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Sparks to Signals: Literature, Science, and Wireless Technology, 1800-1930


“Going wireless” involves not only the elimination of wires but also the production of electromagnetic waves, a realization that had far-reaching implications for the cultural logics of German modernity. As a media archaeology of wirelessness, this dissertation situates the “discovery” of electromagnetic radiation and the “invention” of wireless transmission in a richer field of scientific, experimental, and aesthetic relations during the early and pre-history of national broadcasting. Before wireless transmission came to be synonymous with the mass distribution medium of radio or even the long-distance communication medium of wireless telegraphy, it was at the center of speculation about a variety of possible wireless futures. Understanding the rhetoric of the new media of radio and wireless telegraphy in the first chapter opens onto questions of continuity and change in the longue durée of the second chapter. The insights gained from this comparison of pre-modern cultural techniques and modern electronic technologies are crucial for understanding the “discovery” of electromagnetic radiation and the “invention” of wireless telegraphy examined in the third and fourth chapters with a focus on the immediate pre-history of national broadcasting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The significance of this pre-historical period and the contingency of national broadcasting in the mid-twentieth century arguably only became apparent with the revival of wireless transmission at the turn of the twenty-first century, as the fifth chapter makes evident. As a contribution to the early and pre-history of national broadcasting, this dissertation suggests a new way of thinking about the order of wirelessness, from “wireless” as synonymous with the communication medium of telegraphy or the distribution medium of radio, to “wireless” as electromagnetic radiation and a medium of experimentation.

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