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.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Condrau, Flurin; Worboys, Michael; (2010)
Tuberculosis Then and Now: Perspectives On the History of an Infectious Disease (/isis/citation/CBB001031574/)

Article Mooney, Graham; (2007)
Infectious Diseases and Epidemiologic Transition in Victorian Britain? Definitely (/isis/citation/CBB000773200/)

Article Alborn, Timothy L.; (2001)
Insurance against Germ Theory: Commerce and Conservatism in Late-Victorian Medicine (/isis/citation/CBB000100879/)

Thesis Newsom Kerr, Matthew L.; (2007)
Fevered Metropolis: Epidemic Disease and Isolation in Victorian London (/isis/citation/CBB001561504/)

Article Worboys, Michael; (2007)
Was There a Bacteriological Revolution in Late Nineteenth-Century Medicine? (/isis/citation/CBB000770755/)

Essay Review Brunton, Deborah C.; (2003)
The Idea of a Germ (/isis/citation/CBB000340816/)

Book Vale, Brian; Edwards, Griffith; (2011)
Physician to the Fleet: The Life and Times of Thomas Trotter 1760--1832 (/isis/citation/CBB001250120/)

Article Waddington, Keir; (2001)
The Science of Cows: Tuberculosis, Research and the State in the United Kingdom, 1890-1914 (/isis/citation/CBB000102228/)

Article Redford, Duncan; (2014)
Opposition to the Channel Tunnel, 1882--1975: Identity, Island Status and Security (/isis/citation/CBB001550427/)

Article Nerlich, Brigitte; (2007)
Media, Metaphors and Modelling (/isis/citation/CBB000831429/)

Article Sioban Nelson; (2020)
Nursing infectious disease: a history with three lessons (/isis/citation/CBB140801105/)

Book Smallman-Raynor, Matthew; Cliff, A. D.; (2004)
War Epidemics: An Historical Geography of Infectious Diseases in Military Conflict and Civil Strife, 1850-2000 (/isis/citation/CBB000771247/)

Book Badaracco, Claire; (2007)
Prescribing Faith: Medicine, Media, and Religion in American Culture (/isis/citation/CBB001031306/)

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
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
History of Science
Social History of Medicine
Science, Technology and Human Values
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Boydell Press
Oxford University Press
Baylor University Press
McGill-Queen's University Press
University of Southern California
Tulane University
Infectious diseases
Disease and diseases
Public health
Mass media
Lister, Joseph, Baron
Trotter, Thomas
Finsen, Niels Ryberg
Ladoo, Harold Sonny
Cassin, Frieda
Kincaid, Jamaica
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
18th century
21st century
Great Britain
United States
Valencia (Spain)
Great Britain. Royal Navy

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment