Power Lines: Electricity in American Life and Letters


Location: 119 DeBartolo Hall

Jennifer Lieberman

Electrification has touched nearly every aspect of American life. Between 1882 and 1952, it changed daily routines, inspired new art forms, revolutionized the fields of chemistry, biology, and physics—it even changed landscapes and ecosystems. The corporate and scientific dimensions of this history have been told; Dr. Jennifer Lieberman tells the narrative and cultural history. 


Discussing her book, Power Lines: Electricity in American Life and Letters, 1882-1952 (MIT Press, 2017), Lieberman will chronicle how electricity became a metaphor for modern American life in the late nineteenth century. Drawing on Science, Technology, and Society, American Studies, and literary studies, this talk--like the book--demonstrates the importance of studying technology and the humanities together. It will touch on such questions as:

  • What does Jack London have to teach us about electrification--and how might his example help us understand the power outages in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria?
  • How did writers and technologists reconcile fantasies about American individualism with a new emphasis on systems?
  • How is this history usable--what can we learn from it today? 

Sponsored by the Reilly Center for Science Technology and Values