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Betsy Lewis-Holmes

MA work

Title of Dissertation: Energy Transfers – Exercising minds and bodies with machines in late Victorian London


Why do we use machines for exercise? This project explores the historical beginnings of today’s gym culture.


Focusing on the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the paper draws on ideas from evolutionary theory, medicine, technology and science to frame health machines within Victorian notions of scientific and social progress. These ideas are investigated through three case studies. Firstly, exercise machines that moved joints and strengthened muscles through weight training; secondly ‘passive’ machines that created involuntary motion; and finally electric belts, which claimed to charge the body with ‘vital force’.


By contextualising exercise machines within scientific ideas around energy loss and conservation, the thesis argues that machines were perceived as agents that could directly impart energy to the human body. Being able to charge your body with mechanical or electrical energy was a way, for Victorians, to overcome physical and national fatigue.


The contemplation of machines was considered an important educational process for Victorians, and this thesis argues that engaging with machines for health provided both psychological and physical therapy. The aesthetic of the machine was crucial – organic and ornamental wrought iron and moving steel provided a spectacle of machine wonder. Engaging with health machines in ritual movements, or strapping on an electric belt, users’ bodies and minds could be enhanced through a coupling of body/mind/machine.


Info

  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Humanities

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2012

  • Contact

  • +44 (0)7540 655 126
  • Title of Dissertation: Energy Transfers – Exercising minds and bodies with machines in late Victorian London


    Why do we use machines for exercise? This project explores the historical beginnings of today’s gym culture.


    Focusing on the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the paper draws on ideas from evolutionary theory, medicine, technology and science to frame health machines within Victorian notions of scientific and social progress. These ideas are investigated through three case studies. Firstly, exercise machines that moved joints and strengthened muscles through weight training; secondly ‘passive’ machines that created involuntary motion; and finally electric belts, which claimed to charge the body with ‘vital force’.


    By contextualising exercise machines within scientific ideas around energy loss and conservation, the thesis argues that machines were perceived as agents that could directly impart energy to the human body. Being able to charge your body with mechanical or electrical energy was a way, for Victorians, to overcome physical and national fatigue.


    The contemplation of machines was considered an important educational process for Victorians, and this thesis argues that engaging with machines for health provided both psychological and physical therapy. The aesthetic of the machine was crucial – organic and ornamental wrought iron and moving steel provided a spectacle of machine wonder. Engaging with health machines in ritual movements, or strapping on an electric belt, users’ bodies and minds could be enhanced through a coupling of body/mind/machine.


  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons), History of Art, University College London, 2007; Foundation Art and Design, Kingston University, 2008
  • Experience

  • Senior gallery assistant, Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham, 2007–12; Exhibition assistant, Royal Society/Oxford University Neuroscience Department, London, 2011; Research assistant, National Trust, Polesden Lacey, 2011; Psychology research assistant, Institute of Psychiatry, London, 2009
  • Exhibitions

  • Echoes of Other Worlds, Stables Gallery, Twickenham, Surrey, 2010; By Design, Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham, Surrey, 2009