William J. Turkel

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] “In a sense, all life consists of the colonization of an electric world. But to see that, we have to go back to the very beginning.” William J. Turkel’s new book traces the emergence and inhabiting of an electric world through the span of human history and beyond. Embracing a “big history” approach to the archive, Spark from the Deep: How Shocking Experiments with Strongly Electric Fish Powered Scientific Discovery (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) is a story of the human understanding and use of electricity through the study of strongly-electric catfish, rays, and eels. It’s a history of intimacy between life and the electric, humans and instruments, life and death, from the earliest history of human interaction with strongly electric fish through the modern world. Turkel collects a fascinating set of sources and stories on therapeutic, experimental, and conceptual encounters with fish as apparatus, and readers will find wonderful engagements with the work of Darwin, Volta, Galvani, von Humboldt, Faraday, Du Bois-Reymond, and many more writers and thinkers. Spark from the Deep is also the result of a very inventive and thoughtful approach to digital history, and we talk about Turkel’s research methodology and engagement with digital tools and sources in the course of the interview. As a result, this will be of interest to listeners who seek stories of the electric, as well as listeners interested more broadly in the craft of history. Enjoy!

You can find Turkel’s introduction to doing research with digital sources on his website.

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