From the receiver’s ‘black mouth’ in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931) to the ‘five hundred-quid worry bead’ in Will Self’s Phone (2017), telephones repeatedly ring, buzz and ping in modern and contemporary literature. Crossed Lines explores the ways that the telephone has been conceived by writers from the 19th century to the present day. Its aim is to think creatively and critically about the implications of telephony from a range of global contexts, considering how literary telecommunications can help us to find new ways of talking and listening across cultures.

Crossed Lines was led by Dr Sarah Jackson from 2018-2020. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nottingham Trent University, the project benefitted from collaborative partnerships with the Science Museum, whose world-class resources include significant collections on global developments in telecommunications, and the BT Archives, the repository of the world’s oldest communications company. The research led to an open-access monograph entitled Literature and the Telephone: Conversations on Poetry, Politics and Place, published by Bloomsbury in 2023.

In addition to academic research, Crossed Lines explored the possibilities of the telephone within contemporary cultures and communities. Engaging writers, artists, musicians, scientists and members of the public, it incorporated a number of innovative activities including a mobile app, a sound installation in Nottingham, a nationwide student poetry competition, writing workshops and events at the Science Museum in London.

Throughout 2023 – 2024, Crossed Lines is will be extended through ‘Voice Notes’, an outreach project also funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. For more information, see ‘Voice Notes’.

The images used throughout this website have been kindly supplied by BT Heritage & Archives and Florence Van Bergen.