Program

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships , Mellon/ACLS Recent Doctoral Recipients Fellowships

Project

Electric Visions: A Visual History of the Electric Spark in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Project

The Science of Transience: Physics and the Visualization of Movement in Nineteenth-Century London

Department

History of Science

Location

For residence at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH)

Electric Visions: A Visual History of the Electric Spark in Nineteenth-Century Britain

This dissertation follows the experimental life of the electric spark in nineteenth-century Britain. The perceptual challenges involved in observing the spark required the development of new visual techniques for analyzing movement, prompted new explorations of human vision and its limitations, and brought the spark in contact with a variety of visual media. Through a focus on practices of observation, visualization, and image-making around this recalcitrant transient phenomenon, the history of physics is shown to intersect importantly with the histories of photography, cinema, spiritualism, and the study of human vision.

The Science of Transience: Physics and the Visualization of Movement in Nineteenth-Century London

This project explores how the visual experience of transience became an experimental problem for scientists in nineteenth-century London. How and why did scientists learn to see things that moved too rapidly for the eye to apprehend, like sound vibrations or electric sparks? What epistemological problems did these ways of seeing the invisible provoke? This study examines how a group of scientists in London learned to manipulate the visual experience of transience in the laboratory, through imaging, optical instruments, and the exploitation of optical illusions. By focusing on observation, visualization, and image-making practices used to master transient phenomena, the project shows how the history of physics intersects surprisingly with the histories of photography, cinema, and the study of human vision.