About Matt Rubery

I'm an audiobook historian and Reader in Nineteenth-Century Literature at Queen Mary, University of London. My essay collection Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies was published by Routledge in 2011. Currently I'm writing a monograph titled The Untold Story of the Talking Book, a history of recorded literature since Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877.

N. Katherine Hayles on Postprint

Lumitype 2

Please join us at the next Media History seminar for a talk by Kate Hayles. We’ll be meeting at 6pm on Friday May 4 in the Senate Room at Senate House.

“From Print to Postprint: How Printing Technologies Became Cognitive”

Beginning around 1950, printing technologies began to acquire cognitive capabilities with the invention of the Lumitype typesetter, which included elements of a digital computer. However, this trajectory has a prehistory from the late nineteenth century, when James Paige invented the Paige Compositor, the machine that famously bankrupted Mark Twain. This talk will analyze why the Paige Compositor was a commercial failure, and starting with the Lumitype typesetter, trace the history of computerized typesetting machines from the 1950’s through to the end of the 20th century. It will explain the distinction between print and postprint and offer an account of why the distinction is crucially important to understanding the nature of textuality in the computer era.

N. Katherine Hayles is the James B. Duke Professor of Literature at Duke University. She teaches and writes on the relations of literature, science and technology in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her books include Unthought: The Power Of The Cognitive Nonconscious (2017), Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (2013), How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (2012), Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2008), My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (2005), Writing Machines (2002), and How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (1999). Her current project is entitled “Cognizing Media: Shifts, Ruptures, Transformations.”

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. Continue reading


CANCELLED: Next week’s Media History seminar

Next week’s Media History seminar has been cancelled due to UCU strike action.

Session 3 (Monday, 12 March 2018):

Prof. Aled Gruffydd Jones (EMIET)

Richard Price (British Library)

Senate House Room G35

The next seminar will be with Kate Hayles on Friday May 4. Details to come.

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.