Rebecca Roach on Media Lives and the Archive

Rockefeller image

Please join us at the next Media History seminar for Rebecca Roach’s talk ‘Media Lives in the Rockefeller Archive: or, How the Humanities Invented Modern Computing’. We’ll be meeting on Wednesday March 18 at 6pm. The meeting will be held at Birkbeck (43 Gordon Square WC1H 0PD). Everyone’s welcome!

‘Media Lives in the Rockefeller Archive: or, How the Humanities Invented Modern Computing’

In these days of dwindling funding for the arts and humanities, I look back to the start of the digital age to argue for the significance of their contribution to the invention of modern computing. I examine the role of mid-century institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation and specifically its Humanities Division, in supporting early research into theories of communication—theories which would prove vital to the post-World War Two development of computational technologies. Looking to the institutional, biographical and media lives that my research has revealed, I argue for the value of humanities-based models of technological innovation.

Rebecca Roach is Lecturer in Contemporary Literature in the Department of English at the University of Birmingham. Her first book, Literature and the Rise of the Interview, was published by Oxford University Press in 2018. She is currently working on a second book examining the intersection between literature and computing since the Second World War. You can find out more about her here:

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 2019-20

We’re pleased to announce the provisional schedule for this year’s Media History Seminar. Because of the ongoing strike at Senate House, the seminars will take place at various locations in central London. Everyone is welcome!

“Media History” Programme 2019-20:

Session 1 (Tuesday, October 15, 2019, 6-8pm):

Prof. Maurice Lee (Boston University)

Birkbeck Room 106

43-46 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

This event will be a special joint session with the Nineteenth-Century Studies Seminar (

Session 2 (Thursday, November 21, 2019, 6-8pm):

Dr Bernard Geoghegan

KCL, Virginia Woolf Bldg 3.01

22 Kingsway, London WC2B 6LE

Session 3 (Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 6-8pm):

Dr Rebecca Roach (University of Birmingham)

Birkbeck, University of London, 43 Gordon Square, London

Session 4 (Thursday, 7 May 2020, 6-8pm):

Joseph Howley (Columbia University)

Location TBD

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.