From Post Offices to Radiograms: Local Primary Resources on Urban Media History

“Newsstand, 32nd Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan. (November 19, 1935),” Berenice Abbott: NYPL Digital Gallery:

I’ll be asking students in both of my fall grad classes to work with primary resources in local libraries and archives. I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer sifting through everything — figuring out which collections could be especially useful, which contain lots of great graphic or audio-visual material that we could use in our online projects, which are underexposed and deserve a little attention, etc. I’ll keep a list of resources I’ve uncovered that could inspire a student project:


New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives

Search the catalogue and finding aids to find appropriate resources, then contact the division to make an appointment. Photography typically isn’t allowed in this division, but each student in our class has been given special permission to take up to 20 photos (you must wait until the end of your research visit, and photograph everyone at once), and to use a limited number of photos in our online project (typically, you have to pay for reproduction). If you plan to use material in this collection, please speak with me first.

Chester F. Carlson Papers: “Chester Floyd Carlson (1906-1968) was an American patent attorney who invented xerography in 1938.” Collection consists of correspondence, technical papers, writings, personal and financial papers, photographs, ephemera, and printed matter. General correspondence reflects Carlson’s philanthropic interests; technical correspondence, laboratory notebooks, patent files, and other papers relate to his invention of xerography and to its commercial development. Other papers include family correspondence, diaries for 1928 to 1968, financial papers,speeches and other writings, scrapbooks of printed ephemera related to xerography, and photographs of trips to the Soviet Union and India. Also, papers relating to parapsychology and to the economic development of Guyana, 1966-1968.

Map of Parisian Pneumatique Network – NYPL SIBL

New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company Records: I’ve already combed through this collection. “The New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company was the original contractor in 1898 for mail delivery by pneumatic tube between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The company later became a contractor for tube service between post offices within Manhattan. In 1953 pneumatic tube service ended in New York and the company’s contract was canceled.”Collection consists of correspondence and documents pertaining to the New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company’s delivery of mail in New York City using pneumatic tubes, and of U.S. government publications concerning mail delivery in New York City and nationwide. Records, 1897-1957, include contracts, Post Office Dept.orders, reports, plans, proposals, photographs, and clippings. Government publications, 1898-1955, are hearings, investigations and reports produced by Congress or the Post Office Dept. ***********************************************

New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 Records: “The New York World’s Fair of 1939 and 1940, was held in Flushing Meadows in the Borough of Queens. The non-profit Fair corporation was formed in 1935 under the guidance of business and civic leaders, and financed through federal, state, municipal and private funds. The Fair commemorated the 150th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration in New York City and took “Building the World of Tomorrow” as its central theme. Participants included close to 60 nations, 33 states and U.S. territories, and over a thousand exhibitors, among them some of the largest corporations in the United States.”…”The records of the New York World’s Fair 1939 and 1940 Incorporated present a comprehensive view of all aspects of the Fair including construction, maintenance and demolition of Fair facilities; planning and development; architecture and landscaping; displays and exhibits; government participation; publicity and public relations; amusements, entertainment and concessions; legal and financial affairs; the import and export of goods; labor relations; and public safety and welfare. In addition to correspondence and memoranda, the collection consists of reports, minutes, financial and legal records, architectural plans, design drawings, sound recordings, brochures, leaflets, press releases and other promotional materials, notably over 12,000 photographs of the Fair, its exhibits and visitors.”

Citizens for a Quieter City Records, 1950-77: “Citizens for a Quieter City, Inc. was founded in New York City in 1966 by Robert Alex Baron (1921-1980) as a non-profit, voluntary organization dedicated to the reduction of urban noise. Its objective was to develop information about the injurious effects of noise, the methods of controlling and reducing it, and the education of the public to the importance of its abatement. Baron, a theatrical manager, founded a predecessor organization, the Upper Sixth Avenue Noise Abatement Association, in 1965.”…”Collection consists of correspondence, minutes, diaries, financial records, photographs, printed matter, audio and video tape recordings pertaining to Citizens for a Quieter City and the Upper Sixth Avenue Noise Abatement Association as well as Baron’s papers as a theatrical manager. Correspondence, 1966-1974, is with officials of city, state and federal agencies, civic and community organizations, and manufacturers of construction equipment and noise abatement devices. Minutes and by-laws section contains minutes of the board of directors and of the technical committee, and by-laws of the organization. Diaries and notebooks, 1970-1973, consists of desk diaries and memoranda by Baron. Complaint center problem reports, 1969-1972, contain complaints received from the public; financial records include invoices, ledgers, balance sheets, audit reports, bank statements, and other items; and noise pollution inquiry, 1970-1972, consists of forms summarizing the nature of inquiries received. Upper Sixth Avenue Association records, 1965-1966, include correspondence, minutes and reports of Baron. Theater papers, ca. 1950-1960s, consist of his records as general manager of Theatre Tours. Also, photographs of Baron and photographic slides; printed matter; audio and video tape recordings of conferences, television shows and public events in which Citizens for a Quieter City participated; and some oversize materials, such as scrapbooks and publicity posters.”


The Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection and the New York Public Library Print Collection and Photography Collection

You’ll find a lot of material online, in the NYPL’s Digital Gallery. The NYPL has kindly given us permission to use this material for our project free of charge.

But there is of course a great deal that hasn’t been digitized — and, unfortunately, because the print and photography collections are organized, for the most part, by printmaker or photographer, it’s difficult to search for specific “content” or subject matter. If you’re interested in searching for non-digitized prints or photos, please contact the appropriate division via its website and speak with its archivist or curator.

Here’s some material from the Digital Gallery:

NY Post Office 1875: NYPL Digital Gallery:
Morning Start of the NYC Mail Carriers in their New Uniform: NYPL Digital Gallery:
New York Post Office, 1893: NYPL Digital Gallery:
“Removal of the postal matter and archives to the new Post-office, Saturday, August 28th, 1875: NYPL Digital Gallery:
Printing House Square, 1866: NYPL Digital Gallery:

Interior of New York Post Office, 1857

Ladies’ Window at the Post Office, 1871

Loading Up the General Office, New York, 1875

Telegraph Apparatus, Old Fire Headquarters, Mercer Street, 1887: NYPL Digital Gallery:

Postal Workers Sorting Letters, 1899

Western Union Telegraph Building ([1870?-19]25?)

Newspaper Row, 1900

Radio Row, Cortlandt Street, Berenice Abbott, 1936

Radiogram Operating Room


New York Public Library Map Division

Some maps are available in the Digital Gallery (again, we are permitted to use this material for free), and many others are listed in the catalogue, but many maps have been neither digitized nor catalogued online. To find these maps, you’ll want to speak with the Map Room staff and consult the in-room “dictionary” catalogues, which you can search by subject or by location (I recommend searching by borough; vol. 7 is dedicated entirely to NYC).

Here’s how it worked for me: I scanned through the on-site catalogue:

…and found this:

…which I requested via a call slip:

…and, three minutes later, found myself looking at this (my iphone camera cannot fully capture its awesomeness):


They’ve got lots of City Maps: “Maps and atlases documenting the urban environment throughout the world represent a core strength of the collection, with the historical New York City map holdings among the deepest and most heavily used anywhere. With more than 2,000 sheet maps and 18,000 atlas map sheets illustrating the city and its five boroughs before 1922 (often to the building level), this collection is a critical support to many researchers of the local environment.” The staff recommends the Perris, Bromley,Robinson, Hyde, and Sanborn (on-site only) maps, and the Fire Insurance, Topographic, Zoning and Property Maps of New York City.

Here’s some stuff from the Digital Gallery:

Map Showing the Telegraph Lines in Operation, under Contract, and Contemplated, to Complete the Circuit of the Globe ([1867)?
New England, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania (sic) Post Map: NYPL Digital Images


New York Historical Society

Search the catalogue (NYHS materials are included in Bobcat) and finding aids to identify relevant material, then make an appointment to use any of the special collections. If you plan to take digital photos of your research material, you’ll need to submit a form and pay a $15 fee. The Society has kindly granted us permission us to use our own research photos in our mapping projects.

Andreas Feininger Photograph Collection, 1939-54, 1970-84: Series III: New York in the 1970s and 80s: “Photographs focus on a variety of subjects, the largest of which are Times Square; Graffiti; Signs, Murals, Posters, and Billboards; and Reflections. Many of the photographs of graffiti feature a life-sized black painted figure Feininger refers to as “Shadowman,” painted in a variety of locations and variations on buildings and walls. Photographs of signs, murals, posters and billboards depict everything from hand-painted signs in foreign languages to explicit posters for strip clubs. Photographs on security and vandalism reflect Feininger’s descriptive annotations on his photographs of a security gate and locked and vandalized bicycles. Feininger’s photographs depicting construction, fire escapes, reflections, and water tanks focus on structure and pattern in the architecture of the city. The largest group of photographs depict the Times Square area, especially the signs for sex shops, strip clubs, and theaters of the 1970s and 1980s.”

Feininger Collection, Box 6, Folder 41: Graffiti

Arthur Weindorf Subway Collection, 1903-45, 1973-74: “The Arthur Weindorf Subway Collection spans the period from 1903-1974 and primarily contains photographs and photostats of drawings, models, and maps created by Arthur Weindorf during his tenure at the Public Service Commission. Also included are photographs taken by Public Service Commission photographers during the construction of the New York City subway system. The collection is divided into six series: Drawings and Models; Subway Maps and Posters; Clippings; Subway Construction Photographs; Miscellaneous Materials; and Negatives.”

Weindorf Subway Collection, Box 1, Folder 3

Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera, ca. 1700-present: “Collection of mainly 19th and 20th century advertising ephemera. Formats in the collection include American trade cards, lottery tickets, handbills, labels, broadsides, calendars, billheads, price lists, advertising fans, and other materials of history and popular culture. Media range from rough woodcuts to chromolithographs.”

Landauer, Box 1, Folder: “Signs & Sign Companies”

Landauer, Box 52(?), Folder: “Electricity: Telephone”

Billboard Photograph Collection, 1918-34: “The photographs appear to have been taken to record which advertisers bought billboard space at 13 sites in Manhattan and two sites in the Bronx, New York City. The views focus on signs but also show surrounding buildings, elevated railroads, and street activity at such heavily traveled intersections as Broadway and Seventh Avenue (Times Square), Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, Sixth Avenue at 27th Street, Eight Avenue at 110th Street, 125th Street in Harlem, and Third Avenue at 166th Street in the Bronx. The same sites appear repeatedly, sometimes monthly,during the 1920s and into the Great Depression. The photographs reveal changes in both the neighborhoods and in the advertising for many products, among them Chesterfield cigarettes, Wrigley’s chewing gum, and Pepsodent toothpaste.”

Browning Photograph Collection, 1918-52: Series I: “The Advertising subseries primarily focuses on billboards and other large signs, many of which were taken around the Times Square area. Several of these advertising photographs also appear in Browning’s photomontages…. Television and Radio consists of photographs of microphones, equipment, studios and broadcasters from the early days of radio and television. Theaters includes a few grand Broadway theaters of the era, but focuses heavily on the great movie palaces of the late 1920s and the 1930s, such as the Earl Carroll and the RKO Roxy Theatre. A heavy focus on interiors, and especially art-deco design elements, is evident. Also included are some views of burlesque and less legitimate venues, such as the Salon des Arts. Several theaters in this subseries were heavily documented by Browning, probably working on commission; some construction progress views are included.”

Browning Photograph Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
Browning Photo Collection, Box 20, Folder 198, “Crowd Listening to Election Results”

James Boyd Collection of New York City Etchings, 1861-1940: Includes etching of NY Telephone Building; it’s worth scanning through the rest!

Etchings, Box 4, Folder 60, NY Telephone Bldg, Woolworth & Tranportation Bldg

Stereograph File, 1855-1964: “Over 800 photographers and publishers created the work represented in theStereograph File…. Another significant amateur was Alfred T. Loonam, whose stereographs of New York in the 1950s and 1960s capture modern skyscrapers, expressways under construction, and the emerging television industry.”

Stereographs, Box 44

Charles Gilbert Hine Photograph Collection, 1883-1908: “Platinum, cyanotype, and albumen prints of various Manhattan locations dating from 1883-1908. Views of streets, buildings, businesses,monuments, theaters, billboards, posters, celebrations, and scenes of everyday life are included.The collection also contains a three volume set of photograph albums which portrays Broadway from north to south and includes historical essays and clippings.”

Lantern Slide Collection, 1860-1942: includes lantern slide photos of libraries, publishing buildings, Printing House Square, others.

Lantern Slides, Box 54, NewYork-NYC-Manhattan-CommercialBuildings-Publishing


New York University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

Begin by searching the finding aids to identify relevant material, then make an appointment to visit. You’ll need to get permission before using a digital camera to photograph material. Reproducing material is a bit more complicated: you’ll need to obtain the Fales Librarian’s permission and contact the copyright holder (Fales staff can help you determine who this would be) and perhaps pay “rights to use” fees.

Guerilla TV Archive, 1965-97: “The Guerrilla TV Archive contains files, publicity information, audiocassettes, printed materials and photographs relating to Deirdre Boyle’s research for the book Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited and some materials related to her work on other publications and projects including Hong Kong Cinema, Video Classics, and Video Preservation.” Series 1 / Box 5 / Folder 163 contains material on the relationship between cable TV and cities (including some interesting documents on infrastructure at Roosevelt Island). Folders 164 and 165 contain material on public access television and the development of cable in NYC.

I wasn’t able to pre-screen the following, but they might contain some useful material:

Richard Hell Papers, 1944-2003: “The Richard Hell Papers consist of comprehensive documentation of Richard Hell’s career as a poet, novelist, author, publisher, musician, and filmmaker. Materials include personal journals, manuscripts and materials relating to the publication of several works, correspondence, clippings, reviews, posters, photographs, film, video and audio materials and objects and artifacts. In addition the collection contains financial and legal documents pertaining to Hell’s publications, and musical career. The materials span 1944-2003 with the bulk of the material covering 1969-2003.”

Creative Time Archive, 1973-2006: “Founded in 1973, Creative Time is a public art organization based in New York City. The organization has a history of commissioning, producing, and presenting public artworks of all disciplines. The material in the collection document all aspects of the creation, exhibition, and reception of these commissioned artworks, as well as invaluable financial records that reflect how the organization has sustained, promoted, and financially supported its mission.”

David Wojnarowicz Papers, 1954-1992: “David Wojnarowicz was a painter, writer, photographer, filmmaker, performer, and activist. He made super-8 films, created the photographic series “Arthur Rimbaud in New York”, performed in the band Three Teens Kill 4 – No Motive, and exhibited his work in well known East Village galleries. In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called “Graffiti Show”. He died of AIDS on July 22, 1992. The David Wojnarowicz Papers includes journals, correspondence, manuscripts, photography, film, video and audio works, source and production materials, objects, and ephemera.”

Martin Wong Papers, 1982-1999: “Born Martin Victor Wong in Portland, Oregon on July 11, 1946, Wong was raised by his Chinese-American parents in San Francisco. Wong was involved in performance art in the 1970’s, but focused almost exclusively on painting after moving to New York in the early 1980’s. The self-taught Wong, whose work showed a distinct gay sensibility, became a respected, renowned and prolific painter in New York’s downtown art scene. He also cultivated both working and personal relationships with graffiti artists and enthusiasts in that scene. His compositions combine gritty social documents, cosmic witticisms, and symbolic languages that chronicle survival in his drug-and-crime-besieged Lower East Side neighborhood. In addition to his painting, Wong also experimented with poetry and prose, much of which he recorded on long paper scrolls.”

Fales also has old issues of Punk and East Village Eye magazines (search Bobcat).

See also the Tamiment Library‘s excellent labor history materials, including collections of media industry unions’ records and the NYU Archives’ Washington Square Park Image Collection (1850-1990).


The Paley Center for Media

All of these materials are available for viewing/listening at the Center, but none can be used outside the Center. In on other words, we can’t use any of this material in our mapping project, but it’s still worth checking out! Read about the Scholars Room here.

New York Telephone: Business [Commercial] (Dennis Hayes & Associates, Young & Rubicam Historical Reel, 1977-97): “In this commercial for New York Telephone, documentary style footage features businessmen throughout the New York area who stay connected to the business world with New York Telephone. The announcer adds that New York Telephone helps businesses with voice and data networks and offers many additional cost-effective services for businesses big and small. Slogan (supered and in jingle): “We’re all connected. New York Telephone.””

New York Telephone: Deli Man [Commercial] (32nd Annual Broadcasting Awards, 1991): “In this commercial for NYNEX, a telephone company representative visits Katz’s Deli on New York City’s Lower East Side. In honor of the occasion, deliman Marvin Waldman has created a replica of NYNEX’s regional calling area on a serving platter. “The lox is Long Island,” he explains, “the gefilte fish is Westchester and Rockland, and the pickled herring is the five boroughs.” Slogan (in jingle): “We’re all connected. New York Telephone.””

New York City Tourism Promotion: I Love New York at Night (I Love New York Campaign, 1977-89): “In this commercial for the New York State Department of Commerce, Beverly Sills explains that “at night in New York, all the stars come out.” She stands beside the fountain in the plaza at Lincoln Center, surrounded by performers from the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes, and cast members of popular Broadway shows including “They’re Playing Our Song,” “Evita,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The announcer points out that special discounts are currently available on 23 Broadway Show Tours. In conclusion, Sandy Dennis, as “Peter Pan,” adds that she loves New York at night because “there’s something in the air.” Slogan (in jingle): “I Love New York.” Supered: “I Love New York at Night Show Tours.””

And of course there are the digital resources available through the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive (see in particular the Prelinger Archives material.


The Big Dig: Urban Media Archaeology

“Pull down art, Friedrich-Ebert-Str., Wuppertal” by Henning on Flickr:

Although this is the first occasion I’ve had to begin mapping out my fall Urban Media Archaeology class, I’ve been mulling over the course content — the relationships between media systems and cities — for a decade or more. And for the past several months — ever since January, when I was asked to finalize the course description for a class that was then only a mirage on a distant horizon — I’ve been thinking about how to translate that content into various forms — the form of a syllabus, the form of an effective collaborative experience for my students, the form of a successful final class project. It’s been like playing Tetris: I’m piecing together pedagogical building blocks representing not only (1) the ostensible course subject matter, “urban media,” but also (2) methodology, including both the macro-level working models of “multimodal scholarship” [*] and the micro-level methodologies through which students will research their case studies; and (3) relevant theoretical frameworks, from media archaeology to science and technology studies to cultural geography.

Our final project will be an interactive map. Rather than adopting existing mapping technologies and having to accept or work around their functional limitations (e.g., most are cartographically based and fail to represent urban systems that exist “beyond the grid”; most can’t capture the x, y, and z dimensions of urban space, which is especially important in a place like New York, a city distinguished by its verticality!) and built-in ideologies, we’ll build our own mapping platform in collaboration with the “URTingNYC” class in Parsons’ MFA program in Design and Technology. We’re not making a map for the sake of making a map — not because “mapping” is a pedagogical buzzword, or because of the popularity of information visualization. We’re making a map because, as I hope we’ll come to see, our subject matter lends itself to exploration through mapping, and mapping might enable us to examine our subject in a new way [again, see * below].

Students’ work will be both individual and collaborative: each student will be responsible for completing an individual research/production project — but he or she must frame and execute his or her project in light of how it might eventually “speak to” the others (in the end, we’re looking for synergies, for convergences and divergences, between the projects, and for a “larger story” that the collective class project can tell), and how it will lend itself to presentation not in a traditional typewritten text, but in a multimodal, online format. We’ll have plenty of group check-ins — both within our class and between our class and the Parsons URT class — throughout the semester, but the formal work of amalgamating individual projects into “clustered” themes with overarching arguments will require a few weeks at the end of the semester. So, unlike most of the classes I — and, I think it’s safe to say, most faculty — teach, which conclude with students handing in their individual projects at the very end of the semester, and perhaps sharing these projects with their classmates during the last class meeting, we’ll ask everyone to complete the bulk of their individual research and to have prepared beta-versions of their online presentation of this work before Thanksgiving, so that we can dedicate the final few weeks of the semester almost exclusively to reflection, making connections, and revision [**]. The presentations on the last day of class, then, will feature a project that has gone through multiple rounds of revision and refinement, and that reflects a great deal of careful thought about how 17 graduate students’ individual contributions, and the work of two graduate classes, coalesce into something greater than the sum of their parts.

So, here’s how the semester might go. I’m still working on plans for a field trip or two; these excursions will likely take place outside of class, since ours is an evening class. The following schedule is still very much subject to change. I welcome feedback!

#1: September 1: Review syllabus and course goals and structure. I introduce my own case study, which will focus on the interrelationships between New York’s telegraph, telephone, and pneumatic tube networks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Students discuss their preliminary case study interests [***]. Examine Manhattan Timeformations (below) and the Stanford Spatial History Project. For next class, read Friedrich Kittler on the “city as a medium,” James Donald and Vyjayanthi Rao on the “city as an archive,” and Erkki Huhtamo and Siegfried Zielinski on media archaeology.

September 8:No Class: Rosh Hashanah

#2: September 15: Inserting the Urban into Media Archaeology. Introduce “media archaeology” and explore what it might mean if we interpreted “archaeology” more literally — if we actually looked for material evidence of the historical media systems that laid the foundation for our city’s contemporary media. For next class read Joel Tarr, Thomas Finholt & David Goodman on urban telegraph networks; Emily Bills on the history of Los Angeles’s telephone networks; Kazys Varnelis on the relationships between historical and new telecom networks; and a few historical documents from the New York Telegraph and Newspaper Transportation Company Records at the NYPL.

#3: September 22: From Tubes to T-1s: Layers of New York’s electronic media infrastructures. Consider how spatial representations might allow us to better understand the relationships among these infrastructures. Possible guest speaker. For next class, read Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson on multimodal scholarship and its genres, UCLA Digital Humanities & Media Studies’ “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” Todd Presner, Tom Elliott and Sean Gillies on digital humanities mapping.

#4: September 29: Multimodal Mapping: Examine the affordances, limitations, and politics of mapping (and data visualization) as a scholarly and pedagogical methodology and mode of presentation. Study a few representative “digital humanities” and “critical art” projects: Commentpress, Pleriplurban, projects on Vectors, “Wunderkammer, Cornell, and the Visual Canon of Arrangement,” Manhattan Timeformations, etc. Experiment with various mapping case studies, from psychogeographical maps to sensory cartographies to scholarly projects like Hypercities, Pleiades, and examples from the Stanford Spatial History Project. Report on utility. For next class, develop proposal for individual projects and mapping tool features needed to support projects. For next class, read Alison Sant on mapping “off the grid,” Jeremy Hight on “rhizomatic cartography,” and Jesse Shapins on mapping in critical art.

#5: October 6: Mapping and Researching in XYZ: Discuss mapping platform’s necessary functionality. Discuss methods for secondary and primary research for students’ projects [****]. Highlight relevant local research collections. For next class, read about media archaeology and urban history methods; archival and other primary research methods. Develop research plan.

#6 – #10: October 13 through November 10: Case Studies: I will design these case studies to support students’ projects. Each week three or four students will present their work-in-progress — both their topical research and their emerging plans for presenting that research on the map. I will have chosen one short text relevant to each project, and we’ll discuss the students’ work in light of these texts, and in relationship to one another. From week to week, we’ll consider potential synergies between students’ individual projects, and how we might use the map to visualize/sonify/textualize those inter-project connections and to present an over-arching argument. For Week 11, all students must have posted a beta version of their projects on the map.

#11: November 17: Networking Nodes: All students will deliver short presentations of their research. Each will receive feedback, and we’ll discuss what we might learn by layering or networking these projects on the map — and what modes of presentation can help us to convey these larger, multi-project arguments.

November 24: No Class: Thanksgiving

#12: December 1: Final Case Study: We’ll consider one final “urban media system” that hasn’t been addressed in students’ projects. Reading TBD. Group Work. Students will have received edits for their individual contributions; these must be addressed by the following class.

#13: December 8: Group Work. Plan for Presentation.

#14: December 15: Mock Final Presentation. Identify Necessary Final Revisions.

#15: December 20 (Make-Up for Previous Holidays): Final Presentation of Project to New School Provosts and Other Administrators


[*] As Tara McPherson writes, multimodal scholarship posits that

[a] hands-on engagement with digital forms reorients the scholarly imagination, not because the tools are cool or new (even if they are) or because the audience for our work might be expanded (even if it is), but because scholars come to realize that they understand their arguments and their objects of study differently, even better, when they approach them through multiple modalities and emergent and interconnected forms of literacy. The ability to deploy new experiential, emotional, and even tactile aspects of argument and expression can open up fresh avenues of inquiry and research (121).

We’ll be exploring how this new method might allow us to ask new questions, to learn differently, to share our work with new publics and invite them into our process.

[**] We’ll be thoroughly documenting our process — the dead-ends, the frustrations, the successes. This is in keeping with the digital humanities’ mission to promote transparency and to welcome other publics into the scholarly process. Our class will be pilot-testing the new mapping tool that we’re developing in concert with the Parsons “URTingNYC” class; we intend for this map to serve as a platform for future urban-related faculty and student work at The New School. Therefore, we need to think of our work as laying a foundation. In our project documentation we can make recommendations for those who come after us, encourage others to conduct new research on specific topics that will bridge existing student projects; encourage others to make use of promising collections we found in local archives, but just didn’t have the time to review; make recommendations for future tech developers to add new features to the platform so that it’s better able to accommodate the methods we want to employ; etc.

[***] Students are welcome to join me in researching the history of New York’s telegraph and telephone networks. Others might focus on the history of the city’s publishing centers, its neighborhood newspapers, its low-powered radio stations, its recording studios, its tv cable networks, its telco hotels, its mail delivery routes, its movie palaces, its significant spaces of public address and debate, etc.

[****] I’ll encourage everyone to begin by consulting published works on their topics and, in the process, to note particular libraries, archives, special collections, and other primary sources the authors have used in conducting their research. We’ll be emphasizing primary research; all students will be asked to work in local archives, make use of local experts, visit local sites, etc., and to use our map to feature and contextualize these primary documents. I’m making arrangements with the New York Public Library, the New York Historical Society, and other local collections to allow us special access and/or reproduction privileges; we’re especially encouraged to draw attention to underused collections. I’ll help individual students to identify other collections (public, private, and corporate) that might prove useful for their own work. We’ll need to keep in mind, though, that our purpose in posting this primary material is not simply to throw it all up online and say, “Hey, check out all this cool stuff I found in the archives!” Rather, we’re using these materials to help us build new, uniquely local arguments and New York’s historical media systems. An added benefit is that we draw attention to the offers of these local institutions’ collections.

Students will also be encouraged to interview local experts — not only scholars, but also people wh0 have hands-on experience with their research topics. I, for instance, might record an interview with a postal service worker who used to man the pneumatic tubes at the General Post Office on 8th Avenue. A student focusing on cable television infrastructure might tour a particular neighborhood with a cable company technician and record the experience.  A student focusing on immigrant newspapers might interview former publishers, or someone examining low-powered radio might talk with former DJ’s.


Call for Proposals: 2011 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Workshop on “Urban Informatics, Geographic Data, and Media of Mapping”

I posted the following CFP to the SCMS conference bulletin board. See the conference FAQs for more information about the workshop format, submitting a proposal, SCMS membership, etc.

Dan Hill-Keynote: New Soft City from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

The past several years have seen increasing corporate and educational interest in, and major funding for, projects that make urban histories, knowledges, data, etc., accessible, visible/audible/tangible, and, ideally, intelligible to urban publics. Examples include the projects of the recent Towards the Sentient City exhibition at the Architectural League of New York, UCLA and USC’s Google Map-based Hypercities, and mobile-phone- or mp3-based audio walking tours, like Justin Hopper’s “Public Record.”

This workshop will examine a selection of these projects, critically addressing their rhetorical and aesthetic strategies and examining their utility as platforms for research, as pedagogical resources, and as political tools for civic engagement. Acknowledging the widespread commitment among these projects to “making the invisible, visible” (which occasionally results in collapsing “the urban” into “the visible”), we will pay particular attention to the media and sensory modes of mapping and “content” presentation.

Please send 300-word abstract, links to relevant media, and c.v. to Shannon Mattern (matterns AT newschool DOT edu) by Wednesday, August 11. All will be contacted regarding the status of their proposals by August 15.


Media & Materiality Syllabus…Slowly Materializing

A few students have contacted me to ask for syllabi for my fall classes, and I’ve unfortunately had to tell them that the courses are still in development. I’m teaching two brand new courses in the fall, and both are proving to be somewhat logistically challenging.

Syllabus development is always a long, complicated process for me: when I build a new course, I typically spend weeks or months digging through all my books, journals, pdf’ed articles (yes, I do have this stuff organized in bibliographies, but I always want to make sure I haven’t missed something!), web bookmarks, and audio and video archives to find relevant material. I think about logical and rhetorical structure: what do students need to know about A before being exposed to B? What context C is necessary for appreciating concept D? How do I tie their assignments to the course material, and how do I stage those assignments? How do I ensure that I’m incorporating different types of assessment, to give students an opportunity to try out their ideas in different formats — and to give me a chance to assess their ability to examine those ideas in different contexts? What types of projects lend themselves best to individual work, and which would work best with responsibility distributed among a group? How do I make sure all group members are given credit for the work they did, and didn’t do? Am I distributing the workload evenly throughout the semester? Am I cutting back on the readings when an assignment is due? How do I work in opportunities for us to witness, or participate in, the course content in action, out in the world? Living in New York, it’s not hard to find a lecture or exhibition that pertains to whatever you’re teaching at any given time. That said, what relevant events are taking place while I’m teaching the course? What guest speakers should I invite, and what field trips should we take? Which of these events can I schedule whenever I want, and which do I need to schedule around?

Needless to say, it’s quite a process — one that, for this round, will likely continue right up through the start of the fall semester. Still, I thought I should post some of my initial thoughts and plans, so interested students can get a sense of what they’re in for…and so that I can solicit feedback.I welcome suggestions!

First, the “Media & Materiality” Course Description: This seminar examines media as material objects, as things, as symbolically charged artifacts, as physical supports for communication. Pairing case studies of contemporary and historical media forms, we’ll begin the semester by studying digital readers in relation to early print forms, computer databases in relation to early filing systems, broadband networks in relation to telegraph infrastructures, and hand-held screening devices in relation to early film exhibition technologies. Along the way, we’ll explore various theoretical frameworks and methodologies – from “thing theory” to media archaeology – that can be useful in studying the material culture of media. Some classes will be dedicated to guest speakers and field trips to museums or special collections. For the second half of the semester, the class will create an online exhibition of material media. We will collectively determine the exhibition’s theme and structure, but each student will be responsible for choosing two media objects or material networks, conducting primary and secondary research, and composing text and compiling media content for presentation in the online exhibition space.

We’ll take a few field trips, go out into the world to see and touch the “thingness” of media. We might arrange some guided tours through the Thomas Edison National Historical Park (where we’ll find some great material on the history of recorded sound and film!), the Morgan Library, or the zine libraries at Barnard and ABC No Rio — or maybe we’ll venture into the behind-the-scenes circulatory system of our wireless technologies. I try to schedule my classes at 4pm (the earliest available time slot for grad classes at The New School) so we can go on field trips during institutions’ open-hours. If you have other excursion suggestions, let me know…soon, please, so I can make plans!

I’d like to invite a few guests — librarians, curators, fellow scholars, media technicians and engineers, product developers — to join us, too. Confirmed visitors include poet/sound artist/scholar Kate Eichhorn and curator/scholar Christiane Paul.

abecedarium:nyc, see

Our class project will be the creation of an online exhibition (like this one, from the NYPL). Ideally our class would create a single exhibition, with a coherent theme, and with each student contributing work and then everyone contributing to the creation of “meta” and connective texts. But I realize that finding a common thread — one that’s not a “stretch” or a forced fit — among 20 students’ projects might be too much expect. So, we might see how groups form naturally among the individual projects, and create a cluster of exhibitions instead. We might use the Omeka platform, create our own system, or just do something simple and blog-based. We’ll talk about this together — perhaps in collaboration with a guest curator or exhibition designer. Fortunately, we have a few of those on-staff at The New School 🙂

Readings? I’ve got a lot of work to do here; there are so many good options, and I have to read through everything to make sure I’m choosing the most useful stuff. The way I see it, our readings and discussions will follow along four parallel threads:

  1. Theoretical Frameworks: these are the texts that will introduce us to various approaches to “materiality.” I’ll choose a few of the following for all of us to read together: Charles R. Aclund, ed., Residual Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Arjun Appadurai, “The Thing Itself” Public Culture 18:1 (2006): 15-21; Bill Brown, “Materiality” in Critical Terms for Media Studies, Ed. W. J. T. Mitchell and Mark B.N. Hansen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); Bill Brown, “Thing Theory” Critical Inquiry 28:1 (August 2001): 1-22; Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins, Eds., The Object Reader (New York: Routledge, 2009); Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory” Critical Inquiry 35 (Autumn 2008): 148-71; Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan, Eds., New Media Old Media: A History and Theory Reader (New York: Routledge, 2006); Mary Ann Doane, “The Indexical and the Concept of Medium Specificity” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 18:1 (2007):; Vilém Flusser, The Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer, Eds., Materialities of Communication, Trans. William Whobrey (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1994); Erkki Huhtamo, “Kaleidoscomaniac to Cybernerd: Notes Toward an Archaeology of the Media” Leonardo 30:3 (1997): 221-4; Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008); Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1999); Rosalind Krauss, “Reinventing the Medium” Critical Inquiry 25:2 (Winter 1999): 289-305; John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Bruce Sterling, Shaping Things (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005; Samuel Weber, “The Unraveling of Form” and “Television: Set and Screen” In Mass Mediauras: Form, Technics, Media (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press), 1996: 9-35, 108-128; Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz, “Media Materiality, “Memory” Special Issue, Configurations 10:1 (Winter 2002). Here are my delicious links on “material texts.”
    XXXXXWe won’t be using the following, but they represent other approaches to the study of technological “things,” “objects” and material media: Arjun Appadurai, Ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972); Jean Baudrillard, The System of Object, Trans. James Benedict (New York: Verso, 1996); Matthew Fuller, Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005); Daniel Miller, Ed., Materiality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1934); Christopher Tilley, Ed., Reading Material Culture (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990); Sherry Turkle, Ed., Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007) [includes chapters on the archive, the datebook, the laptop, the radio, the World Book, the SX-70 instant camera, salvaged photos].
  2. Methodologies: Of course the methods we apply in our curatorial case studies will be informed by which theoretical frameworks we choose. The execution of the various critical strategies suggested by our theoretical texts will likely be new to many of us — and many of these strategies will require that we draw on methods from a variety of fields: art history, design history, cultural history, material culture studies, industrial design (which might in turn require studying corporate histories and accessing corporate archives), etc. So we’ll want to take some time to consider how to apply these strategies — i.e., how to “do” media archaeology, how to write a “material history,” etc. Readings might include: Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History (Oxford University Press, 1948); Jussi Parikka and Garnet Hertz, Archaeologies of Media Art” CTheory (April 1, 2010); Thomas J. Schlereth, Ed., Material Culture: A Research Guide (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1985); Siegfried Zielinski, Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2006).
  3. Online Exhibition: This set of readings will help us think about how to frame our class project as an online exhibition. Readings will likely draw from Beryl Graham & Sarah Cook, Eds., Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010); Christiane Paul, Ed., New Media in the White Cube and Beyond: Curatorial Models for Digital Art (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008); and Klaus Müller, “Going Global: Reaching Out for the Online Visitor“. We’ll also look at various models of online exhibition: CONT3XT.NET’s “History of Online Curating“; Amelie Hastie’s “Objects of Media Studies” Vectors Journal 2:1 (Fall 2006); the Whitney Artport exhibitions; SFMoMA’s 010101 exhibition; MoMA’s “Design and the Elastic Mind” online exhibition and other interactive exhibitions; the National Archives’ online exhibits; the Museum of the Moving Image’s web projects; the Franklin Institute’s Case Files; the American Association of Museums’ MUSE Award winners; and the showcase of Omeka-based exhibitions.
  4. Case Studies: the following texts will likely be used by individuals or groups as they pertain to their case studies for the online exhibition:
“My Record Player” by Great Beyond on Flickr:

Recorded Sound: John Corbett, “Free, Single, and Disengaged: Listening Pleasure and the Popular Music Object” October 54 (Autumn 1990): 79-101; Frances Dyson, Sounding New Media: Immersion and Embodiment in the Arts and Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Aden Evans, Sound Ideas: Music, Machines, and Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005: Lisa Gitelman, Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1999); Greg Hainge, “Vinyl Is Dead, Long Live Vinyl: The Work of Recording and Mourning in the Age of Digital Reproduction” Culture Machine (2007); Caleb Kelly, Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2009); Stan Link, “The Work of Production in the Mechanical Aging of an Art: Listening to Noise” Computer Music Journal 25:1 (2001): 34-47; Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Production (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003); Will Straw, “The Music CD and Its Ends” Design & Culture 1:1 (2009): 71-92; Emily Chivers Yochim & Megan Biddinger, “‘It Kind of Gives You that Vintage Feel’: Vinyl Records and the Trope of Death” Media, Culture & Society 30 (2008): 183-95. Some delicious links on “records” and “cassettes” and some other relevant stuff.

“Handwriting” by CraftyDogma on Flickr:

Letters and Handwriting: Kitty Burns Florey, Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2009); Sigmund Freud, “A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad” In The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 19, Trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1971); Esther Milne, “Email and Epistolary Technologies: Presence, Intimacy, Disembodiment” Fibreculture 2; Sonja Neef & José van Dijck, Sign Here!: Handwriting in the Age of New Media (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006); Denise Schmandt-Besseratt, How Writing Came About (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996); Tamara Plakins Thortin, Handwriting in America: A Cultural History (Yale University Press, 2006); José van Dijck, “Composing the Self: Of Diaries and Lifelogs” Fibreculture 3. My delicious links on writing and notes. I have much more to add here!

Letterpress! by JChong on Flickr:

Typewriting: Lisa Gitelman, Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1999); Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1999); Darren Werschler-Henry, The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005). My delicious links on the typewriter. I have much more to add here!

“Old Books” by Lilah Pops on Flickr:

Print/The Book: Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books (New York: HarperCollins 2003); Roger Chartier, Forms and Meaning: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codes to Computer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995); Roger Chartier, The Order of Books (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press 1992); Johanna Drucker, The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909-1923 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); N. Katherine Hayles, “Print is Flat, Code is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis” Poetics Today 25:1 (2004): 67-90; Peter Stallybrass, ‘The Library and Material Texts” PMLA 119:5 (October 2004): 1347-1352. My delicious links on books and textual form, and on e-books. I have much more to add here!

“Paperwork” by Sean Rogers1 on Flickr:

Paperwork/Files: Ben Kafka, “The Demon of Writing: Paperwork, Public Safety, and the Reign of Terror” Representations 98 (Spring 2007): 1-24.; Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art From Bureaucracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008); Cornelia Vismann, Files: Law and Media Technology (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008); Rowan Wilken, “The Card Index as Creativity Machine” Culture Machine 11 (2010). I have much more to add here!

“Why I Love My Vintage Cameras” by KatieW on Flickr:

Photography: Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990); Susan Laxton, “Flou: Rayographs and the Dada Automatic” October 127 (2009): 25-48. I have waaaay more to add here!

“Forgotten Projector” by Morgennebel on Flickr:

Film: Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (New York: Verso, 2002); Boaz Hagin, “Examples in Theory: Interpassive Illustrations and Celluloid Fetishism” Cinema Journal 48:1 (Fall 2008): 3-26; Miriam Bratu Hansen, “Benjamin’s Aura” Critical Inquiry 34 (Winter 2008): 336-75; Amelie Hastie: anything; Pavle Levi, “Cinema by Other Means” October 131 (Winter 2010): 51-68; Dominique Paini, “Should We Put an End to Projection?” October 110 (Fall 2004): 23-48; Vivian Sobchack: Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); Jonathan Walley, “The Material of Film and the Idea of Cinema; Contrasting Practices in Sixties and Seventies Avant-Garde Film” October 103 (Winter 2003): 15-30. I have much more to add here!

“Old TV” by Mela Sogono on Flickr:

Television: Anna McCarthy, Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); Anna McCarthy, “From Screen to Site: Television’s Material Culture, and Its Place” October 98 (Fall 2001); Lynn Spigel, Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Samuel Weber, “Television: Set and Screen” Mass Mediauras: Form, Technics, Media (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1996): 108-28. I have much more to add here!

“Cell Phone Tower” by CathrynDC on Flickr:

Telecommunications: Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989); Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Centruy’s Online Pioneers (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998); Kazys Varnelis, “Invisible City: Telecommunication,” in The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in LA, ed. Kazys Varnelis (New York: Actar, The Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, and The Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University, 2009), 120-129. I have much more to add here!

“Atari 2600 Joystick” by Mark Ramsay on Flirkc:

Computer/Gaming Hardware: Paul Atkinson, “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men: The Computer Mouse in the History of Computing” Design Issues 23:3 (Summer 2007): 46-61; Patrick Crogan, “The Nintendo Wii, Virtualization, and Gestural Analogics” Culture Machine 11 (2010). I have much, much, much more to add here!

“Inside One Wilshire” by Xeni on Flickr:

Digital Media: Mark B. N. Hansen, Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media (New York: Routledge, 2006); N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Postmodern: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002); Christiane Paul, “The Myth of Immateriality: Presenting and Preserving New Media” In MediaArtHistories, ed. Oliver Grau (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007); Michelle White, The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2006).

Media Waste: Elizabeth Grossman, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health (Island Press, 2006); Lisa Parks, “Falling Apart: Electronics Salvaging and the Global Media Economy” In Residual Media; Jonathan Sterne, “Out with the Trash: On the Future of New Media” In Residual Media


Letterheads, From the Late Victorian New York Communication Internetwork

From the Records of the Post Office Department, National Archives and Records Administration