THE CULTURAL HISTORY OF ELECTRICITY IN THE 19TH-CENTURY RUSSIA: ELECTRIC LIGHT AS A SPECTACLE AND AS ENTERTAINMENT
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THE CULTURAL HISTORY OF ELECTRICITY IN THE 19TH-CENTURY RUSSIA: ELECTRIC LIGHT AS A SPECTACLE AND AS ENTERTAINMENT
Annotation
PII
S020596060000525-9-1
Publication type
Article
Status
Published
Authors
Ilya Sidorchuk 
Natalia Nikiforova
Pages
448-469
Abstract
The article explores one of the aspects of the cultural history of electricity in Russia in the 19th - early 20th century, drawing upon the approaches developed within the framework of the Western humanities. The study focuses on the circumstances of introducing electricity to the public and on the impact of electricity on the construction and transformation of leisure and recreation practices and spaces. The authors demonstrate the specifics of domesticating electricity that was hindered by the latter's uncertain identity. Numerous projects of perfect future described both in social utopias and popular science writings were associated with comprehending and taming electricity. In the 19th century, the 'magic' of electricity that for a long time remained unaffordable for the mass-market customers became part of the urban visual culture, for instance, having been used by authorities to enhance the impact of political spectacles such as Imperial ceremonies. Electricity became a significant contribution to the development of leisure culture: it was used as a decoration for festivities, amusement spaces, and events. At the industrial and art exhibitions, the merits and possibilities of the new technology were being demonstrated to the public though entertainment and education, thus forming the vision of modern life as it 'should be'. The authors conclude that, in the period in question, electricity must not be regarded as just a sensational innovative technology that possessed obvious advantages lacking in all previous technologies. This new technology must be regarded as a complex cultural phenomenon that needed to be symbolically appropriated due to its uncertain identity, conspicuous practical applicability, and powerful visual effects. From the 1880s through the 1910s, the image of electricity as innovative technology in the public discourse was romanticized and relegated to the sphere of mystical experience, at the same time becoming the symbol of a rational, well-organized life, 'the promise of the future'.
Keywords
cultural history of electricity, history of leisure, electrical sublime, domestication of electricity
Date of publication
01.07.2017
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145
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