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Rebecca Scales

Rebecca Scales

Associate Professor
Modern European History, Global and Comparative History, Cultural History, History of Disability and the Body
MA University of Georgia
PhD Rutgers University

Dr. Scales is a historian of twentieth-century Europe, with a special focus on the social and cultural history of modern France. Her scholarship reflects her wide-ranging interests in the history of the body and the senses, global and imperial history, and the history of science, medicine, and technology. Her first book, Radio and the Politics of Sound in Interwar France, 1921-1939 (Cambridge, 2016) examines the democratization of radio in France, illustrating how broadcasting became a new platform for political engagement by transforming the act of listening into an important, if highly contested, practice of citizenship. Rejecting older models of broadcasting as the weapon of totalitarian regimes or a tool for forging democracy from above, the book offers a more nuanced picture of the politics of radio by uncovering competing interpretations of listening and the many diverse uses of broadcast sound that flourished between the world wars. 

She is currently working with a seven-member international research team to study the origins of transnational broadcasting through a project entitled “Connecting the Wireless World: Writing Global Radio History,” funded by the UK-based Leverhulme Trust. Learn more about the project here:

She is also beginning a new book project titled Polio’s Hidden History: Epidemic Disease and Disability in Twentieth Century France, the first scholarly studio of polio and its victims in France. Although polio has largely disappeared from public memory, mid-century polio epidemics claimed the lives of thousands and left many people with permanent disabilities. Weaving together histories of epidemic disease, public health, and medicine with the social and cultural history of disability, this interdisciplinary study examines how polio restructured France’s welfare state and health care systems, fuelled vaccine development and biomedical research, and mediated France’s geopolitical status during an era of decolonization and rising American predominance. Moreover, by charting the lives of polio survivors across the tumultuous political landscape of the twentieth century, this book will also uncover the complex and shifting intersections between disability, able-bodiedness, and citizenship, providing a new framework for understanding the history of inclusion and exclusion in modern France.

Dr. Scales’s research has been supported by a wide range of national and international agencies, including grants from the Social Science Research Council, the Embassy of France in the United States, the American Philosophical Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones d’Amérique. Dr. Scales regularly presents her research at conferences around the U.S. and in Europe.

At RIT, Dr. Scales teaches courses on twentieth-century Europe, European imperialism, the world wars, urban history, and the history of travel and tourism, and media history. Her courses contribute to the International Studies curriculum as well as the Digital Humanities and Social Sciences degree.


Radio and the Politics of Sound in Interwar France, 1921-1939(Cambridge University Press, February 2016)

--Featured in the Financial Times as one of the “Best Books in History: 2016”

“Métissage on the Airwaves: Towards a Cultural History of Broadcasting in French Colonial Algeria, 1930-1935,” Media History, 19, 3, 2013, 305-321.

“Subversive Sound: Transnational Radio, Arabic Recordings, and the Dangers of Listening in French Colonial Algeria 1934-1939,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52, 2, 2010, 384-417.

“Radio Broadcasting, Disabled Veterans, and Politics of National Recovery in Interwar France,” 1928-1935,” French Historical Studies, 31, 4, 2008, 643-678.

Recent Presentations:

“Transnational Broadcasting and Colonial Borders in the Mediterranean, 1934-1939,” The Radio Conference 2016, Utrecht, Netherlands, July 2016.

“Jacques Lusseyran entre la France et l’Amérique,” Jacques Lusseyran: entre cécité et lumière. Regards croisés (Jacques Lusseyran: Between Blindness and Light) Fondation Singer-Polignac, Paris, France, June 28, 2016.

La Tribune de l’Invalide:” Civic Activism, Disability Rights, and the Remaking of the Postwar State, 1945-1953,” Annual Conference of the Western Society for French History, Chicago, IL, November 2015.

“Sounds Subversive: Cultural Mixture and Colonial Politics on the Airwaves,” on the panel Aural Histories: Transnational Approaches to Radio in France and Beyond, 1926-1945, Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, New York, NY, January 2015.

“’We Are Living in the Century of Noise:’ Urban Hygiene and Noise Abatement Campaigns in Paris, 1919-1939,” in the symposia “Paris, Capital of Hygiene,” International Congress of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, Manchester, UK, July 22-28, 2013.

La Radio aux Aveugles: Blindness, Listening, and the Politics of Radio in Interwar France,” International Colloquium on the History of Blindness and the Blind: Representations, Institutions, and Archives. Fondation Singer-Polignac, Paris, France, June 26, 2013.

“Métissage on the Airwaves: Colonial Modernity and the Cultural History of Imperial Broadcasting in French Algeria, 1930-1936.” Building Empires on the Air: Histories and Geopolitics of Radio and Empire. Mellon-funded workshop at the National University of Ireland-Galway, April 2011.