This compelling new interdisciplinary study investigates the scientific and cultural roots of contemporary conceptions of the network, including computer information systems, the human nervous system, and communication technology. Laura Otis demonstrates that those roots are centuries old, not a modern conception. She shows how nineteenth-century neurobiologists, engineers, and fiction writers influenced each other's ideas about communication. Placing our own comparisons of nerve and computer networks in perspective, Otis explores their emergence in early analogies linking nerves and telegraphs.
The interdisciplinary sweep of the book is impressive, as it focuses simultaneously on literary works by George Eliot, Bram Stoker, Henry James, and Mark Twain (among others), and on scientific and technological achievements by Luigi Galvani, Hermann von Helmholtz, Charles Babbage, Samuel Morse, and Werner von Siemens. This unique juxtaposition of physiology, engineering, and literature reveals the common thoughts of writers in widely diverse fields and suggests how our current comparisons of nerve and computer networks may enhance our understanding of each. Highly accessible and jargon-free, Networking will appeal to general readers interested in the origins of twentieth-century neuro-cybernetic metaphors, as well as to scholars interested in interdisciplinary studies, nineteenth-century literature, and the history of science and technology.