Thesis ID: CBB601718949

See, Think, Learn: Creativity and Limits in Early Cold War Art and Technology (2021)


Talia Bess Shabtay (Author)
Feldman, Hannah (Advisor)

Northwestern University
Feldman, Hannah
Publication date: 2021
Language: English

Publication Date: 2021
Physical Details: 309

This dissertation is about breaking points. The forms and practices examined in what follows point to the ways in which art and visual culture in the mid-twentieth century United States could put pressure on technology—could, indeed, point to technology’s breaking points where it ceases to account for the fullness of the physical, social, psychological, or physiological scaffolds of lived experience. Such forms and practices are of special significance in the contemporary moment, when seeing itself has come to signify both an embodied human act and an algorithmic code. Each of the projects analyzed help to locate limits: limits of technology’s capacity to record, to encode, or to model the world we live in. In the process, they shed light on the cracks and crevices where human sensibility and imagination was, and still is, needed. A dissertation about breaking points is also fundamentally about the kinds of creative problem solving and innovation common to artistic and scientific practices. The project brings together a compendium of American artists, designers, engineers, and scientists who devised new techniques and technologies for seeing, thinking, and learning in the years between the birth of television and the emergence of modern electronic computing. They did so in the wake of World War II and the early Cold War, a time of massive government, academic, and industrial investment in techniques and technologies for knowing and a sharp increase in specialization. The practitioners I engage include artists such as Berenice Abbott, Man Ray, and Charles and Ray Eames, the engineer Jan Rajchman, a host of historians and critics ranging from science historian I. Bernard Cohen to the novelist and former chemist Charles Percy (C. P.) Snow, and mathematicians, from the nineteenth-century geometer Felix Klein to Claude Shannon and Alan Turing, foundational figures of computer science. In their efforts to enhance the human sensorium through technologies, they sought to overturn disciplinary boundaries and enable a mass populace to access knowledge through perception retooled for the techno cultural future they imagined.

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Authors & Contributors
Branch, Michael P.
Brauckmann, Sabine
Brownlee, Peter John
Dillon, Sarah M.
Dupré, Sven
Ihde, Don
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Physics in Perspective
Scientia Canadensis: Journal of the History of Canadian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
New York, City University of
Ashgate Publishing
Duke University Press
MIT Press
Pennsylvania State University Press
Visual perception
Visual representation; visual communication
Senses and sensation; perception
Technology and art
Popular culture
Aguilonius, Franciscus
Duchamp, Marcel
Eakins, Thomas
Einstein, Albert
Franklin, Christine Ladd
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
14th century
17th century
United States
Toronto (Ontario)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
University of Toronto
IMAX Filmed Entertainment

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