Tactile Modernity: On the Rationalization of Touch in the Nineteenth Century

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the late 1820s, Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795-1878), a young anatomist working out of the University of Leipzig, set out to quantify the relationship between applied tactile stimuli and his subjects’ mental experience of it. A good empiricist, Weber, assisted by his brother Eduard,2 attempted to fix his object of study in a controlled environment, adjusting for any environmental factors that would contaminate the consistency of the experimental results. With meticulous attention to detail, likely attributable to the influence of childhood friend and acoustics pioneer Ernst Chaladni (1756-1827), he instructed his subjects to remain still while he applied a beam compass to various parts of the body. Each time he pressed the compass points against the skin, he asked his blindfolded subjects to report if they felt one or two contacts, intent on determining the smallest distance apart that the blunted compass points could be placed and still perceived as distinct from one another. Placed too close together, the subject would experience the points as a single stimulus Fig. 9.1 Jastrow’s Improved Esthesiometer (1910), a device similar to that used by Weber in his two-point discrimination experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMedia, Technology, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century
Subtitle of host publicationImage, Sound, Touch
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781317098652
ISBN (Print)9781409400097
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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