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Title: Mechanism and meaning : British natural theology and the literature of technology, 1820-1840
Author: Salvey, Courtney
ISNI:       0000 0004 5362 2372
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2014
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As Carlyle recognized—and Arnold deplored—the nineteenth century was the ‘Age of Machinery’. Increasingly ubiquitous physical things, machines were also increasingly important cultural objects. In this project, I track how the meanings of machines were constructed by an emergent ‘literature of technology’ and ask what cultural work those meanings accomplished. From popular expositions of steam engines to mechanics textbooks to industrial travel narratives to histories of technology, the material, literary, and generic forms of these texts constructed the ‘machine’ as an intelligible object of public culture, as part of nature, as passive servant to human agents, and as the product of complex development. The cultural impact of such significances reverberated beyond debates on technology to shape seemingly irrelevant discourses: these meanings were harnessed by mechanical metaphors to do work in other cultural domains from poetics to political economy to religion. As a case study, I trace how each of these meanings supported or challenged the plausibility of natural theology in the 1830s, a religious discourse built on an analogy between machines and natural objects. Drawing on often-read texts like Babbage’s 'On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures' and Ure’s 'Philosophy of Manufactures' and lesser-read texts like the Bridgewater Treatises, Lardner’s 'The Steam Engine', Head’s 'A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts', and Whewell’s 'Mechanics of Engineering', this project ultimately argues that the way technology is talked about matters.
Supervisor: Prickett, Stephen; Cregan-Reid, Vybarr Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature