16 Feb. 2024 — 12:00 noon — GAR 1.102

Stefan Schöberlein (Texas A&M-Central Texas)

“Wiring the Brain: A Literary History of Neurotransmission in the Nineteenth Century”

The years between 1800 and 1880 are often described as the emergence of modern neuroscience. While the strictly scientific history of this period is well-documented, its cultural echoes and entanglements remain overlooked and underappreciated. This talk will revisit a central moment in this history—the discovery of the electro-chemical, nervous nature of the brain—to find it deeply enmeshed in media fantasies of wired communication. From Coleridge’s cranial wind harps and Thoreau’s telegraphed minds to Freud’s early theories of brains as relay networks, the western world in the nineteenth century debated the idea of thought as transmissible material impulse. What grounded this discourse was a cultural referent shared between science and literature: communication media. In tracing this nexus through canonical works as well as textual rediscoveries, this talk will sketch out an overlooked prehistory of cranial transmission in nineteenth-century literature and media culture.
Stefan Schöberlein is an Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M University–Central Texas and the author of Writing the Brain: Material Minds and Literature, 1800-1880 (Oxford University Press, 2023). His research focuses on textual recovery and the history of science in literature, with a particular focus on the poet Walt Whitman.

26 Jan. 2024 — 12:00 noon — GAR 1.102

Xaq Frohlich (Auburn University)

Book Talk: From Label to Table

This talk draws from my book, From Label to Table: Regulating Food in America in the Information Age (UC Press, 2023), which is a history of the emergence of the Information Age in food and diet markets. By following the history of policy debates about food labels at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), from the 1930s to 1990s, I’ll describe evolving popular preoccupations of diet and personal responsibility for health, and the consequences of packaged food economy for food retailing and marketing. In particular, I discuss the FDA’s transition from an earlier philosophy of regulating markets through “standards of identity,” which were codified traditional recipes, to a new philosophy, still governing today, that relies on informative food labels, such as ingredient panels and the Nutrition Facts label. I’ll conclude the talk by discussing ways historians can critically engage policymakers using history, in this case drawing lessons from past food labeling debates to challenge key assumptions that underly many policies in U.S. food governance today.


Xaq Frohlich is an associate professor of history of technology at Auburn University. He earned his BA in History at UT and his PhD in STS at MIT and was a visiting research fellow of UT’s Institute for Historical Studies in 2016–2017. His research focuses on the intersection of science, law, and markets, and how the three have shaped modern, everyday understandings of food, risk, and responsibility.