Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Media, Art, and Text

First Advisor

Dr. Eric Garberson

Second Advisor

Dr. Karen Rader

Third Advisor

Dr. Oliver Speck

Fourth Advisor

Dr. David Golumbia

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Rhee


Do inventions that exist only on paper have less credibility than functional technologies? How has the meaning and significance of audiovisual media and technology changed over time? This dissertation examines historiography and methodology for media history, arguing for an interdisciplinary approach. It addresses methodological issues in media history—media in transition, media archaeology, and film history—through an examination of television’s speculative era. It tackles moving-image history through an historical investigation of Victorian and Machine age “television”.

Because the concept and terminology of “television” changed dramatically during this period, I use the phrases “distant electric vision” and “seeing by electricity,” to define the concept of electric and electronic moving-image technology. By identifying manifestations of “television” before functional models existed, this dissertation examines the ways in which a modern concept of moving-image technology came into existence. Engineers and inventors, as well as audiences and journalists contributed to the construction of “television.” Newspaper announcements, editorial columns, letters to the editor, rumors and satires circulated.

Victorian-era readers, writers and inventors pictured “seeing by electricity” to do for the eye what the telephone had done for the ear, bringing people closer together though separated

by great distances. In contrast, early twentieth-century Machine-age engineers placed more emphasis on systems, communication, design, and picture quality. Developments in the 1920s with complex systems and electronics made “distant electric vision” a reality.

This dissertation identifies several shifts that took place during television’s speculative era from the Victorian “annihilation of space” to Machine-Age systems engineering. Journalists, readers, and engineers all play a part in the rhetoric of innovation. From the Victorian era to the Machine age, the educational function of popular science and the role of audiences in constructing meaning and value for new technologies remain relatively consistent. I offer several case studies, including Thomas Edison’s inventions, illuminating engineering, and Bell Labs experiments with television. This dissertation argues that modern television design relies on the ability of the technology to make an unnatural experience seem as effortless as possible. Ultimately, it advocates for an expanded definition of media and technology, along with an historical emphasis on context.


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