Past Event

Paul C. Johnson – An Automaton’s Interiority: Ajeeb in Brazil, 1896

February 8, 2018
12:15 PM - 1:15 PM
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The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, 74 Morningside Drive, New York

SpeakerPaul C. Johnson, Professor of History, University of Michigan

Professor Johnson considers the attraction to human-like automatons. Center-stage is a machine named Ajeeb as he made his way from Europe to North America and then to Brazil. In spite of Ajeeb’s short career in Rio de Janeiro, from 1896 to 1897, he left his mark–a trail of wonder, but also of polemics on personhood and fraud. I explore the ways that this automaton “Turk” took part in a moment that birthed a new family of spirits, the turcos. The goal of this essay is not to intervene in the already-extensive literature on the automaton whether as thing or concept, but rather reconsider the body of work on the automaton from a distinctive point of view, namely that of the “religious” appeal of nearhumanness.

This event is part of the Society of Fellows Thursday Lecture Series. Open to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests. All others wishing to attend, please email [email protected] describing your interest and requesting registration. For more information, visit the lecture webpage.