HPS in 20 Objects Lecture 19: Magneto-Electric Machine

Public Lecture, part of History & Philosophy of Science in 20 Objects series.

Across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a broad interest in the relationship between electricity and the body’s nervous energy came to inform understandings of health and illness. Electricity was widely conceptualised as both an internal force within the body, and an external energy force, and orthodox and unorthodox physicians alike explored the possibility that it could be used to reinvigorate the ailing body. Medical electricity was used to treat a range of conditions at electrotherapeutic departments in hospitals across the UK and the US. It also became a dominant feature of the medical marketplace. During this period, the electrified body was a common spectacle in everyday life, as the trade in electrotherapeutic devices – from electric belts and corsets, to electric hairbrushes, toothbrushes, insoles, and plasters – boomed. By the 1930s, electrotherapy was even being advertised as a rejuvenating cure for old age. Join medical historian Dr James Stark and cultural historian Dr Catherine Oakley as they explore how knowledge about the therapeutic potential of medical electricity was collaboratively produced across scientific and cultural forms. Electrotherapy machines represented just one of a range of anti-ageing solutions in the first half of the twentieth century. After the lecture, explore our “Rejuvenation Emporium”, a hands-on, pop-up exhibition of medical devices, cosmetic advertisements, novels, and silent films that showcases the history of our regenerative desires.

Tea and coffee will be provided outside the lecture theatre from 6pm. Visitors are warmly invited to stay for a wine reception and browse the exhibition after the lecture. Please note the slightly earlier start time of 6.15pm for lecture 19.

This event is part of Being Human, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, taking place 17-25th November. The festival is led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.