Thursday, 25 November 2010

Archaeologies of telegraphy - J.J.Fahie

Not that we should be fetishistically interested in the questions of firsts - the first inventor of this and that - but still this is a source worthwhile mentioning. Thanks to Doug Kahn's tip, I discovered the writings of John Joseph Fahie and especially his magnificent early history of telegraphy - even the first volume which maps this history to the year 1837 is over 500 pages, and the other part, focusing on the wireless telegraphy, continues to year 1899 with over 300 pages. Moreover, interesting is the way Fahie frames his interest of knowledge as "archaeological" - an archaeology of electricity and electric communications, of tracking "foreshadows" and working with "submerged" materials (as he points out when talking about the submarine telegraph cable histories extending the metaphor).

To quote from the Preface of the first of the two books, A History of Electric Telegraphy, to the year 1833, from 1884:

"Soon after joining the telegraph service, in 1865, our archaeological bent took another turn, and we now began to collect books and scraps on electricity, magnetism, and their applications--particularly to telegraphy, and with the same industrious ardour as before." (viii)

So is J.J.Fahie the first media archaeologist? Perhaps indeed not a relevant question, but both the use of such metaphors in terms of the objects of knowledge (and the fact that he is interested in the history of technical communication) as well as the interest in "notes, scraps, &c" (ix) is of interest in this early work of excavation. The heterogeneous nature of the source materials is to be noted - the way he explicates it as well. Similarly as with the much more famous figure interested in digging through heterogeneous materials of modernity - its rubble and ruins - Walter Benjamin, Fahie is himself a product of that modernity where the "fragment" seems to be the constituting source for knowledge creation.

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