Friday, 3 February 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Gustavo Garza, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

“Thomas Edison, the Phonograph, and the Sacred: Phonographic Musings on Life and Death”

Thomas Edison’s phonograph was widely hailed as his “baby,” and he consistently positioned it as one of his most important inventions. As he continued his phonograph development and experimentation, Edison utilized the specific processes of sound recording to support grand claims about science, human anatomy and behavior, technology, and social and cultural development. From the structure of the atom and the composition of living and non-living things to the workings of the cosmos, Edison relied on the phonograph’s mechanical operation as a way to structure and legitimize his theory of “life units,” which reduced the visible and invisible experiences in the world to a unified theory of physics. In this context, Edison challenged the dichotomy between the material and immaterial with his phonographic work. It was precisely this mechanical ability to both model the basics of organic life and capture, preserve, and reproduce the human voice and expression — the tension between the mechanical and non-mechanical — where the phonograph exposed potential blurring of long-accepted ideas about the uniqueness of human beings and the otherworldliness of religion and other spiritual practices.


Gustavo Garza currently is a history teacher and department chair at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin. After earning a BA in History from UT in 2002, he pursued and  completed a PhD at UCLA in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology field. While finishing up his PhD, Gustavo taught at the Oakwood School in the Los Angeles area for seven years, and has been back in Austin now for four years. Also, he currently is interested in the history of the Bureau of Land Management and the scientific practices and technologies that shaped this institution.