Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Asha Hornsby

Asha Hornsby obtained a joint-honours BA in English & History from Exeter University, an MA in English Literary Studies from Durham University, and a PhD from UCL. Her thesis, The Pen and the Scalpel: Literature and Vivisection, 1875-1912, was funded by the AHRC, and represents the first sustained literary-cultural study of nineteenth-century animal experimentation. She has published on the subject in Victorian Review and will submit a monograph this summer. A second major research strand concerns the social and cultural impact of nineteenth-century naval medicine. She currently teaches literature and academic writing for UCL’s English department, UCL’s ‘Writing Lab’ and Queen Mary University’s English & Drama department.

Project Description

Asha’s research project, Contagious Crossings, anchors nineteenth-century ocean-literatures to the medical humanities via a greatly-underused resource: naval surgeons’ diaries. These personal and diagnostic journals, many of which remain unpublished, have been confined to medical, military and family histories. Yet recent studies in both life-writing and the medical humanities reveal how autobiographical texts (including diaries) share many literary strategies with their fictional counterparts. She opens the writings of ships’ doctors up to new audiences and interpretations by examining them through a literary-cultural lens, revealing how they readily intersperse the documentary and imaginary, aesthetic and epistemic. Reading these alongside contemporary writings about the sea shows that shared preoccupations with porous bodies and common anxieties about disease transmission bubble just beneath the surface. By embracing a transnational perspective and by navigating reciprocal currents of meaning streaming between medico-scientific and fictional sources, she investigates how international seafaring has left literary-cultural and epidemiological impressions along and beyond the shoreline.