Thursday, May 21, 2015

Esperanto on the Air

Our man
on the air
In the early twentieth century, radio—transmitting voice over the air—seemed like something out of science fiction. It was the technology that was going to transform the world, bringing the world closer together. With that great advance, there needed to be a way that all those distant broadcasts could be understood. What a better match for radio than Esperanto?

And who better to promote this than Professor Arnold Christen (misnamed in this article as Arnold Christian). At the time the Washington Herald wrote about his plans for a series of lectures and addresses in Esperanto, he was still using his (former) affiliation with the University of Glascow, although he had been in the United States since 1909, without holding any formal university affiliation. At the time that he was proclaiming that Esperanto and radio were a perfect match, he had been a naturalized citizen since 1914.

When the Washington Herald says that Christen “has arrived in the United States,” they were getting more than his name wrong. All that seems to have been something from a decade before. This is their article from their May 21, 1922 edition:

Radio May Help Universal Tongue
Belief that a universal language, possibly Esperanto, will be the logical outcome of radio telephone was expressed by Prof. A. Christian, of the department of languages of the University of Glasgow, at the headquarters of the Esperanto Society, New York. Prof Christian has arrived in the United States to deliver a series of lectures at Columbia University, before the National Geographic Society in Washington, at the Universities of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, and before the Washington High schools.

He has just accepted the appointment by the management of the New York radio show as consultant to the show’s advisory committee. Prof Christian will deliver an address in Esperanto through the show’s broadcasting station. It will be the first time that Esperanto has been transmitted by radio.

Another authority on “the universal language” to indorse the views of Prof. Christian is Henry W. Fisher, chief engineer of the Standard Underground Cable Company, at its Perth Amboy plant.

Prof Christian disclosed information indicating that the radio telephone has been an important factor at the Genoa conference.

“The radio telephone,” said Prof Christian, “has enabled diplomatists to ascertain the views of their home governments when the time limitation precluded the use of other media of communication.
“Radio is doing more in Europe to dissipate mistrust and ill feeling and to break down the traditional barriers of secret diplomacy than any other single agency.”
The item is full of typographical errors and inconsistencies. “Prof” is written without a period, except in the second-from-last paragraph. His name is spelled consistently, but incorrectly, throughout. According to the article, he lectured at the University of Pittsburggh.

His talk at the National Geographic Society had happened in 1910 and the lectures at Columbia University in 1913. At the time he was advising some radio station (the article doesn’t make it clear), he had been giving talks since 1910. While he was in Washington, D.C., he gave Esperanto lessons ($4 a class) and lectured at theBureau of American Republics. The bit about the radio show is an odd (perhaps garbled) phrase. He’s on the advisory committee of “the New York radio show”? There was certainly more than one show broadcast from New York in 1922. And did any of them need an advisory committee? Professor Christen would continue to promote a connection between radio and Esperanto.

The other Esperanto expert, Mr. Henry Fisher, of the Standard Underground Cable Company, was a thirty-seven-year-old civil engineer living in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Mr. Fisher was himself a prominent Esperantist, and in 1912 was elected president of the Esperanto Association of North America. Mr. Fisher has the distinction of being the first EANA president who was actually an Esperanto speaker. He held that position until 1916, when he was succeeded by J. D. Hailman.

Among Mr. Fisher’s accomplishments was a play promoting Esperanto, The Surprises at Sylvia Farm. Unfortunately, no one seems to have made a copy available online. He clearly remained an active member of the Esperanto movement after stepping down as president.

Update: I initially got the name of Fisher's successor wrong. Mia kulpo.
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