Richard Taws will be giving a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Tuesday, October 28, 2014, from 12 to 1:30pm, at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. His talk is entitled “Signal Images: Art and Telegraphy in Post-Revolutionary France.”

Richard Taws is Reader in the History of Art Department at University College London, specializing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art, with a particular emphasis on the material culture of the French Revolution. He taught previously in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, Montreal, and has been a Getty Postdoctoral Fellow (2006-7) and a Member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2010). He is a member of the editorial board of Art History and the current recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize (2013-15). He will be a Visiting Fellow at the Bard Graduate Center from October to December 2014. Taws’s research focuses on everyday, ephemeral and obsolete forms of visual culture and related issues to do with time, materiality, technology, and value. His recent book, The Politics of the Provisional: Art and Ephemera in Revolutionary France(University Park: Penn State University Press, 2013), argues that thinking about material durability was crucial to how people understood the French Revolution’s transformative role in history. He has also written recently on subjects including anachronism and collecting at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, eighteenth-century caricature, revolutionary almanacs, paper money, and printed and photographic representations of royal impostors. He is currently completing a book about the visual and material culture of telegraphy in post-revolutionary France, and co-editing a forthcoming special issue of Art History on art and technology in Early Modern Europe.

The development of a successful optical telegraph network in France in the early 1790s transformed the ways in which information could be transmitted across space and time. This semaphoric system, devised by Claude Chappe, was an important and widespread means of communication until the introduction of electromagnetic telegraphy in the 1850s. Operating in public, but conveying secret messages, optical telegraphy emerged at a time when the legibility of signs and the use of images for political ends were increasingly pressing issues. Despite the intractability of its signals, the telegraph became a ubiquitous sight in the first half of the nineteenth century, transforming the role of architecture and the ways in which landscape, both urban and rural, was perceived and represented. Reading early innovations in telegraphy against a range of contemporary images and objects, this paper explores the artistic, social and epistemological problems posed by optical telegraphy during and after the French Revolution, and considers the implications of these for our understanding of the political and affective dimensions of visual transmission in France, and beyond, in its Caribbean colonies.

Coffee and tea will be served; attendees are welcome to bring their own lunch.

RSVP is required.