Jonathan Sterne: The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2003)

19 February 2014, dusan

The Audible Past explores the cultural origins of sound reproduction. It describes a distinctive sound culture that gave birth to the sound recording and the transmission devices so ubiquitous in modern life. With an ear for the unexpected, scholar and musician Jonathan Sterne uses the technological and cultural precursors of telephony, phonography, and radio as an entry point into a history of sound in its own right. Sterne studies the constantly shifting boundary between phenomena organized as “sound” and “not sound.” In The Audible Past, this history crisscrosses the liminal regions between bodies and machines, originals and copies, nature and culture, and life and death.

Blending cultural studies and the history of communication technology, Sterne follows modern sound technologies back through a historical labyrinth. Along the way, he encounters capitalists and inventors, musicians and philosophers, embalmers and grave robbers, doctors and patients, deaf children and their teachers, professionals and hobbyists, folklorists and tribal singers. The Audible Past tracks the connections between the history of sound and the defining features of modernity: from developments in medicine, physics, and philosophy to the tumultuous shifts of industrial capitalism, colonialism, urbanization, modern technology, and the rise of a new middle class.

A provocative history of sound, The Audible Past challenges theoretical commonplaces such as the philosophical privilege of the speaking subject, the visual bias in theories of modernity, and static descriptions of nature. It will interest those in cultural studies, media and communication studies, the new musicology, and the history of technology.”

Publisher Duke University Press, 2003
ISBN 082233013X, 9780822330134
450 pages
via nutzenberg

Review (James P. Kraft, The American Historical Review)
Review (Karin Bijsterveld, Technology and Culture)


PDF (low quality scan, no OCR, 40 MB)
EPUB (added on 2014-1-21)

Donald F. McLean: Restoring Baird’s Image (2000)

19 September 2013, dusan

Betty Bolton recorded in c1932 by engineer John Logie Baird in an early television experiment (GIF via Continuo Docs)

John Logie Baird, Britain’s foremost television pioneer, experimented with video recording onto gramophone discs in the late 1920s. Though unsuccessful at the time, his experiments resulted in several videodiscs, some 25 years before the videotape recorder became practical. These videodiscs – called Phonovision – remained neglected over the decades, considered by experts as unplayable.

In the early 1980s, the author sought out and restored the surviving Phonovision discs. Using computer-based techniques in an investigation reminiscent of an archaeological dig, the author has not only revealed the images on the discs but also uncovered details of how the recordings were made. The Phonovision discs have now become recognised as one of Baird’s most important legacies.

In 1996 and 1998, amateur ‘off-air’ recordings of the BBC’s 30-line Television Service (1932–35) were found, giving us our first view of what viewers were then watching. The author’s restoration overturns established views on mechanically scanned television, providing us today with a true measure of Britain’s heritage of television programme-making before electronic television.

As well as helping to explain a poorly understood and complex period in television’s history, this unique book, heavily illustrated with previously unpublished or rarely-seen historic photographs restored by the author, sheds light on the achievements of Baird, the development of video recording and the definition and invention of television itself.

Publisher Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2000
Volume 27 of History of Technology series
ISBN 0852967950, 9780852967959
295 pages

Google books


Joseph Needham, et al.: Science and Civilisation in China, 7 vols. (1954–2008)

15 August 2013, dusan

Science and Civilisation in China is recognised as one of the most remarkable works of scholarship in the twentieth century. Originally proposed as a single volume of 600 to 800 pages, the project now encompasses seventeen books published under the direct supervision of Joseph Needham, from the first volume which appeared in 1954, through to volume 6.3 which was in press at the time of his death in 1995. The preparation and publishing of further volumes is ongoing. Responsibility for the commissioning and approval of work for publication in the series is now taken by the Publications Board of the Needham Research Institute, under the chairmanship of Dr C. Cullen, who acts as general editor of the series.”

The published volumes reflect Needham’s vision of the field of the history of science and its social background in China, and his aim to make Chinese achievements in science and technology better understood. The series was on the Modern Library Board’s 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century.

Publisher Cambridge University Press

Review (Robert Finlay, Journal of World History, 2000)
Review (Marta E. Hanson, Early Science and Medicine, 2007)
Simon Winchester on Joseph Needham, video, 57 min (via अवनिचर अवनिचर)

Needham Research Institute

Vol. 1: Introductory Orientations, With the Research Assistance of Wang Ling, 1954
Vol. 2: History of Scientific Thought, With the Research Assistance of Wang Ling, 1956
Vol. 3: Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and Earth, With the Collaboration of Wang Ling, 1959

Physics and Physical Technology
Vol. 4-1: Physics, With the Collaboration of Wang Ling; and the Special Co-operation of Kenneth Robinson, 1962
Vol. 4-2: Mechanical Engineering, With the Collaboration of Wang Ling, 1965
Vol. 4-3: Civil Engineering and Nautics, With the Collaboration of Wang Ling and Lu Gwei-Djen, 1971

Chemistry and Chemical Technology
Vol. 5-1: Paper and Printing, By Tsien Tsuen-Hsuin, 1985
Vol. 5-2: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Magisteries of Gold and Immortality, With the Collaboration of Lu Gwei-Djen, 1974
Vol. 5-3: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Historical Survey, from Cinnabar Elixirs to Synthetic Insulin, With the Collaboration of Ho Ping-Yü and Lu Gwei-Djen, 1976
Vol. 5-4: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Apparatus, Theories and Gifts, With the Collaboration of Ho Ping-Yü and Lu Gwei-Djen; and a Contribution by Nathan Sivin, 1980
Vol. 5-5: Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Physiological Alchemy, With the Collaboration of Lu Gwei-Djen, 1983
Vol. 5-6: Military Technology: Missiles and Sieges, With Robin D.S. Yates, Krzysztof Gawlikowski, Edward McEwen, Wang Ling, 1994
Vol. 5-7: Military Technology: The Gunpowder Epic, With the Collaboration of Ho Ping-Yü (Ho Peng Yoke), Lu Gwei-Djen, and Wang Ling, 1987
Vol. 5-8: Not yet published
Vol. 5-9: Textile Technology: Spinning and Reeling, By Dieter Kuhn, 1988
Vol. 5-10: Not yet published
Vol. 5-11: Ferrous Metallurgy, By Donald B. Wagner, 2008
Vol. 5-12: Ceramic Technology, By Rose Kerr and Nigel Wood; With Contributions by Ts’ai Mei-fen and Zhang Fukang; Edited by Rose Kerr, 2004
Vol. 5-13: Mining, By Peter J. Golas, 1999

Biology and Biological Technology
Vol. 6-1: Botany, With the Collaboration of Lu Gwei-Djen, and a Special Contribution by Huang Hsing-Tsung, 1986
Vol. 6-2: Agriculture, By Francesca Bray, 1984
Vol. 6-3: Agro-Industries and Forestry, By Christian A. Daniels and Nicholas K. Menzies, 1996
Vol. 6-4: Not yet published
Vol. 6-5: Fermentations and Food Science, By Huang Hsing-Tsung, 2000
Vol. 6-6: Medicine, With the Collaboration of Lu Gwei-Djen; Edited and With an Introduction by Nathan Sivin, 2000

Vol. 7-1: Language and Logic, By Christoph Harbsmeier; Edited by Kenneth Robinson, 1998
Vol. 7-2: General Conclusions and Reflections, With the Collaboration of Kenneth Robinson and Ray Huang (Huang Jen-Yu); With an Introduction by Mark Elvin; Edited by Kenneth Robinson, 2004

(PDFs removed on 2019-5-15 and 2019-6-21 upon request from publisher)