This compelling new interdisciplinary study investigates the scientific and cultural roots of contemporary conceptions of the network, including computer information systems, the human nervous system, and communications technology. Laura Otis, neuroscientist, literary scholar, and recent recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, demonstrates that the image of the network is centuries old; it is by no means a modern notion. Placing current comparisons of nerve and computer networks in perspective, Otis explores early analogies linking nerves and telegraphs and demonstrates the influence that nineteenth-century neurobiologists, engineers, and fiction writers influenced each other's ideas about communication.
The interdisciplinary sweep of this book is impressive. Otis focuses simultaneously on literary works by such authors as George Eliot, Bram Stoker, Henry James, and Mark Twain and on the scientific and technological achievements of such pioneers as Luigi Galvani, Hermann von Helmholtz, Charles Babbage, Samuel Morse, and Werner von Siemens.
This unique juxtaposition of physiology, engineering, and literature reveals the common thoughts shared by writers in widely diverse fields and suggests that our current comparisons of nerve and computer networks may not only enhance but shape our understanding of both neurobiology and technology.
Highly accessible and jargon-free, Networking will appeal to general readers as well as to scholars in the fields of interdisciplinary studies, nineteenth-century literature, and the history of science and technology.
Laura Otis is Associate Professor of English, Hofstra University. In 2000, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her interdisciplinary studies of literature and science. Her previous books include Membranes: Metaphors of Invasion in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Science, and Politics and Organic Memory: History and the Body in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.