Being Modern

The Cultural Impact of Science in the Early Twentieth Century

Edited by Robert Bud, Paul Greenhalgh, Frank James, and Morag Shiach

ISBN: 9781787353985

Publication: October 10, 2018

What is this?

In the early decades of the twentieth century, engagement with science was commonly used as an emblem of modernity. This phenomenon is now attracting increasing attention in different historical specialties. Being Modern builds on this recent scholarly interest to explore engagement with science across culture from the end of the nineteenth century to approximately 1940.

Addressing the breadth of cultural forms in Britain and the western world from the architecture of Le Corbusier to working class British science fiction, Being Modern paints a rich picture. Seventeen distinguished contributors from a range of fields including the cultural study of science and technology, art and architecture, English culture and literature examine the issues involved. The book will be a valuable resource for students, and a spur to scholars to further examination of culture as an interconnected web of which science is a critical part, and to supersede such tired formulations as 'Science and culture'.


Robert Bud is Research Keeper at the Science Museum in London. His award-winning publications in the history of science include studies of biotechnology and scientific instruments.

Paul Greenhalgh is Director of the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia, and Professor of Art History there. He has published extensively in the history of art, design, and the decorative arts in the early modern period.

Frank James is Professor of History of Science at the Royal Institution and University College London. His research formerly centred on Faraday, but now focuses on Davy.

Morag Shiach is Professor of Cultural History at Queen Mary University of London. She has published extensively on the cultural history of modernism and on modernism and labour.

Being Modern: Introduction
Robert Bud and Morag Shiach

Section 1: Science, modernity and culture
1 Multiple modernisms in concert: the sciences, technology and culture in Vienna around 1900
Mitchell G. Ash
2 The cinematic sound of industrial modernity: first notes
Tim Boon
3 Woolf’s atom, Eliot’s catalyst and Richardson’s waves of light: science and modernism in 1919
Morag Shiach
4 T.S. Eliot: modernist literature, disciplines and the systematic pursuit of knowledge
Kevin Brazil

Section 2: Tensions over science
5 Modernity and the ambivalent significance of applied science: motors, wireless, telephones and poison gas
Robert Bud
6 ‘The springtime of science’: modernity and the future and past of science
Frank A.J.L. James
7 ‘Come on you demented modernists, let’s hear from you’: science fans as literary critics in the 1930s
Charlotte Sleigh

Section 3: Mathematics and physics
8 Modern by numbers: modern mathematics as a model for literary modernism
Nina Engelhardt
9 Sculpture in the Belle Epoque: mathematics, art and apparitions in school and gallery
Lewis Pyenson
10 Architecture, science and purity
Judi Loach
11 A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Ham: wireless, modernity and interwar nuclear physics  
Jeff Hughes
12 Whose modernism, whose speed? Designing mobility for the future, 1880s–1945
Ruth Oldenziel
Section 4: Life, biology and the organicist metaphor
13 Ludwig Koch’s birdsong on wartime BBC radio: knowledge, citizenship and solace
Michael Guida
14 ‘More Modern than the Moderns’: performing cultural evolution in the Kibbo Kift Kindred
Annebella Pollen
15 Organicism and the modern world: from A.N. Whitehead to Wyndham Lewis and D.H. Lawrence
Craig Gordon
16 Liquid crystal as chemical form and model of thinking in Alfred Döblin’s modernist science
Esther Leslie
17 ‘I am attracted to the natural order of things’: Le Corbusier’s rejection of the machine
Tim Benton
Epilogue: Science after modernity
Frank A.J.L. James and Robert Bud
Select bibliography

'Being Modern's aim to initiate wider discussions about the role of science in studies of modernity across cultural studies, English literature, art history and the history of science is met through the wealth of papers and clear editorial direction. This book provides a valuable resource for scholars and students of the period broadly concerned with the culture of modernity.'
The British Journal for the History of Science
"The essays are well researched and one of the strengths of this collections is that it provides a wide-ranging view of engagement with, and interpretations of, scientific knowledge. This range testifies to the editors’ sensitivity toward the growing literature in this area, which has moved beyond taking academic physics—particularly relativity—as providing the archetypal scientific concepts of modernity... Overall, this book contributes an interesting and diverse collection of specific cases that will be a resource for scholars of modernity in multiple disciplines. It is freely available online in its entirety on the UCL Press website, a boon for accessibility that promises to be especially useful for students."
Galina Shyndriayeva  
H-Net Reviews

Format: Open Access HTML

438 Pages

ISBN: 9781787353985

Publication: October 10, 2018

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