chapter  13
Pages 12

Claude E. Shannon’s publication of “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in the Bell System Technical Journal of July and October 1948 marks the beginning of information theory and can be considered “the Magna Carta of the information age” (Verdú 1998: 2057). Shannon’s work brought into being a research field that is both an important sub-discipline of mathematics and an applied science relevant to a multiplicity of fields, including but not restricted to computer science, cryptology, philosophy, psychology, (functional) linguistics, statistics, engineering, physics, biology (especially genetics), and economics.1 But Shannon could not have written his seminal paper without the work done by important precursors: the Bell Lab engineers Harry Nyquist (1924, 1928) and Ralph Hartley (1928); the mathematicians John von Neumann (1932) and Norbert Wiener (1942, 1948);2 and the physicists Ludwig Boltzmann (1896-98), J. Willard Gibbs (1876, 1878), and Leó Szilárd (1929). In contemporary information theory, much of this early work still plays an important role. More recent research has either elaborated on Shannon’s original insights (Verdú 1998) or followed the different path of algorithmic information theory outlined by Gregory J. Chaitin, Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov, and Ray Solomonoff in the 1960s (Chaitin 1987). For uses of information theory within literary, cultural, and media theory,

the case is different. Here, most research builds on Shannon’s work. More precisely, most information-theoretic reflections in the humanities and social sciences rely on The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1963), which reprints Shannon’s original paper along with an expository introduction by Warren Weaver. By pointing out that “all subsequent references are to this edition” – a comment that would usually go into a footnote – I not only describe the common practice of almost every literary, cultural, and media theorist engaging with Shannon’s work but also touch upon an issue whose import is not solely bibliographical in nature. For most of us working at the intersection of literature and science – and that includes myself – Shannon’s theorems become intelligible only thanks to Weaver’s largely non-technical introduction.