Monthly Archives: February 2017

Friday, 17 February 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Tracie Matysik, UT


“Spinozism and Science:  A Matter of Historical Debate”

For over one and a half centuries, Marxist and leftist thinkers have exhibited a complicated affinity for the thought of the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Drawn variously to his critique of religion, his strict adherence to absolute immanence, his challenge to conceptions of atomized individualism, his theorization of the fundamental democratic basis of the state — to name just a few points of interest — Spinoza’s politically radical disciples have returned to him again and again to conceptualize the theoretical and epistemological challenges they were confronting in their own time periods. One point of productive tension between Marxism and Spinozism has been the status of science and of natural-scientific materialism. In this presentation, Tracie Matysik will discuss one chapter in this long history, namely the place of Spinozism in the formation of Marxist “orthodoxy” in the years between roughly 1890 and 1905 in German Social Democracy and in the Second International more broadly. She will discuss how and why leading figures in those debates appropriated Spinozism for diverse purposes and tied Spinoza’s thought to a range of scientific discourses of the day.


Tracie Matysik is an associate professor in the UT History Department. She is the author of Reforming the Moral Subject: Ethics and Sexuality in Central Europe (2008) and co-editor of German Modernities from Wilhelm to Weimar: A Contest of Futures (2016). In addition she has published articles in the histories of secularism, subjectivity, psychoanalysis, globalization, and Spinozism. At present she is working on a book manuscript entitled When Spinoza Met Marx: Experiments in Democratic Activity, 1830-Present, which is an exploration of alternative ways thinkers have approached the idea of meaningful action in the material, sensual world.

Friday, 10 February 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Jonathan Coopersmith, Texas A&M University


“Forging the Fax: How Fax Machines Helped Create ‘Alternative Facts'”

John Perry Barlow’s bold 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace epitomized the optimism, excitement—and naivete—of the Internet for promoting communications, political action, and sharing information. But the Internet and now social media have also, as the last election has shown, enabled a post-modern reality of “alternative facts,” “fake news,” dissembling chatbots, leaked information, massive electronic attacks against individuals, spamming, and other discordant challenges to visions of an information utopia. This paper examines how such hopes and dystopic applications also accompanied the rise of faxing.

The evolution of the fax machine and the Internet reflects larger changes in communications based on decreasing barriers to entry, the democratization of production, and automation. One result is a communications version of Gresham’s law, “bad pseudo-data drives out good information.”


Jonathan Coopersmith teaches the history of technology at Texas A&M University. His latest book, Faxed. The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015) is a co-recipient of the 2016 Business History Conference Hagley Prize for the best book in business history. Currently he is researching the importance of frothy and fraudulent firms in emerging technologies.