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When the Medium Was the Mission


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Jenna Supp-Montgomerie is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Communication Studies at The University of Iowa.


When the Medium Was the Mission excavates the entire assemblage surrounding the first transatlantic undersea cable, typically thought of as marking the birth of network culture in 1858. Rather than build on the conventional definition of a network - which favors the technological structure connecting nodes - Supp-Montgomerie begins with the premise that networks have always been 'first and foremost imaginaries' or enactments of 'particular forms of social and material life.' This framing makes clear that whatever we currently believe about the inherent affordances of networks is in fact what our network environment allows us to believe. * LA Review of Books *
As refreshingly original as it is persuasive, Supp-Montgomerie's media history traces the entwined trajectories of religious affect and network-oriented thinking as they emerged in reference to American telegraphy. Her stories of fervid missionaries, Bible communists, and Protestant utopians-as of failed connections and togetherness defeated-should resonate for readers today who are steeped in Silicon Valley evangelism. -- Lisa Gitelman, author of Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents
Supp-Montgomerie models how to integrate the study of human and non-human actors in American religious history, offering us a fascinating account of infrastructure's work to animate religious life and of the politics such religious infrastructure enabled. -- Judith Weisenfeld, Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion, Princeton University
Nets consist mostly of holes: that's what makes them nets. This insight drives Jenna Supp-Montgomerie's revisionist genealogy of our network-intoxicated present. With a rich social-theoretical imagination and generous interpretive brush, she shows how technological dreamers conjure tales of rapture and sizzle from facts of rupture and fizzle. Networks, like Penelope's loom, unravel as they ravel. This insight is both foundational for media history and a moral truth of the first order. -- John Durham Peters, Yale University

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