Meeting Einstein: Thomas Levin

Phonopost: Rediscovering a Forgotten Chapter of Media History

Lecture and Discussion with Thomas Levin, Einstein Visiting Fellow and Associate Professor of German at Princeton University

The spiral groove of the record, the brittle voices: gramophones are normally remembered as the means our forefathers used to listen to music. What is largely forgotten today is that gramophone discs also served a very different purpose from the 1920s to 1950. People used it to record private spoken letters that were then sent by mail - a widespread form of communication known as "Phonopost". While already imagined as a possibility by Thomas Alva Edison upon the invention of the phonograph in 1877, extensive cultures of the Sprechbrief only really developed with the advent of the flat gramophone record in the early 20th century. In his lecture Einstein Visiting Fellow Thomas Levin will present some key moments in this media archeology of voice mail and will officially launch a new digital archive he has created for this overlooked facet of media culture.

Thomas Levin

Thomas Levin is Associate Professor of German at Princeton University. His research encompasses theoretical works on aesthetics as well as comparative studies on old and new media. Since November 2010, the renowned scholar, translator and curator has been Einstein Visiting Fellow at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies. Together with his Berlin research group, Thomas Levin is reconstructing the media archaeology of the acoustic letter. The "Phonopost" collection and archive is the first landmark of this project.