Les Machines de l'Imaginaire

Abstract: “Imagination under influence”.
Social, political and artistic effects of the emerging technologies and networks in the 19th century.

This thesis traces the emergence of technologies and networks in the 19th century and their particular influence on social and collective imaginations.
This research is rooted in the history of ideas, of fears and fantasies, of myths and opinions associated with technology. It examines how people, across time, integrated new machines into their everyday lives and questions how they made sense of them.
With respect to humans’ contemporary relationships with technology and networks, it is provocative to reflect upon historical reactions to the telegraph, the train, or the camera.
People invested emotionally in those machines, far beyond their immediate functions. To some, they represented ways to enhance human senses or powers like communication, transportation, vision and strength; in this sense, they were “miracle machines”. To others, new technology was the sign of decadence, taking humans further away from their roots in nature.
To take a stand for or against technology, therefore, had broad connotations if seen within the context of political stakes. Emerging networks that helped bridge geographical distances could, for instance, be thought of as uniting people across countries and building communities.
Those projected utopias and fears, indicative of the evocative power of technology were probably best translated in the arts and literature; the creativity generated by mythology surrounding machines led to some of the early steps of modern media art.

Info & Credits


Joëlle Bitton

DEA thesis:

Université Paris-IV Sorbonne, Histoire, École des Mondes Contemporains. Under the advisement of Prof. Pascal Griset.




Galerie des Machines, Paris, 1889, François Dutert
(built for the Paris World’s Fair of 1889)