18th-century Gothic, in and out of the archives: the inaugural Dunscombe Colt Fellowship

Bodleian MS Top. Gen. c. 24 f. 40
A page from John Aubrey’s Chronologia Architectonica, Bodleian MS Top. Gen. c. 24, f. 40

Peter Lindfield, the Dunscombe Colt Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries, writes

Peter Lindfield
“I am using this one-month fellowship at the Bodleian Libraries to explore how historical knowledge and design practices in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries connected architecture, furniture, antiquarian and medievalism. I’ve been making use of the Bodleian’s Special Collections including John Aubrey’s MSS for Chronologia Architectonica, Richard Gough’s topographical collections, and the Beckford papers — particularly letters by Franchi, Beltz and Britton to Beckford on architectural, antiquarianism and heraldic matters. I am also tracking down an inventory of Lee Priory by the antiquary Samuel Pegge, working on Bardwell’s portrait of the Earl and Countess of Pomfret, c.1750 (at the Ashmolean), and, finally, examining eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century Gothic Revival furniture found throughout Oxford’s colleges.

Grasping the opportunities offered by this fellowship, I co-organised a highly successful and international one-day symposium on the eighteenth-century Gothick Revival (7 August). Over thirty delegates attended, and were drawn from Britain, Ireland, France, USA and Canada. It is our intention to publish the conference proceedings in due course.
Details of the symposium can be found at:
http://18thcenturygothick.wordpress.com

The Dunscombe Colt Fellowship supports a visiting researcher with an interest in the architecture or material culture of the long eighteenth century. The Fellowship is supported by the Georgian Group and the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

For information about fellowships, visit the webpages of the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book.

Wireless, Relativity and the Ether : Byrne Bussey Marconi Fellowship research, 2013

from Jaume Navarro, Ikerbasque Research Professor, Universidad del País Vasco

hear Dr Navarro’s lecture on wireless and ‘the ether’, recorded Feb. 21 2014

In 1919, at the end of the Great War, Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity received tremendous support after some epoch-making astronomical observations during a total solar eclipse. Einstein and his theory of relativity became the topic of serious discussions among physicists and philosophers as well as common currency in the wider cultural world. In this context, one of the heated discussions triggered by the new theory was on the existence of the ether.

What was the ether? Generally speaking, the ether was a loose concept that philosophers of all times had imagined as the medium through which interactions such as gravity and magnetism were transmitted. Nineteenth-century British physicists had turned this entity into an all-pervading mysterious medium essential to make sense of Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism and light: because in this theory, any form of electromagnetic radiation, light included, was regarded as a wave; and if there was a vibration, there had to be something to vibrate. That was the ether at the turn of the century.

Einstein’s relativity and, to a lesser degree, the new quantum theory posed serious challenges to the notion of an ether. Continental physicists had never taken this entity too seriously, but scientists in the British tradition could not easily abandon the ether. For them, explaining natural phenomena involved imagining the hidden mechanisms of Nature and not simply finding valid equations to predict them; and, thus, the ether was essential to account for radiation and action at a distance.

In the 1920s, when theoretical developments, experimental results and international consensus forced the abandonment of the ether in theoretical science, even among the young generation of British physicists, a new and very popular technological development, spreading in every middle-class household, came to the rescue of the ether, at least for a while: wireless and radio broadcasting.

My research as a Marconi fellow at the Bodleian Library focuses on the life of the ether in the world of wireless after its death among theoretical physicists. Because, pace Einstein and his theory, ‘the ether’ remained as the medium through which wireless waves were transmitted from the sending station to the receiving apparatus. And with the rapid spread of broadcasting in the mid-1920s, the ether also became a battlefield between nations, broadcasting companies and wireless amateurs. This non-existent medium soon needed to be regulated, controlled and secured.
newspaper clipping: War in the ether (Marconi Archive, Bodleian Library)
newspaper clipping : 'Rebels' of the ether (Marconi Archive, Bodleian Library)

Business, politics and technology at the dawn of radio broadcasting: the Byrne-Bussey Marconi Lecture, Marconi Day, 2013

Gabriele Balbi (USI) delivered the 2013 Byrne-Bussey Marconi Lecture on Marconi Day, 20 April, on the subject of why the Marconi Company was apparently slow to appreciate the broadcasting option of wireless. From the first development of wireless communication, the technology had advantages over the wired telegraph. Yet wireless point-to-point communications were subject to some seeming deficiencies: a lack of privacy and the potential for disruption, as anyone with a wireless set might pick up and listen to messages, or even disrupt them, as occurred at a 1903 demonstration of wireless at the Royal Institution in London.

[podcast]

Some individuals in the Marconi Company recognized that this apparent failure in fact heralded a new era of mass communication: the birth of broadcasting. But the company’s business model, and political relationships with the Post Office which regulated wireless and new technologies like the point-to-point wireless telephone that the Company wanted to exploit, meant that it was the 1920s before the Marconi Company fully engaged with the broadcasting option.

Oxford and District Amateur Radio Society members making the connection on Marconi Day 2013.
Oxford and District Amateur Radio Society members making the connection on Marconi Day 2013.

Ernesto Gomez (Bodleian Library) writes:
Marconi Day 2013 was celebrated by the Oxford and District Amateur Radio Society with a special Radio Club Station set up  in the Museum of History of Science to communicate with radio amateurs around the world. The Oxford radio amateurs used the call sign GB4HMS.  Amazingly one of the earliest  contacts of the day was with Newfoundland, the historical place well remembered for being the first to receive a transatlantic message in 1901.”

This year around 63 clubs from different latitudes managed to commemorate the Marconi achievements in the field of radio transmissions.

Visiting fellows in 2013 at the Bodleian Libraries

In 2013 the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book welcomes the following visiting researchers:

Byrne-Bussey Marconi Fellows, 2013
Jaume Navarro (Universidad del País Vasco) A conceptual and cultural history of the demise of the ether

Michael Weatherburn (Imperial College) Workplace Experiments and Work Study in the British Electrical Industry, c.1900-1950

Humfrey Wanley Fellows, 2013
Kasper Van Ommen (University of Leiden Library) Scaliger and Oxford: Early Modern Oriental collections

Jonathan Wainwright (University of York, Faculty of Music) A catalogue of the Music School collection of the Bodleian Library

British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies / Bodleian Fellow, 2013
Rachel Schneider (University of Texas at Austin) Contesting Fragments: Print, Politics, and Graphic Design in Eighteenth-Century England

The Dunscombe-Colt Research Fellow 2013 (The Georgian Group and BSECS)
Peter Lindfield (Post-Doctoral Tutor at the School of Art History, University of St Andrews and Visiting Lecturer, Kunsthochschule, University of Kassel) Gothic Histories and Buildings of the Long Eighteenth Century

The Renaissance Society of America Bodleian Visiting Fellow, 2013
Katherine Larson (University of Toronto) Embodying Song in Early Modern England

More about Visiting Fellowships at the CSB: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/fellowships