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.