Signals from other worlds: the technological imagination in British wireless cultures, circa 1900-1940

There will be no seminar next week, 6 May (Bank Holiday)

This paper explores the connections between two emerging features of scientific and technological culture in the period approximately 1900 to 1940: the rapid rise of professional and amateur radio practitioners and the development of the literary genres of the scientific romance and science fiction. Historical studies of these connections have tended to focus on the United States of America, and particularly the overlapping worlds of radio ‘hams’ and the new ‘pulp’ science magazines of the 1920s. My paper argues that there are British connections that are no less deserving of historical enquiry. These connections built on late nineteenth century speculations about the psychological, social and cosmical applications of electrical communication, including those relating to obscure powers of the mind and to extra-terrestrial life. Analysis of the content of early twentieth century technical, occult and fiction-based periodicals reveals the significant extent to which the growth of wireless telegraphy, and especially the wireless amateur and hobbyist, gave new life to these speculations and often channelled it into real and imagined technologies for accessing other worlds.