Mar 31 2009

“Science Girl” or “Technology Girl”….

by at 12:30 pm

Next semester is going to come sooner than I’d like, so I’m starting to really think about this application process. I like Science and Technology Studies as a whole, but I know that my writing sample is going to have to emphasize one over the either (ie: more science-y, or more technologically based). So, I was thinking, will I “package” myself more as “science girl” or “technology girl?” (haha, I like them both actually….sounds like a nifty super-hero name). After much thought, I’ve decided that I’m probably going to submit a writing sample that demonstrates my interests in electricity and literature, that way I can have both science and technology: the electrical phenomenon is itself scientific, but it’s applications could also bring it into the technological sphere. I’ve really started thinking about this distinction between science and technology after someone in the audience at UVA asked for me to expand on that distinction, and I think that was incredibly helpful. It’s really quite simple–electricity, as a principle, is science, and it’s application is technological– but I don’t think I was explicitly thinking about the distinction. 

So, in light of all this, I think I’m going to stick with the electrical metaphor and magnetism that we see earlier in the century, rather than focusing on the more technological metaphors of bodies and machines that we begin to see later in the century. I’d like to focus on how notions of animal magnetism provide mental maps, which allowed for a more fluid understanding of race. I touch on this in my UVA presentation: when bodies are thought to be unified by an electrical principle, then the importance of skin is diminished. I’ve always wanted to write on Robert Montgomery Bird’s Sheppard Lee and now I think I’ll have my chance! Bird, himself a trained physician, was clearly informed by principles of animal magnetism with all the “body jumping” that happens throughout. I’m thinking about how Sheppard Lee’s soul enters the body of the dead slave. Oh, I’m excited! I miss early American texts (Sheppard Lee is 1835, I believe), and I think I can have the opportunity to get back into this period.

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Nov 15 2008

Race and Technology

by at 3:04 pm

I’m beginning to realize that my research interests aren’t as specific as I thought they once were. Yes, I am interested in how the electrical metaphor and race are connected, but what about technology in general? This is of course for another paper (or another chapter in my thesis), but after reading Nell Irvin Painter’s “Representing Truth: Sojourner Truth’s Knowing and Becoming Known,” I’m starting to contemplate the advent of photographic technology and the ways it intersects with race. Two important quotations:

Although prosperous African Americans had their photographs taken for their own use, bourgeois portraiture was as uncommon as bourgeois blacks. In the 1860s images of black people were rare, and most of them had not been taken at the instigation of the subjects. Photographs of black men were most often found in the files of city police, where photography had taken its place as a tool of law enforcement two decades earlier (485, 486).


Another genre of photography also took people of color as its subject matter: the anthropological specimen photographs that displayed ‘types’ of native peoples to educated metropolitans. In anthropological photographs, captive individuals, usuaully stripped of their clothing and staring straight into the camera were displayed as examples of otherness, like insects pinned in cases or stuffed mammals in museusms. British and French explorers specialized in this genre of natural history photography, but the American biologist Louis Agassiz had specimen photographs of enslaved African Americans taken in the 1850s. Sojourner Truth’s posture, clothing, and stance distinguish her from the criminals or native types who shared her color, for she is well groomed, well clothed, and posed so as not to look directly into the camera’s lens (486).

Both passages point to the intersections between race and technology, how technology is often part in parcel of policing or, in the case of photography, actually aiding in creating “fixed” categories of race. If individuals could be photographed and their race could be labeled from these photographs, a kind of running, universal language of racial cateogories was beginning to be systematized. I wonder if a reading of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the use of “fingerprinting” to discern race as stand-in for this anthropological photography could be done. Hmm…

So, could this be my thesis??!!–how race and technology interesect, as seen in the electrical metaphor, telegraph, photography, etc.

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