Friday, December 21, 2012

David Hochfelder's "The Telegraph in America, 1832-1920"

David Hochfelder is an assistant professor of history at The State University of New York, Albany.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Telegraph in America, 1832-1920, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss the supposed impact the telegraph had on written prose. Previously in that chapter, I explained how the telegraph changed newsgathering through the wire services and how it changed the psychological experience of reading the news. The telegraph created what we today call the news cycle, and newspaper readers began to develop a compulsion to obtain news quickly and often. To my surprise, however, I discovered that the telegraph had very little effect on written prose outside the newspaper page. Since the telegraph was the first new technology since the printing press to interact strongly with the written word, it seems self-evident that it must have affected prose style. For example, both Emily Dickinson and Ernest Hemingway wrote in what might be described as a “telegraphic” style. However, my research led me to conclude the opposite—that the telegraph had very little effect on literary style. Instead, cultural forces were responsible for changes in American literary style in the 19th century.

Page 99 is representative of the book as a whole because my main concern is to investigate the telegraph as a disruptive technology. I identify areas in which it led to profound changes in society and economic relations. However, a technology like the telegraph does not affect all areas of society and culture. Discovering what a technology cannot do is just as important as explaining what it can do.
Learn more about The Telegraph in America, 1832-1920 at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

Writers Read: David Hochfelder.

--Marshal Zeringue