Mara Mills

Activity: Hosting a visitor typesHosting an academic visitor


Hosted sound studies scholar Dr Mara Mills at Queen's University as part of Recomposing the City research group.

Text-to-Tone: The History of the Optophone

This talk will survey the history of Optophones across the 20th century. These 'musical print' machines converted text into tones, enabling blind readers to access print by ear. Historical recordings from several models of Optophone will be played.


Mara Mills works at the intersection of disability studies and media studies. Her research and teaching interests include communication history (especially related to telephones and reading practices), science and technology studies, disability theory, and mobile media studies. Her book On the Phone: Hearing Loss and Communication Engineering, forthcoming from Duke University Press, argues the significance of phonetics and deaf education to the emergence of "communication engineering" in early twentieth-century telephony. This concept and set of practices later gave rise to information theory, digital coding, and cybernetics. Mills is currently working on the history of optical character recognition and, with Jonathan Sterne, she is co-authoring a book titled Tuning Time: Histories of Sound and Speed.

Mills co-edited a special issue of Grey Room on "Audio/Visual" (with John Tresch), as well as a special issue of Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience on "Crip Technoscience" (with Kelly Fritsch, Aimi Hamraie, and David Serlin). With Alexandra Hui and Viktoria Tkaczyk, she is co-editing the anthology Testing Hearing: The Making of Modern Aurality (forthcoming, Oxford UP). With Rebecca Sanchez, she has also co-edited a new edition of And No Birds Sing, Pauline Leader's memoir about life as a deaf working-class runaway among the bohemians of Greenwich Village in the 1920s (Gallaudet University Press 2016, reviewed on H-Disability).

Mills is a founding member of the steering committees for the cross-school minors in Science and Society and Disability Studies. With Faye Ginsburg, she is co-founder and co-chair of the NYU Center for Disability Studies. She has served on the executive council (2016-2018) of the Society for the History of Technology, and she is a founding editor of the journal Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. More information can be found at her website.
Period24 Oct 2014
Visiting fromNew York University (United States)
Visitor degreePhD
Degree of RecognitionInternational