Schivelbusch, Wolfgang - Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the Nineteenth Century

Notes - Garnet Hertz
Updated 12 Jan 2007

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[49] {progress, technological progress, technical progress, new technology, technology, new, old, skeuomorph} Here we have stumbled across a new theme: the impact of newly created technologies on old ones. This is the other, complimentary side of technical progress. So far we have followed the history of artificial illumination as a simple straight line. Lighting technology appears to have progressed in logical steps from the the hearth flame via the torch, the candle and the Argand lamp to gaslight, without faltering or looking back. But technical progress is more than a resolute stride forward; it also involves the developmental stages that have been left behind. Often, these do not simply disappear, but live on, in modified -- that is, modernised -- form. Nathan Rosenberg, and American economic historian, describes several instances of old technologies that were modernised in this way. From this he derives the theory that 'the "old" technology continues to be improved after the introduction of the "new", thus postponing even further the time when the old technology is clearly outmoded'. [NOTE: This is a noteworthy quote - check up on Nathan Rosenberg. Footnoted source for Rosenberg is: Nathan Rosenberg, 'Factors Affecting the Diffusion of Technology', Explorations in Economic History, formerly Explorations in Entrepraneurial History, vol. 10, no. 1, Fall, 1972, pp. 3-33, quotation on p. 23.]

[69] {progress, technological progress, technical progress, new technology, technology, new, old, skeuomorph} The examples of a central electricity supply and the light switch show how varied the results can be when a new technology borrows from an older one. While the central electricity station modelled on the gas-works perfected electrical technology, the revolving switch, an imitation of the gas-tap, was a backwards step. As this chapter has shown, the interplay of mimicry between old and new technologies is riddled with such contradictory results. But in the end, developmental mistakes are always corrected. The electrical revolving switch, for example, was soon replaced by the spring action quick-break switch which is still used for electric lights today. [NOTE: Rotational switches are still used widely today - you're wrong, sort of.]

[71] {Luigi Galvani, Galvani, Galvanism}

[72] {wearable, electric jewels, clothing, 1881} [Illustration of electric clothing, dated 1881.]

[213-221] {panorama, diorama, magic lantern}

[213] {panorama, diorama, magic lantern, 1800s, 19th century, new media} The new media of the nineteenth century -- the panorama, the diorama, the magic lantern, 'dissolving views' and, finally, film -- were pure aesthetic, technical creations born of the spirit of light. The main difference between them and the theatre was that they created a pictoral instead a spatial illusion. They were an extension of painting rather than the stage.

[214] {panorama, 1816, Oettermann} [Diagram of Cross-section through a panorama, 1816. For more information on the panorama, see Stephan Oettermann (1980).]

[216-217] {diorama}

[219-220] {magic lantern}

[220] {panorama, diorama, magic lantern, cinema, fire, change, light, illumination} Common to all these media, from the diorama to the cinemascope screen, is a darkened auditorium and a brightly illuminated stage. These have remained constant despite all the technical changes of the past 150 years... film is closer to the fire than to the theatre... In the dark, light is life.


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