Visible Language Series Lecture

A Brief History of the Spectre of the Internet and the Death of Writing

(Cambridge, March 21, 2011) In the age of Google, blogging, and the e-book, many fear that reading and writing are swiftly passing away. We fear more than the disappearance of pen and paper per se; it's the loss of cherished practices and long-established mental reflexes that disturbs and confounds.

On Wednesday, April 20, 2011,  the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology presents "A Brief History of the Spectre of the Internet and the Death of Writing" at Harvard’s Geological Lecture Hall (24 Oxford St., Cambridge) at 5:30 PM, with a reception to follow at the Peabody Museum (11 Divinity Avenue).

Twitter, the telephone, the penny dreadful, even the printing press itself—each in turn has been seen as an agent of decadence and cultural death, as the harbinger of the turn from civilization to barbarism. Of course, new ideas and genres have frequently been the target of religious and political censors determined to stem the tides of change. But bemoaning the rise of "printed poison" or the decline of attention spans is a move distinct from censorship. By examining instances when the death knell of reading and writing has been tolled in the past—in the appearance of new and lighter forms of journalism, in the rise of penny dreadfuls and comic books, in the appearance of the telephone and its promise to supplant literary experience—we discover that fear of literature's end is inextricably bound up in modernity's habit of creative destruction.

The speaker is Matthew Battles, the author of Library: An Unquiet History.

About the Peabody Museum
The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.

Hours and location: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to: The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station.

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Media Contact:

Faith Sutter
Communications Coordinator
Peabody Museum
Tel: 617-495-3397



Detail from cover of Spring Heeled Jack, illustrated "penny dreadful" ca. 1890.

High resolution image available on request.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011: "A Brief History of the Spectre of the Internet and the Death of Writing"

5:30 PM Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, followed by a public reception at the Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Information: 617-496-1027 

See more about the Visible Language series.