Air, Ether, Atmosphere: A Cultural History of Fluids around 1900


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


German Literature and Language


The dissertation defines a new category of space in German culture at the turn of the twentieth century: air, ether, aura, and atmosphere denote a space sensible in and of itself, as space. It contextualizes these aerial spaces in aesthetic, scientific, and occult discourses that challenge old conceptions of space and fixed notions of matter at the end of the nineteenth century. It argues that evocations of aerial spaces trace the afterlife of scientific terms in cultural discourses. More importantly, they localize the attempt to engage the empirical sciences for objects of knowledge that evade the grasp of science. They embody a cognitive borderland between concept and metaphor, between scientific knowledge and non-rational objects of knowledge, and point to human engagements with cognitive limits.