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Public Readings of Technology: Film, Aviation, and Passenger Liners in Britain and Germany, 1890s to Early 1930s

Rieger, Bernhard Wolfgang; (1999) Public Readings of Technology: Film, Aviation, and Passenger Liners in Britain and Germany, 1890s to Early 1930s. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis explores how, as part of wider negotiations of modernity, British and German societies created cultural environments conducive to technological innovation - and this despite deeply ambiguous attitudes to technology between the 1890s and the early 1930s. Drawing on pictorial and textual evidence, this comparative analysis approaches public debates about technological change as productions of knowledge which ascribed meanings to artefacts whose workings most contemporaries were unable to understand. Hinging on ambivalent narratives of aviation, passenger shipping and film as "modern wonders," public negotiations of technological ignorance were torn between technophobia and euphoria. This ambivalent stance gave rise to statements articulating fears of technological change. Anxieties particularly surfaced after aerial and naval accidents. Moreover, contemporaries revealed concerns about the "cultural health" of the British and German nations in passionate debates about film. With its ability to lure "mass" audiences into fictional worlds, cinema was seen to blur the lines between "reality" and "fantasy", thus allegedly subverting the moral standards of the "masses." Although public debate displayed considerable scepticism about new technologies, a rich arsenal of arguments strongly supported technological change. A comparative examination of the roles nationalism and militarism played in promoting innovation brings to light stark contrasts between Germany and Britain. In addition to nationalism, a variety of social fantasies underpinned technological change. While aviation profited from popular myths surrounding the "adventures" of mainly upper-class pilots, the trope of the "floating palace" invested sea travel with an aura of luxury and glamour. The embattled technology of film benefited from fantasies of family-centred domesticity which accompanied the rise of amateur film-making. Thus, social fantasies and nationalism countered narratives of fear and cultural decay and built an atmosphere furthering innovation in spite of the general ambiguity about technology evident in both countries.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Public Readings of Technology: Film, Aviation, and Passenger Liners in Britain and Germany, 1890s to Early 1930s
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Social sciences; Communication and the arts; Technological change
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10100438
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