Dr Ben Carver

Job title
Associate Lecturer in English
Email
ben.carver@falmouth.ac.uk

I have been moving to and away from Cornwall for most of my life. My periods away have included a first degree at St Andrews University, living and working in Warsaw and Lisbon and an Atlantic crossing in a small boat. Reading widely has been a lifelong commitment and my interests, which led me through a Masters degree and PhD, have settled on the literature, technology, media and intellectual history of the nineteenth century. I have been working as an associate lecturer at Falmouth University since the beginning of 2014 and am working on my next research project, which will be a media history of conspiracy in the nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.

Qualifications

YearQualificationAwarding body
2013
Doctor of Philosophy in English
University of Exeter
2009
Master of Arts, English Studies
University of Exeter
1996
MA English LIterature
University of St Andrews

Honours and awards

YearDescription
2009

MA Distinction, with Dean's commendation

Research interests

Research interests and expertise

I am currently working on a new monograph project, provisionally titled History’s Plots: Conspiracy and the Public Sphere in the Long Nineteenth Century. This will be an examination of the proliferation of conspiracies (in their familiar form as theories and their representations in fiction) in the long nineteenth century. It will be the first study to argue that the development of conspiracy theories can be understood as a media history, and to examine how European and American representations of conspiracy were shaped by expanding cultures of print and communications technology.

My research project will articulate nineteenth-century conspiracies with three media-historical contexts, namely: the new accessibility of parliamentary records and state documents in Britain from the early nineteenth century that enabled archival discovery of ‘secret’ histories; the expanded newspaper networks in the late century and the use of invasion narratives to ‘form’ communities of readers through the presentation of imaginary threats; finally, the dependence of financial institutions and police force of the period upon communication technology which could be ‘hacked’ to simulate threats, or from which phantasmal conspiracies seemed to arise independently.

History’s Plots will coordinate each of these contexts with a historical orientation rather than identify conspiracy theory with the sense of imminent civilizational collapse;  the form will be shown also to express romantic ideas of exploring of the past and the sense of history as overburdened and exhausted. My research will not be structured according to the most familiar conspiraces of the nineteenth century (Jewish, Jesuit, slave-power and Masonic plots), but will develop its claims by charting the phases of media and communication systems which constructed an public that was increasingly exposed to information and the speculative, subversive interpretation of that information. My argument - provisional at this point - is that the formation of a public sphere, which Habermas identifies with practices of reading and writing, authorship and anonymity, also facilitated the formation of a secretive space, founded on those very same practices; furthermore, this ‘secret sphere’ of conspiracy stood as a paradoxical counterpoint to, even a critique of, accounts of media history as liberal and progressive. While avoiding teleological interpretations of the past, I wish to explore the ‘pre-history’ of the current proliferation of conspiracy theories in networked environments such as the internet.

This project continues the research interests that motivated my thesis, Arranging the Past, Reconsidering the Present: The Emergence of  Alternate History in the Nineteenth Century. My PhD was supported by a departmental studentship from the University of Exeter and supervised by Professor Regenia Gagnier and Dr Alex Murray; it was completed in January 2013. The framing context for this investigation was the changes to historical knowledge during the nineteenth century, within the broad passage from a romantic to a positivist discipline. These changes to history-writing overlap, of course, with other disciplines, and the chapters of my PhD deal with the practice of alternate-historical writing (in which historical ‘what-ifs’ are explored) in different disciplinary fields: as a quality that runs through astronomical speculation during the plurality-of-worlds debate, as a consequence of the excesses of sensational journalism (in particular in association with the figure of Napoleon), and in the interpretation (and fabulations) of classical history; these chapters dealt with English, and French-language primary texts in roughly equal numbers. My last chapter, which will be forthcoming in a Palgrave-Macmillan collection, examined the presence of historical alterity in fin-de-siècle utopian and dystopian literature, specifically in Richard Jefferies’s After London, William Morris’s News from Nowhere and H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine.

I am in the final stages of preparing my monograph, which will include two new chapters - one on the relationship between alternate history (with its interest in bifurcation and extinction) and evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century, focusing particularly on late-century ‘lost-world’ narratives; the other is on early American alternate histories (in the work of Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne (arguably), Castello Holford and Edward Everett Hale) - a subject on which virtually no scholarly research has been published.

I would be happy to supervise graduate students working on topics related to nineteenth-century science or utopian fiction or media history.

Research topics

alternate history
cultural theory
historiography
media history
nineteenth-century intellectual history
transmediation
utopian thought

Research outputs

Events

YearDescription
2013

‘Promised Lands: Utopian Topography in Morris and Wells.’ Social Fabrics: Utopias and Dystopias in relation to the Work of William Morris and H. G. Wells (September 2013)

2012

‘Lessons from Non-history: Excavating Value from Apocryphal Pasts in Disraeli and Renouvier.’ British Association for Victorian Studies annual conference, University of Sheffield

2011

‘Blanqui and a Decadent Poetics of History’. Decadent Poetics conference, University of Exeter

2011

‘Strange New Today’: Victorians, Crisis and Response (co-organiser), University of Exeter / Devon and Exeter Institution

Teaching

Areas of teaching

adaptation studies
historiography
media history
nineteenth-century intellectual history
nineteenth-century literature
Utopian and science-fiction literature

Courses taught

ENG275 Representations of Utopia
ENG 272 Literature and Screen
EGH120 Introduction to Cultural Theory

Policy engagement within Cornwall

I am a core member of the Independent School of Art, a platform for free discussion and critical thought. We organise a monthly series of public lectures on the subjects of Art, Culture, Politics and Technology.

Professional engagement