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English professor takes on technology in research and teaching

October 25, 2011

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at or 608-363-2849

The Lives of Machines: The Industrial Imaginary in Victorian Literature and Culture is Associate Professor and Chair of English Tamara Ketabgian’s first book.  Published in March, the book examines mechanical ideas of feeling and community in 19th century Britain.  The book explores how we as humans are - and historically have been - “letting off steam” and feeling “under pressure.”

The Lives of Machines addresses concepts that often come up in Ketabgian’s classes.  One course that she has taught, Victorian Garbage, looks at how the city is imagined as a “dirty” machine and organism, producing wealth and waste. This concept is also found in a writing program and sophomore initiatives course that Ketabgian is currently teaching called Steampunk: Remaking History in Postmodern Culture, Literature, and Craft. “Steampunk” is the rewriting and reimagining of the Industrial Revolution—the “fantastical” or “cool” 19th century.  Ketabgian also teaches writing about technology in courses on science fiction, and her current research focuses on the relation between spiritual fantasies of technology and science fiction.

Ketabgian compared looking at technology to a way of looking at modernity.  In her view, the world has never been modern, but has always made claims at modernity through an uncomfortable overlapping between society, culture, language and technology.  These are just some of the interdisciplinary concepts addressed by Ketabgian’s book and teaching.

“I get to try out a lot of neat things,” Ketabgian said. “A lot of my classes are inspired by questions like ‘what is modernity?’ ‘How might we understand or express what modernity feels like?’  It’s a question of affect—how is it that literature speaks to this experience so distinctly?”

Source:  Tamara Ketabgian is an associate professor of English and chair of the English department.  She teaches courses on 19th century British literature and culture, critical theory, science fiction, the Enlightenment, the history of technology, and “steampunk” as a cultural movement.  Ketabgian has published a number of articles and presented a number of conference papers.  Her first book titled The Lives of Machines: The Industrial Imaginary in Victorian Literature and Culture was published in 2011. She can serve as a media resource on topics related to her research and teaching.  A full bio and vitae are available at