Dr Alison Wood, CRASSH



Biographical Information

Alison is currently Mellon/Newton Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), 2013-16

Her work focuses on the culture, practices and legacies of intellectual labour in nineteenth century Britain, particularly in relation to science post-Darwin, epistemic and religious doubt, and the institutional transformations related to both. Increasingly, her interests also include the structure and function of contemporary universities.

Before joining CRASSH Alison was Research Associate in English for the 'Religion and the Idea of a Research University' Project  at the Faculty of Divinity, also at Cambridge. She read English and History at the University of Adelaide and worked as a musician for several years before earning a PhD in English at King's College London (KCL).  Her doctorate examined the changing culture of British natural history – its institutions, objects, attractions and people – through the first sustained study of the influential taxonomist, priest and Darwinist TRR Stebbing (1835-1926).

She has held visiting scholarships to the Australian National University and the Yale Centre for British Art; facilitated cross-sector, interdisciplinary research initiatives – including a research cluster on Healthy Ageing (Adelaide, 2004-7), the the Centre for Life Writing Research (KCL 2008-10) and the Commodities and Culture Leverhulme Network (KCL 2010-11) – and co-directed a British Academy funded project ‘Negotiating Religion in the Contemporary University' (Cambridge & UCL, 2012-13), experiences which have fostered her enduring interest in both interdisciplinary work and the structure and function of Universities. She currently serves as a member of the University of Cambridge Researcher Development Committee, the Pro-Vice Chancellor’s Working Group on Post-Doctoral Affairs, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Research Careers and Training Advisory Group.

At CRASSH she co-convenes the Post-doctoral Forum (2014-16); founded and co-convenes the ‘Idea of a University Reading Group’; and convenes the CRASSH ‘Becoming a Research Leader’ Programme (2015).  She is also a supervisor for the Faculty of Divinity's ‘Moral Themes in Literature’ Paper (Part II, Paper B13); has supervised the Faculty of English Part 1 Paper 4 (1830-1910); and is a Research Associate of Lucy Cavendish College.

Research Interests

Alison's research and writing coalesce around three strands:

  • Intellectual culture in relation to religion in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, with particular reference to the uses of conversion narratives and the work of George Eliot, Mary Ward, Leslie Stephen, TH Huxley, Thomas Hardy, Rose Macaulay and Edmund Gosse.
  • The changing culture of British taxonomy and natural history - its associations, objects, attractions and people - especially in the context of religious and institutional transformation after Darwin
  • The idea of a University past and present, with particular interests in British Universities 1850-1920; the history of modern scholarly disciplines; and contemporary University policy and govenance.

Selected Publications

As Editor: (with Clare Brant) Special issue of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies ‘The Work of Life-Writing’ 25.2 (Winter 2010), with Introduction.


‘Secularism and the Uses of Literature: English at Cambridge, 1890-1920’. Modern Language Quarterly 75.2 (2014): 259-277.

‘Darwinism, Biology, and Mythology in the ‘Today and Tomorrow’ series, 1923-1929’. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 34.1 March (2009): 22-31.

Shorter Pieces

‘An Energetic Carcinologist: T.R.R. Stebbing and his Natural History Societies’. Transactions and Proceedings: Torquay Museum Society (2013): 99-108.

‘Evil Envoy’. Review of Sax Rohmer’s The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu, The Hand of Dr. Fu-Manchu (Titan, reissued 2012). Times Literary Supplement 14 December 2012.

Short essays (eg. ‘A Global University Summit’, ‘Knowing About Religion and the Secular Age’, ‘Chaos Control… you like, you like?’) for the Religion and the Idea of a Research University Project blog (2011-2013). http://www.ideaofauniversity.com/about/authors/9-alison-wood/

‘The Royal Society and Twentieth Century Science’. Viewpoint (Newsletter of the British Society for the History of Science). No.92, June 2010.

Selected Presentations

Invited paper, ‘Evolutionary Conversions'. The Darwins Reconsidered: Evolution, Writing and Inheritance in the Works of Erasmus and Charles Darwin, University of Roehampton, 4 September 2015.

‘The Afterlives of Newman’s Idea of the University’. North American Victorian Studies Association Annual Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii 9-12 July 2015.

Invited speaker and workshop leader, The Professionalization Workshop NAVSA 2015: a programme of workshops, mentoring and seminars for graduate and early career researchers. Leader of special sessions on ‘Proposals and Grant Writing’, ‘Paths Post-PhD in Arts and Humanities’ and ‘Alt-Ac Careers’. In association with the North American Victorian Studies Association annaul conference, Hawaii (6 July -12 July 2015).

Invited respondent. Fictions of the Past: The Biblical and Classical Past of the Nineteenth-Century Novel, Symposium. CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 6 November 2014.

Invited keynote. ‘Sustainable Paths Post-PhD’. Professionalisation Workshop, British Association for Victorian Studies Conference, University of Kent, 5-7 September 2014.

Invited paper. 'The Language of Excellence and Post-Doctoral Researcher Development'. Association of Commonwealth Universities Conference: Steering Institutional Strategy, the critical roles of HR and PR, University of Glasgow, 13-16 July 2014.

Invited keynote panelist. 'Have Universities Lost Control of the Own Destiny?'  Association of Commonwealth Universities Centenary Conference 'Future Forward: Taking Charge of Change', London, 16-18 October 2013.

‘Local Amateurs, Global Professionals: late nineteenth-century taxonomy and the idea of intellectual labour in the age of profusion’. Conference of the North American Victorian Studies Association/British Association for Victorian Studies/Australasian Victorian Studies Association. Venice, 3-6 June 2013.

Invited lecture. ‘TRR Stebbing and His Natural History Societies’. Torquay Museum Society, 23 April 2013.

‘From Faith to Reason: Conversion Narratives and the Value of Doubt’. British Association for Victorian Studies conference, University of Sheffield, 30 August-1 September 2012.

Invited keynote paper. ‘Religion, Reform and the Context of ‘English’ at Cambridge’. Lessons from the Past: a Seminar on the Emergence of University English, University of Wollongong, 27 April 2012

‘Zoological Things, Global Traffic and the Idea of a Secular Clerisy’. Commodities and Culture Leverhulme Network Workshop, New York University, 8-10 December 2011.

Invited paper. 'Image and Wonder: Stebbing, Gosse and the Miraculous Lens'. Shows of London Symposium, King's College London. 7 November 2010, and to the London Nineteenth Century Seminar, Institute of English Studies, London, 19 Feb 2011.

'Small Wonders: Zoological Microscopy and the Writing of Nature in Late Nineteenth Century Britain'. North Amercian Victorian Studies Association Conference, Montreal, 11-13 November 2010.

'Text, Image and Loveliness: the Art of Depiction in Late Victorian Taxonomic Zoology'. British Society for Literature and Science, University of Northumbria, 8-10 April, 2010.

'How Nature 'Up Close' Became Lovely: the Aesthetics of Late Victorian Taxonomic Zoology'. Natural Dialogues, Yale Centre for British Art, Yale University, 21-22 February 2009.

Invited paper. 'Responding to Darwin: the Reverend Thomas Stebbing (1835-1926), clergyman, naturalist and apologist'. Natural History Cabinet, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, 19 Jan 2009.

'Darwin, Stebbing and the Pacific'. Biannual PhD Workshop in Environmental History, Australian National University, 27-31 Oct 2008.