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Crossed lines: literature and telephony

Investigating the conceptualisation of the telephone in literature from 1876 to the present day, this project contributed to cross-disciplinary debates regarding technology, language and culture. It was a collaboration between the Science Museum Group, BT Heritage & Archives, and Nottingham Trent University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Bringing together researchers, writers, artists, archivists and curators, the project aimed to:

  1. Explore the possibilities of the telephone within contemporary cultures and with diverse communities;
  2. Provide a forum for cross-disciplinary debate, contributing to our broader understanding of the impact of the telephone on public discourse and cultural activity;
  3. Inspire new ways of engaging with object collections;
  4. Deepen the creative, critical and cultural awareness of the relationship between technology and the arts.


Existing research is largely limited to the telephone within its socio-historical contexts or in media, communication and cultural studies. Focusing on the relationship between telephony and creative-critical practice, this project brought together literary theory, technoculture, and innovations in artistic production.

Central to this project were the resources available at the Science Museum and BT Heritage & Archives, and the project was informed by research into their technical documents, neglected journals, audio collections, and object resources. Further information is available on the project website.


The project resulted in three major collaborative activities during 2019-2020:

  1. An international ‘Telepoetics’ Conference, originally scheduled to take place at the Dana Research Centre at the Science Museum London on 27 May 2020, was held online from 27 May – 5 June 2020. Featuring academic researchers, writers, archivists, and curators, speakers considered both historical and recent manifestations of the telephone, and its capacity to tap into some of the key concerns of the modern and contemporary age.
  2. Launched in May 2020, the ‘Dial-a-Poem’ mobile app features over 60 new poems by contemporary award-winning writers from Africa, America, Asia and Europe. Reflecting on the relationship between poetry and calling, and read aloud by the authors and translators, these poems invite users to think about how we talk, text and listen across borders.
  3. ‘The Exchange’ invited artists, musicians and writers from a range of backgrounds to take inspiration from an object in the Science Museum’s Information Age gallery. Incorporating specially commissioned works by artists including Will Self, Aura Satz and Maya Chowdhry, ‘The Exchange’ explores the history and possible futures of the telephone and its implications for diverse communities and cultures. Read more on the Science Museum blog.


This project was led by Dr Sarah Jackson, Associate Professor in Modern and Contemporary Writing at Nottingham Trent University.


  • Science Museum Group
  • BT Heritage & Archives
  • Nottingham Trent University
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council