Media History Seminar Programme 2018/2019

We’re pleased to announce the 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 2018-19

Session 1 (20 November 2018): Clare Pettitt, King’s College London

Serial Revolutions: Why 1848 Matters

Stuttering, scattered and various in their outcomes, a series of revolutions erupted in the mid to late 1840s which reached from the Atlantic to Ukraine, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.  By 1851 most of these revolutions had ‘failed’ and Karl Marx was famously to announce in the Eighteenth Brumaire that the people were now “transferred back to a dead epoch.” But rather than just a brief period of international volatility and rebellion which collapsed, failed and capitulated to the reactionary forces of the counter-revolution, 1848 was a game-changer. The problem was that nobody was quite sure what the game had changed into.

It was the increasingly dominant cultural form of seriality that both created the revolutions in the first place, and that ensured the eventual consolidation of many of the demands of the people.  Without cheap print and a joined-up transnational media, the revolutions would never have happened the way they did. And without the 1848 revolutions, the American Civil War might not have happened the way that it did. This paper makes a case for the under-recognised importance of 1848, and for the importance of seriality, in establishing a transnational language of human rights.

NOTE: The venue for this talk has changed from Senate House to nearby Meeting Room 3A, Garden Halls, 1 Cartwright Gardens, Kings Cross, London WC1H 9EN.

Session 2 (4 December 2018):  Aled Jones, Panteion University, and Luke McKernan, British Library

Collecting Media in National Libraries

Aled Jones, ‘Periodical Collections, Austerity and Grassroots Action: A Greek Example’.

Aled Gruffydd Jones will describe recent attempts to preserve and conserve periodical publications through periods of occupation, civil war, dictatorship and financial hardship in Greece, and will discuss their potential implications for the conduct of archival preservation and research in the Humanities in times of austerity and crisis more generally.

Luke McKernan, ‘Collecting News’.

Luke McKernan will talk about how the British Library is managing the transition from collecting newspapers to collecting news, covering traditional newspapers, their e-versions, web news, radio and television news. He will explore what this means in terms of collection, discovery, access and research.

Room 246, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Session 3 (5 February 2019): Evanghelia Stead, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines 

The Periodical Press: A View from France

‘Media Culture and the Periodical Press: Raising a few Points on Methodological Issues’

Prof. Stead will talk about how to think about periodicals in the overall media culture. Are periodicals a field per se? What is the part they play in media? She will draw on examples from “big” magazines following her Faust I research, look towards the collective volume on Reading Books and Prints as Cultural Objects (Palgrave, 2018), what she Hélène Védrine and I have tried to do around periodicals in l’Europe des revues I and II (2008 and 2018), and discussions in the inter-university TIGRE seminar, which Prof. Stead has been running since 2004.

Room 243, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Session 4 (12 March 2019): Andrew Thacker, Nottingham Trent University, and Andrew King, University of Greenwich

Editing Reference Works on Print Media.

Andrew Thacker,  ‘The Magazines of Modernism: Challenges and Perspectives’

This talk will address some of the issues that came up when editing the original 3 volumes of the Critical and Cultural Histories, particularly around selection of magazines, periodisation, scope, and the organisation of the volumes overall; also about the next series of volumes, on Global Modernist Magazines, the work for the first volume of which (on magazines in South America and the Caribbean) is nearing completion.

Andrew King, ‘Switching: Creating Reference Works for Nineteenth-Century Serials’

When we consult a reference work instrumentally, we want help to find something we think might exist. The text, however discursive it may appear, is usually organised as a set of categories that lead from the more general to the more precise, and the reader is encouraged by a hierarchy of “switches” or choices to find what she wants. The question that we must address concerns how the reader uses the switches we supply: do we, as initiators of reference works, want the user simply to accept them by making them invisible and effortless, or do we want to highlight the difficulties that each switch actually involves and ask the reader whether the answers she is searching for might result from a casual assumption of the deja connu? Must we choose ourselves choose the switch between rapid but problematic positivism and hesitant, clunky theory, or is there a way to combine them? The talk explores these questions by first discussing the standard reference works on nineteenth-century serials and then outlining the processes that went into the creation of The Routledge Handbook to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals and Newspapers, its companion volume Researching the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press: Case Studies and the as-yet-under-construction Work and the Victorian Press and

Room 243, Second Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

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.


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

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.