PhD project

'A Vernacular Scientific Imaginary?' The Origins and Impacts of Science Fiction Stories and Strips in British Comics in the First Half of the 20C

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Application deadline

28 February 2023

About the project

This project will explore the idea of a distinctively indigenous and responsive tradition of popular SF aimed at a younger readership before the widespread influence of imported US comics and pulp SF after WW II. It would analyse the extent to which this tradition remediated Britain’s legacy and ongoing practice of literary ‘Scientific Romance’ and stimulated its audience’s interest in topical scientific developments.

The key topoi and illustration styles of Scientific Romance from the late 19C onwards – future wars, alien invasion, space and time travel, colonialism, biological modification, climate change, secular apocalypse, lost world and hollow earth themes – are all reworked in the Science Fiction narratives of D.C. Thomson’s ‘Big Five’ boys comics – Adventure, Rover, Hotspur, Wizard and Skipper - from the inter-War period, as well as in rival ventures by Pearson’s and Heinemann – Scoops and Tales of Wonder. Both Pearson's and Heinemann had been instrumental in publishing Scientific Romance stories in magazines and book form. Such illustrated formats are clearly influential on the initially text-heavy narratives of British comics, which gradually evolved into the image-driven strip sequence. Equally, in the Big Five, although SF themes were often introduced through hybridisation with adventure genres such as war, Western, school, sport and police stories, they similarly drew on the Scientific Romance and only more gradually on American influences. Hence such publications played a key part in shaping Britain’s ‘vernacular scientific imaginary’, projecting the hopes and anxieties of the time for several generations of young readers, before the UK developed its own dedicated SF periodicals aimed at older audiences in the post-War period. This trend took place during a tumultuous phase of transition in British and world history, from the Great Depression, the build up to the Second World War and into post-War imperial decline, decolonisation and social reconstruction. Analysing it would thus make an invaluable contribution to understanding a crucial period in cultural history as inflected through one of Britain’s most widely read and influential media.

The project is based on (but by no means limited to) a number of key Dundee specialisms and resources. These include a supervisory team who are world-leading on the Scientific Romance and British Comics history (Dr Keith Williams and Professor Chris Murray), as well as the unique resources of the D.C. Thomson archives.

How to apply

  1. Email Dr Keith Williams (k.b.williams@dundee.ac.uk) to:
    • send a copy of your CV
    • discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date)
  2. After discussion with Dr Williams, formal applications can be made via our direct application system. Apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in English.
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Second supervisor