Gibbs, Rubin), artificial intelligence (Hobbs, Simon), philosopy of mind (Dennett, Johnson), and linguistics (Lakoff, de Beaugrande) has amply demonstrated the promise of such dialogue for research on both sides of the traditional literature/science divide. Most of the relevant work to date, however, has tended to address in synchronic fashion issues like narrative poetics, figurative language, prosody, literariness, imagery, and the like. There are as yet scarcely any notable attempts to bridge the concerns of literary history with those of the cognitive neurosciences. This lack is doubly unfortunate. It may be taken as implying that historicist perspectives are incompatible with paradigms or models drawn from the cognitive neurosciences, although this is anything but the case; and it may also discourage attempts to bring historicist and cognitive approaches into constructive engagement simply from the dearth of examples. This session on "Literature, History, and Cognition" is intended both to bring this problem into focus and to propose some tentative ways forward.


  1. "Toward a Neural Historicism," Alan Richardson, Boston College.

  2. "Psychic Unity and Local Innovation: The Culture of Sensibility," Francis Steen, UC Santa Barbara.

  3. "Cognitive Historicism: 'Art Manufactures' and the Exhibition of 1851," Joseph Bizup, Yale University.


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