Past Event

Collins/Kaufmann Forum: Sandy Isenstadt, "Manufacturing Vision: Electric Lighting and Efficient Labor"

April 11, 2022
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
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Live Webinar / Schermerhorn 807

Steady, bright light is conducive to work.  At first glance, it is hard to see this claim as anything more than common sense based on ordinary experience.  Upon closer examination, the truism turns out to have a history.  It was formulated by capitalist reason in factories as a product of lighting innovations, first gas in the early nineteenth century and then electric in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  As sites of concentrated labor, factories—textile mills in particular—were early adopters of lighting technologies.  They were also privately owned, organized for profit, and comprised several constituencies: workers, management and, in the context of lighting, illuminating engineers.  These finite aims and limited actors narrowed rationales for lighting and simplified its historical politics.  Electric lighting’s varied social effects touted in other spheres were eclipsed in factories by the singular goal of enhancing profitability.  Lighting was conceived in such settings not as a public good or service but as a factor of production.

Sandy Isenstadt teaches the history of modern architecture at the University of Delaware, where he is Chair of the Department of Art History.  He writes mostly on American architecture and especially on postwar reformulations of modernism.  Spatial perception in the domestic environment is the subject of The Modern American House (2009), winner of the Spiro Kostof Award from the Society of Architectural Historians.  He has co-edited a number of books ranging from modernism in the Middle East to histories of urban lighting and, most recently, two volumes, one on the formation of archives and the other on the role of modeling in material culture studies.

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