Heidi Voskuhl: "Machines and Manners: Android Automata and Sentimental Body Techniques in Eighteenth-Century Europe"


Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Maxwell Dworkin 119

CRCS Privacy and Security Lunch Seminar

Date: Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Time: 12:00pm-1:30 pm
Place: Maxwell Dworkin 119

Speaker: Heidi Voskuhl

Title: Machines and Manners: Android Automata and Sentimental Body Techniques in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Abstract: This paper explores the relationships between sentiments and mechanical machinery in the German Enlightenment through an investigation of two android automata that both display women playing a keyboard instrument. I analyze the two women automata’s mechanical motion and musical performance, and the respective clockwork mechanisms that gave rise to it, against the background of corresponding social and cultural contexts of music-making at the time. I demonstrate that the clockwork mechanisms were designed to reproduce mechanically a set of body techniques that were used in eighteenth-century Germany to communicate affects during musical performance from the musician to the audience. Such systematic attempts to cultivate affects were part of larger efforts in this age of “sentimentality” to establish new types of social relationships to create a new social order – civil society – and have it take the place of the traditional estate society. My analysis of these automata’s “mechanics of sentiment” asks, furthermore, how they embodied in this moment of the formation of modern society the fundamental tension residing in the mass production of individuality.

Bio: Heidi Voskuhl is an assistant professor in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, where she teaches the history of technology from the early modern to the modern period. She specializes in the history of technology and “robotics” in eighteenth-century continental Europe. Her broader interests include the philosophy of technology and the history of the human-machine relationship. She teaches classes in the history and historiography of technology, the history of engineering and computing, the Enlightenment, and the philosophy and theory of technology and literature. She is working on a book manuscript tentatively titled _The Mechanics of Sentiment: Automata and the Culture of Affect in Eighteenth-Century Europe_. She holds masters degrees in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University (UK) and in Physics from Oldenburg University (Germany), as well as a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University.