Skip to main content Skip to navigation

EN9A1 Victorian Materialities

Victorian Materialities: Transatlantic Machines, Media, and Marginalized Peoples
Dr Justin Tackett (

The nineteenth-century’s fascination with the increasingly mechanical and diverse material culture of the time has become a central concern for literary studies. We will focus on the numerous technologies that interact with and in writing of the period. Literature, which is itself a kind of technology, existed long before these developments, but treated them as valuable disseminators, rival media, sources of inspiration and lamentation, and everything in between. This module investigates what constitutes “technology” and “literature” as they evolve together, and the politics and theorization that inevitably accompany such evolution. The module’s aim is to investigate how these artifacts contribute to an understanding nineteenth-century literature and culture, especially regarding gender, sexuality, race, and disability. While literature is the dominant focus of the module, we will also examine machines, tools, sound recordings, art, automatons, and other objects. This module will emphasize engagement with the material archive as a means of thematizing literature and will require students to think deeply about the material archive’s relationship to literature and scholarship.

Key to readings below (nb: readings are subject to change):

Bolded texts are literature or primary sources. Unbolded texts are critical works.


Week 1. Introduction: Literature and Technology
  • selected chapters from Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
  • Jennifer Wicke, “Vampiric Typewriting: Dracula and Its Media”
  • selections from Lisa Gitelman, Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines


Week 2. Panorama (1792): Envisioning Travel
  • William Wells Brown, Panoramic Views of the Scenes in the Life of an American Slave (1849)
  • excerpts on Mirror of Slavery panorama in Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself (1849)
  • Julian Lucas, “Can Slavery Reenactments Set Us Free?”
  • Hollis Robbins, “Fugitive Mail: The Deliverance of Henry ‘Box’ Brown and Antebellum Postal Politics”


Week 3. Train (1804): Mechanizing Travel
  • Ellen and William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860)
  • Mark M. Smith, “The Garden in the Machine: Listening to Early American Industrialization”
  • selections from Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey


Week 4. Stethoscope (1816): Listening to Bodies
  • Mary Seacole, The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands (1857)
  • Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing (1859)
  • Jonathan Sterne, “Mediate Auscultation and Medicine’s Acoustic Culture”
  • John Picker, “English Beat: The Stethoscopic Era’s Sonic Traces”


Week 5. Camera (1826): Envisioning People
  • Frederick Douglass, “Pictures and Progress” (1861)
  • Julia Margaret Cameron’s and Lewis Carroll’s photographs of eminent Victorians
  • John Thomson’s China photographs
  • Mathew Brady’s Civil War and African American photographs


Week 6. Telegraph (1837): Networks and Transmission
  • Emily Dickinson, selected poems
  • Jonathan Sterne, “Audile Technique and Media” in The Audible Past
  • Jerusha McCormack, “Domesticating Delphi: Emily Dickinson and the Electro-magnetic Telegraph”


Week 7. Telephone (1876): From One-on-One to Broadcasting
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar, selected poems (and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s musical settings)
  • Wole Soyinka, “Telephone Conversation”
  • Jessica Kuskey, “Listening to the Victorian Telephone”
  • John Durham Peters, “The Telephonic Uncanny and the Problem of Communication”
  • Marshall McLuhan, “Radio: The Tribal Drum”
  • Michele Hilmes, “Radio and the Imagined Community”


Week 8. Phonograph (1877): Reproducing Voices
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins, selected poems
  • Yopie Prins, “Voice Inverse”
  • James Lastra, “Fidelity vs. Intelligibility”


Week 9. Film (1888): Putting it All Together
  • Louis Lumiere, Now that Takes the Cake (1903) – 1 min.
  • Thomas Edison, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903) – 19 min.
  • George Veditz, The Preservation of the Sign Language (1913) – 15 min.
  • Lule Warrenton, When Little Lindy Sang (1916) – 10 min.
  • Helen Keller, Deliverance (1919) – 90 min.
  • Oscar Micheaux, Within Our Gates (1920) – 79 min.
  • Michel Chion, “Three Listening Modes” from Audio-Vision


Week 10. Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Students will find their own texts and technological objects to present.


Additional Suggested Critical Texts
  • Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility (1936)
  • Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944)
  • Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964)
  • Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena (1967)
  • Roland Barthes, The Grain of the Voice (1972)
  • Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982)
  • Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone Film Typewriter (1986)
  • Hugh Kenner, The Mechanic Muse (1987)
  • Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past (2003)
  • Adriana Cavarero, For More than One Voice (2005)
  • Mark Goble, Beautiful Circuits (2010)
  • The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne (2012)
  • The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies, eds. Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld (2012)
  • Media, Technology, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century, eds. Linley and Colligan (2016)
  • Routledge Companion to Sound Studies, ed. Michael Bull (2018, online)
  • The Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies, eds. Nina Sun Eidsheim and Katherine Meizel (2019)
  • Sound and Literature, ed. Anna Snaith (2020, online)