Kate Flint on the Technological History of Photography

Flint image

The Media History seminar & Nineteenth Century Studies seminar are pleased to be holding a special joint session featuring Kate Flint talking about the history of photography. We’ll be meeting at 6pm on Thursday February 8 in the Senate Room at Senate House.

“Permeability, agency, and the technological history of photography”

What happens in the permeable area between the human body and a piece of photographic apparatus? This question is crucial to our histories of nineteenth-century photography, and I approach it in two ways. First, I discuss the conceptual and theoretical challenges that I encountered when writing a cultural history of flash photography. Above all, how to weigh up the merits of narrating this history through chemical and material innovations, when the somatic experience of being photographed, and of the choices involved in using this new technology of producing light, were certainly of equal importance? The presence of certain stray hands in flash photographs – ones that hold the technology involved in igniting powder, above all – lead me to my second line of approach. I consider the usefulness of the hand – both as a physical part of an individual, and as a synecdoche – as a means of approaching the conundrum about the interwoven roles of human and mechanical in writing photographic history. The hand proves to be a rhetorical and literal instrument that not only connects eye, brain, and camera, but that helps to articulate the art vs. mechanical reproduction/commercial activity distinctions that are inseparable from this history.

Kate Flint is Provost Professor of Art History and English at the University of Southern California. She has published The Woman Reader, 1837-1914 (Oxford University Press, 1993), The Victorians and The Visual Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2000), and The Transatlantic Indian 1776-1930 (Princeton University Press, 2008), edited The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature (2012), and written widely on Victorian and modernist fiction, Victorian and early twentieth-century painting and photography, and cultural history.

All are welcome. This seminar is generously supported by the Media History journal, Queen Mary University of London’s English Department, the Institute of English Studies, and the Institute of Historical Research.


David Trotter on Signals, Signs & Literature

Please join us at this year’s first Media History seminar for a talk by David Trotter and a response by Rebecca Roach. We’ll be meeting at 6pm on Tuesday November 28 in Senate House Room G35.

“Signal and Sign: Dickens, Hardy, Mansfield”

This paper will seek to explore a certain divergence, during the final decades of the nineteenth century, between the respective senses/connotations of the terms “signal” and “sign.” It will use ideas derived from the Shannon/Jakobson/Serres axis in order to characterize signalling as a practice, and to argue that literature has on occasion taken a rather more explicit, profound, and rewarding interest in that practice than it is generally thought to have done.

David Trotter is Edward VII Professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge. He is co-editor of “Technographies,” an Open Humanities Press series of books concerned with the interdependences of writing and technology. His most recent book is Literature in the First Media Age: Britain between the Wars (2013).

Rebecca Roach is a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London and part of the ERC-funded project, “Ego-Media: The Impact of New Media on Forms and Practices of Self-Presentation.” Her first book, Mouthing Off: A Literary History of Interviews, discusses the poetics of the interview form and method and is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. Her new project, Machine Talk, examines the interrelation of computing, literature and world literature via metaphors of conversation since the 1950s.

All are welcome. This seminar is generously supported by the Media History journal, Queen Mary University of London’s English Department, the Institute of English Studies, and the Institute of Historical Research.

Media History Seminar Programme 2017-18

We’re pleased to announce the provisional schedule for this year’s Media History Seminar, jointly run by the Institute of English Studies and Institute of Historical Research. The seminars will take place at Senate House starting at 6pm. Everyone is welcome.

“Media History” Programme 2017-18:

Session 1 (Tuesday, 28 November 2017):

Prof. David Trotter (Cambridge), “Media Theory before Media Theory: Lightning as Discursive Catalyst in the Human and Natural Sciences, 1880-1930”

Senate House Room G35

Session 2 (Thursday, 8 February 2018):

Prof. Kate Flint (USC)

Senate House, the Senate Room

(Note: this session will be run with the Nineteenth-Century Studies Seminar.)

Session 3 (Monday, 12 March 2018):

Prof. Aled Gruffydd Jones (EMIET)

Richard Price (British Library)

Senate House Room G35

Session 4 (Friday, 4 May 2018):

Prof. N. Katherine Hayles (Duke), “Cognizing Media:  Shifts, Ruptures, Transformations”

Senate House, the Senate Room

The arrangements for additional seminars will be published in due course. In the meantime, please save the dates.

This seminar is generously supported by the Media History journal, Queen Mary University of London’s English Department, the Institute of English Studies, and the Institute of Historical Research.


Ebooks & Book Launch

We’re pleased to announce a seminar and book launch for this year’s final Media History meeting. The seminar will start at 6pm on Tuesday May 16 in Senate House’s Chancellor’s Hall. The book launch will take place immediately afterwards (7 onwards – feel free to join us anytime).

First up: Simon Rowberry on ‘Resurrecting the Ebook: A media archaeological excavation of the Kindle’s development, 1930-2007.’

Amazon’s launch of the Kindle in 2007 was lauded as the moment when ebooks finally became economically viable for publishers. This success was facilitated by Amazon’s careful analysis of previous failed attempts to commercialize ebooks since the early 1990s, and earlier theoretical models developed since the 1930s. This presentation will explore how the Kindle’s reputation stems from a mixture of adapting pre-existing technology and the right social-technological context rather than a complete revolution in ebook design.

Simon Rowberry is Lecturer in Digital Media and Publishing at the University of Stirling. His research on ebooks and online reading habits has been published in Language and Literature, Convergence and Orbit: Writing Round Pynchon. Simon is currently working on a monograph exploring the development of the Kindle in its first decade.

The seminar will be followed by a book launch to celebrate the publication of Joanne Shattock’s Journalism and the Periodical Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2017).


Newly commissioned essays by leading scholars offer a comprehensive and authoritative overview of the diversity, range and impact of the newspaper and periodical press in nineteenth-century Britain. Essays range from studies of periodical formats in the nineteenth century – reviews, magazines and newspapers – to accounts of individual journalists, many of them eminent writers of the day. The uneasy relationship between the new ‘profession’ of journalism and the evolving profession of authorship is investigated, as is the impact of technological innovations, such as the telegraph, the typewriter and new processes of illustration; and contributors go on to consider the transnational and global dimensions of the British press and its impact in the rest of the world. As digitisation of historical media opens up new avenues of research, the collection reveals the centrality of the press to our understanding of the nineteenth century.

The book will be introduced by Michael Slater, author of Charles Dickens (2009), Douglas Jerrold (2002) and editor of the Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens’ Journalism (1994-2000).

All welcome. Further information about the seminar is available through the Institute of Historical Research and the Institute of English Studies.



The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine

Please join us at the next Media History seminar for a presentation by Marianne Van Remoortel and a response by Birgit Van Puymbroeck. The meeting will take place at 6pm on Tuesday February 28 in Senate House Room 243. All welcome.

“Pioneer or Copycat? The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine in its European Context”

The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine (1852–79) was the first affordable British women’s periodical to turn fashion into a major selling point. It earned its publisher, Samuel Beeton, a lasting reputation as a trailblazer in the fashion magazine industry. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for instance, describes him “one of the pioneers of popular print.” In her 2006 biography of Beeton’s wife Isabella, Kathryn Hughes has started to challenge this image of the solitary business genius, demonstrating that she played a crucial role in his publishing firm, not only as author of the successful Book of Household Management (1859–61) but also as editor of the EDM. This presentation will build on the earlier work by arguing, in turn, that the Beetons’ feats as a publishing power couple need to be seen in the larger context of the transnational network in which they participated.

Marianne Van Remoortel is Assistant Professor at the Department of Literary Studies, Ghent University. She is the author of Lives of the Sonnet, 1787-1895: Genre, Gender and Criticism (Ashgate, 2011) and Women, Work and the Victorian Periodical: Living by the Press (Palgrave 2015; runner-up 2015 Robert and Vineta Colby Scholarly Book Prize), and editor-in-chief of the Journal of European Periodical Studies. Her ERC Starting Grant project “Agents of Change: Women Editors and Socio-Cultural Transformation in Europe, 1710-1920” takes her research on the periodical press into a new transnational collaborative direction.

Birgit Van Puymbroeck is Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) at Ghent University, Belgium. Her research interests include modernism, networks, periodicals, and radio. Her work has appeared in scholarly journals such as PMLA, Modern Language ReviewEnglish Literature in Transition (1880-1920)NeophilologusBrontë Studies, and Tijdschrift voor tijdschriftstudies, as well as in essay collections published by Palgrave and Bloomsbury. She is editor-in-chief of DiGeStJournal of Diversity and Gender Studies. In Spring 2017, she will be a visiting researcher at Queen Mary University of London.

Further information about the seminar is available through the Institute of Historical Research and the Institute of English Studies.


Jane Chapman on Comparative and Interdisciplinary Media History

Please join us at the next Media History seminar for a presentation by Professor Jane Chapman and a response by Dr Tom Wright. The meeting will take place at 6pm on Tuesday January 24 in Senate House Room 243. All welcome.

“Double the Work, but Double the Scope? Researching Comparative and Interdisciplinary Media History”

Comparative media history using content from beyond the English-speaking world and the British Empire is still relatively unexplored as a field for publication. This presentation proposes a way forward, by identifying the existence of transnational themes that emerged from the reality of print communications during the long 19th century: modernism, “orientalist” trade, cultural and scientific exchange, design, and fashion. Focusing on Germany, France and Japan, the pros and cons of an interdisciplinary approach are discussed in relations to science periodicals in Europe, women’s uses of periodicals in the late nineteenth century, periodicals for ex-patriot communities and satirical publications.

Jane Chapman is Professor of Communications, and a comparative media historian, specializing in late 19th– and early 20th-century newspaper history — both illustrative and textual. She is the author of ten books, including Comparative Media History (Polity, 2005), and of more than 30 articles and book chapters. She is currently running 3 AHRC grants on the First World War. She is a member of AHRC and ESRC Peer Review Colleges, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a research associate at Wolfson College Cambridge, and a long term visiting Professor at Macquarie University, Sydney. Her University of Lincoln staff profile can be found here.

Respondent: Tom F. Wright is a Lecturer in English and American Studies at the University of Sussex. He is the author of Lecturing the Atlantic: Speech, Print and an Anglo-American Commons 1830-1870 (2017) and editor of The Cosmopolitan Lyceum: Lecture Culture and the Globe in Nineteenth Century America (2013). He has published numerous articles on nineteenth-century media, literary and cultural history, and is completing the volume on Orality for Routledge’s New Critical Idiom series. His broader project is a book tracing the emergence of the idea of charisma in the transatlantic long nineteenth century. His Sussex profile can be found here.


BBC Radio and Television between the Wars

The next Media History seminar features Amanda Wrigley & John Wyver talking about BBC radio and television between the wars. The meeting will take place at 6pm on Tuesday November 8 in Senate House Room 243.

Dr Amanda Wrigley, ‘BBC Radio as “a new and exciting means of education” in the interwar years’

Amanda Wrigley is Mid-Career Research Fellow in the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research at Birmingham City University; she is also Research Fellow in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster, where she has worked with John Wyver since 2011 on the AHRC-funded Screen Plays project and its impact. She is a cultural historian working on the interconnecting histories of theatre, television, radio and the printed word in twentieth-century Britain, focusing on radio and television programmes which adapt and create dramatic and literary forms, especially those which engage with the literature and history of ancient Greece, with a special interest in the experience of the listener, viewer and reader and the educational dimensions of mass media. Her latest book, published by OUP in 2015, is Greece on Air: Engagements with Ancient Greece on BBC Radio, 1920s-1960s. She is writing a companion volume on the production history of Greek plays on British television from 1958. Website: https://amandawrigley.wordpress.com.

John Wyver, ‘The arts on early television and the BBC’s cultural mission in the interwar years’

Regular BBC Television transmissions began on 2 November 1936, and until the war forced the closure of the Alexandra Palace studios at the start of September 1939 there was a daily service of music, drama, dance and talks. Almost nothing of this extensive output was recorded but much of it is documented in Radio TimesThe Listener and the BBC Written Archives at Caversham. These sources allow us to explore the programme content in detail, including television’s extensive engagement with the arts in these years.

This paper offers an overview of the extensive and eclectic cultural output, which included several hundred dramas, numerous concerts of classical music and dance performances, and on-screen appearances by prominent visual artists, architects, writers and film makers. The programming extended the BBC’s mainstream understanding of its public service mission under Lord Reith but at the same time, perhaps because television was a marginal service with a very small metropolitan audience, it included a number of experimental broadcasts exploring themes and ideas often associated with interwar modernism in Britain.

John Wyver is Principal Research Fellow in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster. He was Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded research project Screen Plays: Stage Plays on British Television, 2011-15. He is Director of Screen Productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, advising on its strategy for broadcast and screen versions of its productions, and he produces their Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcasts. For the past thirty years he has also run the independent media producer and publisher Illuminations which creates and distributes innovative television. He has published widely on the arts, especially theatre plays, on television and his current book project is RSC Shakespeare on Screen for Bloomsbury’s Arden Shakespeare series, to appear in 2018. Website: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/about-us/our-people/directory/wyver-john.

All are welcome. Further information about the seminar is available through the Institute of Historical Research (http://www.history.ac.uk/) and the Institute of English Studies (http://www.ies.sas.ac.uk/).