Article ID: CBB555840404

"Contagion by Telephone": Print Media and Knowledge about Infectious Diseases in Britain, 1880s–1914 (October 2021)


Communication technologies have long generated anxieties about physical and mental well-being. From the 1880s until World War I, concerns about "infection by telephone" in the British press prompted medical authorities and the National Telephone Company to investigate whether using the telephone, especially in public places, increased the possibility of contracting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria. This article reconstructs for the first time these transnational debates and the associated medical experiments. In contrast to previous scholarship, which has conceptualized health concerns associated with the telephone primarily within the framework of a nervous modernity, this article argues that the anxieties about "infectious telephones" also reflected the complex negotiations surrounding the emergence of new telecommunication networks and medical theories. It demonstrates that state and commercial actors, medical knowledge, and print media all shaped notions of public health risks and how to contain them.

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Authors & Contributors
Worboys, Michael
Alborn, Timothy L.
Waddington, Keir
Brunton, Deborah C.
Cliff, A. D.
Smallman-Raynor, Matthew
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
History of Science
Social History of Medicine
Science, Technology and Human Values
Boydell Press
Oxford University Press
McGill-Queen's University Press
University of Southern California
Tulane University
University of Leeds (United Kingdom
Infectious diseases
Disease and diseases
Public health
Lister, Joseph, Baron
Trotter, Thomas
Finsen, Niels Ryberg
Ladoo, Harold Sonny
Cassin, Frieda
Kincaid, Jamaica
Great Britain
Valencia (Spain)
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
18th century
21st century
Great Britain. Royal Navy

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