Almost Magic: Edison, Electricity, and the Phonograph

Virtual Speaker Series
Friday, June 12, 2020
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m.
Eastern Daylight Time (UTC -4)
United States

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Edison wax cylinder phonograph.png

Edison wax cylinder phonograph

Edison wax cylinder phonograph

Science History Institute

In the 19th century electricity captured the popular imagination. It seemed like there was nothing it could not do, from powering new, instantaneous communication technologies, such as the telephone and the telegraph, to setting dead bodies into motion. Ubiquitous, invisible, powerful, and yet subject to human control, it was seen as a quasimagical force but considered a subject for scientific knowledge. Unsurprisingly, a veritable mythology grew up around it, and this talk will explore 19th-century representations of two figures around whom this mythology coalesced: Thomas Edison, nicknamed the “Wizard of Menlo Park” for his ability to harness this astonishing force, and the phonograph, one of his most famous inventions. By turns comic and serious these representations drew from a rich cultural lexicon and an age-old set of supernatural tropes to make sense of an inventor that seemed to challenge both social mores and the laws of existence all at once.


About the Speaker

Anastasia Klimchynskaya is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago’s Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, where she investigates how fiction structures the ways in which (we think) we know the world. She has a particular interest in the way science fiction shapes our knowledge and use of cutting-edge technologies and scientific discoveries. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019, where she began work on her current monograph project, which examines the social, cultural, and technoscientific forces behind science fiction’s emergence in the 19th century. She has presented on subjects ranging from science fiction’s potential uses in creating policy to its utility as a thought experiment. She also holds the position of deputy programming head for the Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference.

About the Series

Dive into fascinating stories of science with our Virtual Speaker Series!

Inspired by our popular Saturday Speaker Series, our Virtual Speaker Series features short talks on an intriguing scientific topic followed by a Q&A. Join us biweekly for the month of June on GoToMeeting. Participation is free, and no registration is required.