My dissertation, “On Fire: Industrialization, Media Technologies, and the Imagination, 1800-1900,” considers the intersecting discourses of media literacy and industrialization, and argues that fire, in its multiple forms, is a media technology that must be recovered and situated within an archive of moving images. Understanding fire as a media technology allows for a rigorous examination of these discourses and provides insight into nineteenth-century imaginations. My dissertation focuses on Victorian literature and culture, but it also examines continuities between the Victorian and Romantic eras without grouping literary texts and media forms into linear or reductive teleologies.
Chapter 1, “Flame, Page, and Screen: Recovering Fire-Gazing as a Victorian Media Technology,” argues that flame is a moving-image technology and recovers fire-gazing as an intimate form of viewing and producing moving pictures. The chapter also locates latent anxieties about automation in fireside reverie, fears that are usually associated with late nineteenth-century entertainment and communication media. Chapter 2, “Matches and Street Lamps: Illuminating Instruments and the Moving Image,” examines matches and street lamps as image-making technologies within the larger print and visual culture that determined their iconographic imagery. As material culture continued to change in tandem with innovations to heat and light, these outmoded vehicles for firelight became potent symbols of a pre-industrial imagination despite their own industrial origins. Chapter 3, “Burning Down the House in 1834: Spectacular Fire and Live Audience Spectatorship,” argues that the Parliament fire inaugurated modern live-audience disaster spectatorship by analyzing the crowds that gathered on the night of the fire as well as contemporaneous representations of the fire in periodicals, literary annuals, and dioramas. Chapter 4, “Subterranean Fire in the Sky: Animating Vesuvius in Victorian Imaginations,” shows that the enduring myth of subterranean fire provided an inexhaustible narrative technology for the real, imaginary, and ideological engines of British imperialism. My conclusion, “The 1936 Crystal Palace Fire and the End of the Victorian Era,” analyzes the 1936 Crystal Palace fire as an emblem of the mass media consumption that had begun to emerge in the nineteenth century.