Finding Sources: Where to Look, and How to Decide What’s Worth Your Time

Pardon the pedanticism, but we’re going to start out with a little review. We’ll begin at a place that should look familiar to you: the New School Library‘s website. The New School is part of a consortium of schools — including NYU, the New York Academy of Art, Cooper Union — that share access to the BobCat catalog and to one another’s libraries. Start here in your search for books (remember them?) and multimedia materials (and check out the library’s tutorial videos).

Sure, you can check Google Books, too, but keep in mind that some publishers’ books are excluded, and Google rarely offers full copies of books. Typically, only those publications that are in the public domain are offered in-full. Sometimes, the book passages that are available on Google Books are sufficient for your needs, but other times, the Google excerpt might serve as a “teaser,” enticing you to locate a complete copy of the book elsewhere. The process I’m about to describe will help you do this.

Of course researchers in our field are often looking for audio-visual material. There’s obviously lots of material now available online, through YouTube, Vimeo, UbuWeb, the Internet Archive, etc., But again, not everything has been — or will be — digitized, so it’s important to know how to track down physical copies of materials. Fortunately, NYU has a fantastic audio-visual library, the Avery Fisher Center for Music and Media.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Bobcat, try one of the other libraries in New York — including the New York, Brooklyn, and Queens public libraries. If you’re not in New York — and I’m aware that many of you are not — try your local public and university library catalogs. And if you still can’t find it, try WorldCat and place a request through Interlibrary Loan. Materials loaned by another institution may take weeks to arrive — so it’s always best to start your resource search as early as possible so that you can build in time for material delivery.

Casting Your Net Wider

If you’re not already familiar with World Cat, you’ll be amazed by what a wonderful resource it is. It’s the “world’s largest network of library content and services,” connecting you to thousands of libraries around the world.

You can search for popular books, music CDs and videos—all of the physical items you’re used to getting from libraries. You can also discover many new kinds of digital content, such as downloadable audiobooks. You may also find article citations with links to their full text; authoritative research materials, such as documents and photos of local or historic significance; and digital versions of rare items that aren’t available to the public (WorldCat).

In order to make sure I’m conducting an exhaustive search for book resources relevant to a particular research project, I often visit WorldCat and try every keyword combination I can think of. If, for instance, I’m looking for books on music and architecture, I search for “music” + “architecture,” “music” + “space,” “sound” + “architecture,” “sound” + “space”…. You get the picture. Once I’ve collected a list of titles, I try to locate each of those titles in the catalogs listed above.

I also scan the bibliographies of books and articles that have proven useful, or that I’ve particularly enjoyed. Often, this is a great way to gather leads to hard-to-find primary sources and archival collections. In addition, if I’m reading a text and I’m particularly taken by a quotation or idea that the author attributes to someone else, I’m sure to locate the footnote, endnote, or bibliographic citation for the referenced work.

If I think I might want to buy a copy of a book, so I can mark it up, dog-ear it, make it mine, etc., I conduct further vetting by checking for excerpts on Google Books and looking for book reviews in academic journals, in one of the highly regarded book review journals (e.g., Choice, The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, Bookforum; sometimes — rarely — even Amazon reviews can be useful). Reviews in the aforementioned review periodicals are often comparative — the reviewer compares and contrasts two or more books on a particular topic — so I’m able to determine which books have the “cast” I’m looking for. In order to locate these and other book reviews, you can either search the review publications’ websites, search online periodicals databases (searching for the book’s title + “book review” in subject-specific databases), or search Google Scholar for the book title + “review”; this should reveal the location of various reviews in academic publications, and you can then track down the appropriate issues.

When I’m approaching a body of literature or a field of study that’s relatively new to me, and I don’t quite know where to begin, I often search syllabi posted online to see what texts faculty commonly assign for courses in those fields. For instance, if I wanted to find our more about contemporary feminist theory, about which I know very little, I’d try a few Google searches to locate syllabi that might offer some valuable leads. So, I’d search for “contemporary femin*” + “syllabus,” then maybe broaden out to “feminist theory” + “syllabus” to compile a list of books, articles, chapters, and web resources that faculty commonly assign in courses on contemporary feminism. I’ve found this technique particularly helpful because I can usually rely on my academic colleagues to have already screened these resources for me.

Colleagues, by the way, are excellent resources. Professors, librarians (don’t forget them!), co-workers, and fellow students are invariably chock-full of great reading recommendations, research leads, etc. This is why an “academic community” exists — so that we can share our knowledge and experience and, in the process, make a greater collective contribution to the field, and the world, than we could individually.

Finding Periodicals

Now, let’s switch gears from books to periodicals. For these materials, I usually start with Google Scholar. Once I find promising resources here, I search for them in the library’s electronic resources. If I know the particular periodicals I’m looking for, I search for the title in the “Books & More” field, to find which databases might contain full-text copies of these journals and magazines. Occasionally, there are no full-text copies of particular periodicals — which means that you need to check Bobcat to see if any consortium libraries hold the publication in hard-copy. Check the date ranges in the Bobcat catalogue entry to make sure the library holds the particular issue you’re after; if the article isn’t to be found in any local collections, you can request it via Interlibrary Loan, and you’ll be notified by Bobst Library when a pdf of your requested article is ready for download.

Remember that Google Scholar is not an exhaustive list of all scholarly publications. Nor do we know how Google’s algorithm chooses to highlight particular publications and bury others. As the Modern Language Association explained (in an article that’s no longer online, and is thus available only via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine),

…many important resources are not even indexed by Google: most of the rich, fee-based databases to which many academic libraries subscribe remain untouched and unavailable to Google‘s Web-crawling spiders. These databases, along with many others that are freely available, are known as “the Deep Web.” Although containing many trustworthy, well-edited, and scholarly resources, the Deep Web is frequently invisible to search engines. However valuable these resources may be, they are often difficult to access…

For these reasons, you also need to search subject-specific databases. On the library website’s “Databases” tab, you can click the “Browse Subjects” link to find a list of fields; “Media and Film Studies” and “Music” are most directly related to your work, but you’re likely to find media- and communication-related sources in lots of these subject categories — from “Anthropology” to “Gender and Sexuality Studies” to “Sociology.” Scroll down through the list of communication-related resources and read the “blurb” for each listing. Note the kinds of resources cataloged in each, the dates available — and which services offer full-text.

Here are a few resources of note: Communication Abstracts provides abstracts to an impressive list of journals relevant to our field. JStor and Project Muse offer access to full-text humanities and social science articles, and are particularly strong in their cultural studies offerings. ProQuest offers several services, including a database of dissertations and theses — two resources that should not be overlooked.

Searches + Reference Management

One great challenge is knowing what keywords to search for. It’s always best to try various keyword combinations to ensure that you’re being as inclusive as possible in your search. Work that’s relevant to your project won’t necessarily be framed the same way you intend to frame yours, and researchers may very well use terminology quite different than that which you’re using. Librarians can offer valuable help in your hunt for resources.

Also worth noting: through the “Databases” tab, you also have access to the whole Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive dictionary, which provides exhaustive definitions, etymological information, etc. Check out the “Visual Resources” tab for art, architecture, design, and photography resources, too.

Note also the library services listed across the bottom of the page; you can sign up here for workshops, tutorials, one-on-one research assistance, etc. And check out Refworks, a free, web-based citation management program. Some people prefer to maintain a local database (i.e., one housed on their own computers) of their bibliographic material; these folks often use EndNote, a useful but expensive program. Other programs — some open-source, some not; some focused solely on citation management, others incorporating file management, too — include Zotero and Mendeley. These web resources compare several available platforms.

But of course, not all knowledge is to be had through the New School Library’s website. The web’s full of excellent faculty and research institute websites, and a growing body of peer-reviewed online journals (e.g., the International Journal of Communication, First Monday, Invisible Culture, M/CAmodern).

It’s important to remember, though, that not all that has been digitized is worth knowing! It’s important to be able to assess the credibility of online sources so that you’re not caught basing your research hypothesis on something you read in some high school student’s blog. Cornell University identifies several criteria for evaluating web resources: authorship, publishing body, point of view or bias, referral to other sources, verifiability, and currency.

How might you assess the “cast” or “slant” of a media research website if you didn’t know of the hosting organization’s political or religious affiliation? The Breitbart News Network makes it easy for you. But what about The Weekly Standard, or The Wall Street Journal? Imagine you’re an international student, and you’re not aware of these publications’ reputations. Or, imagine yourself accessing online archives of foreign publications: how might you assess their objectivity?

Remember: It’s Not All on Google, and It’s Not All Digital

“Film Archives at the Cinematique”; via Katcha on Flickr 

I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again: it’s important to recognize that Google does not provide impartial, comprehensive access to all the world’s knowledge. As Alison J. Head and John Wihby write in the Chronicle of Higher Education,

…because our web experience will increasingly be personalized through algorithms that key off of everything from geolocation to our prior digital traces, students must learn to recognize the limits of their online environment and to seek information creatively outside of channels that serve up results skewed by Internet companies and other paternalistic, biased, or profit-driven gatekeepers.

Furthermore, not all that is worth knowing has been digitized! There is much to be said for the value of accessing — and handling — original materials. There are archival collections worth exploring and human resources worth tapping. The Whitney has its Andy Warhol Film Project and its research library; MoMA, its research library and circulating film and video library; and Electronic Arts Intermix, its collection of video art. And there are thousands more exciting, eclectic, but underused, collections out there (check out the Library of Congress’s list, Archive Finder, and Archive Grid). It takes a creative and resourceful researcher to seek out these sources — but such effort is invariably repaid many times over.

Commercial Media

I want to say a few words about researching with commercial media content. What if you want to track down cable tv shows or talk radio content that’s relevant to your proposed project. Where do you start? Well, the Paley Center for Media is a great place to start. You might also check the network’s or channel’s or station’s website; some offer extensive programming archives online. In other cases, you may have to contact the network’s librarian or archivist for help, and he or she may send you to the production company that made the content. You could also do a web search to determine the production company, and contact them directly. Check old tv listings or programming schedules to determine when things aired, so that you can use this information to help others help you to track down the material you’re looking for. As much as I wish there were, there’s no easy, foolproof way to go about this kind of “content hunt.” It’s a matter of following leads, and diligently following up. The contact people will vary between organizations, as will access policies.

Content is a commodity, which, unfortunately, means that you often have to pay (dearly!) for it. Yet the recent arrival of Critical Commons — “a non-profit advocacy coalition that supports the use of media for scholarship, research and teaching, providing resources, information and tools for scholars, students, educators and creators” — is incredibly promising. And don’t forget the Internet Archive, where you can find video, audio, software, even archived web content. See also, Stock Footage Online, ITN Archive, Getty Images and Getty’s Archive Films (see also Getty’s Rights & Clearances page).


Evaluating Multimodal Student Work

Old School Evaluation: Scantron by Obscure Associate on Flickr:

As part of my job, I’m often expected to critique works for which there is no clear-cut evaluative rubric — I grade student papers, review journal submissions, serve on selection committees — yet because I’m confident in my knowledge in these contexts, the “squishiness” of evaluation doesn’t bother me. I know a good thing when I see it, and a not-so-good one, too. That’s not how I justify my grades to students, or explain an article rejection to an author, of course. I typically offer comments within the body of a text, which allows me to address micro issues, and then I write a short “cover letter” that offers big-picture, summary comments. I almost never have to deal with disputes — and in some cases, even if I’ve had to award a not-so-hot grade or deliver the news of a rejection, people have thanked me for my helpful comments. That’s good. I want to be helpful. That’s why I dedicate all that time to offering constructive, critical feedback.

Since I began teaching graduate students at The New School I’ve given students the option to complete work in formats that lie outside my own realm of experience. One class curated an exhibition. Another produced an online journal. And even in my more traditional classes, I give students the option of completing creative projects that critically address the subject matter of the course. I also ask them to submit a short written supplement in which they explain the ideas at the center of their work, what “argument” they hoped to make through the production, and how successful they think they were. This supplemental paper allows me to base my evaluation primarily on content (after all, my courses aren’t intended to teach them production skills; I’m simply allowing them to use their existing production skills to work though the ideas central to my courses), but also to address how the form of the project serves its content.

As I’m about to embark on two brand new fall classes that will result in the creation of collaborative, research-based interactive projects — one, an exhibition of “material media,” the other, an map of historical urban media networks — I think it’s time to develop a more formal (though not rigid) evaluation rubric. I’m doing this not only for myself, to guide the assignment of grades, but also to aid students: to help them figure out how to evaluate their own scholarly production work and other multimodal projects — critical skills that will help them navigate through a map-crazy and dataviz-obsessed popular media and design culture.

Our faux scantron wedding RSVPs.  By our friend Dan Richardson.

So, I’m investigating “how to evaluate multimodal work.” I’m still thinking through this, but here’s some of what I’ve gathered thus far (I’m including only the stuff that’s relevant to evaluating student projects; visit the original sources for how these standards can be applied to peer-reviewed faculty work. My own comments are in red.):

From the MLA’s “Short Guide to Evaluation of Digital Work” (the following are direct — but, in some cases, abridged — quotations):

  • “Is it accessible to the community of study? The most basic question to ask of digital work is whether it is accessible to its audience be it students (in the case of pedagogical innovation or users in the case of a research resource.) A work that is hidden and not made available is one that is typically not ready in some fashion. It is normal for digital work to be put up in “beta” or untested form just as it is normal for digital work to be dynamically updated (as in versions of a software tool.)... [Our projects will be hosted on either Parsons or Media Studies servers, and will be made publicly accessible. In addition, our creation process will be made public; all students will be asked to keep blogs on which they chronicle their research and production processes and offer feedback to one another. These individual blogs will be aggregated on a central project blog, to which I will add summary comments.]
  • Have there been any expert consultations? Has this been shown to others for expert opinion? Given the absence of peer review mechanisms for many types of digital work candidates should be encouraged to plan for expert consultations, especially when applying for funding…. [Our mapping tool is currently in development with expert designers at Parsons. Our exhibition platform is developed through an open-source community, to which I will ask the students to contribute. In addition, I’ll be asking faculty experts to attend class and offer constructive criticism at key points throughout the semester.]
  • Has the work been reviewed? Can it be submitted for peer review?Has the work been presented at conferences?… Have papers or reports about the project been published? [I’m currently seeking opportunities to highlight these projects, and critically assess their success/failure as pedagogical experiments, in peer-reviewed publications and at conferences. I also hope to fold particular portions of the mapping project into my next book project.]
  • Do others link to it? Does it link out well? …One indication of how a digital work participates in the conversation of the humanities is how it links to other projects and how in turn, it is described and linked to by others. With the advent of blogging it should be possible to find bloggers who have commented on a project and linked to it. While blog entries are not typically careful reviews they are a sign of interest in the professional community. [We’ll be drawing on the material housed in several local archives and special collections. Proper attribution will be a top priority in both of my student projects; we’ll provide links to relevant collections and finding aids. In addition, through the students’ “process blogs,” we’ll link out to other resources that informed their projects’ development. Finally, a data mining platform will lie behind the interactive mapping project, allowing the map to draw connections to relevant courses, relevant faculty publications, relevant student projects completed outside the context of the class, etc.]
  • If it is an instructional project, has it been assessed appropriately? A scholarly pedagogical project is one that claims to have advanced our knowledge of how to teach or learn. Such claims can be tested and there is a wealth of evaluation techniques including dialogical ones that are recognizable as being in the traditions of humanities interpretation. Further, most universities have teaching and learning units that can be asked to help advise (or even run) assessments for pedagogical innovations from student surveys to focus groups. [Ha!] …Evaluators should not look for enthusiastic and positive results – even negative results (as in this doesn’t help students learn X) are an advance in knowledge. A well designed assessment plan that results in new knowledge that is accessible and really helps others is scholarship, whether or not the pedagogical innovation is demonstrated to have the intended effect. // That said, there are forms of pedagogical innovation, especially the development of tools that are used by instructors to create learning objects, that cannot be assessed in terms of learning objectives but in terms of their usability by the instructor community to meet their learning objectives. In these cases the assessment plan would resemble more usability design and testing…. [Everything I’m posting right here pertains to my attempt to develop appropriate models for assessment. I’ll have to build in mechanisms for evaluating both individual students’ contributions and the collective class effort.]

More from the MLA: “Best Practices in Digital Work” (the following are direct — but, in some cases, abridged — quotations)

  • Appropriate Content
  • Enrichment (Has the data been annotated, linked, and structured appropriately?) One of the promises of digital work is that it can provide rich supplements of commentary, multimedia enhancement, and annotations to provide readers with appropriate historical, literary, and philosophical context. An electronic edition can have high resolution manuscript pages or video of associated performances. A digital work can have multiple interfaces for different audiences from students to researchers. Evaluators should ask about how the potential of the medium has been exploited. Has the work taken advantage of the multimedia possibilities? If an evaluator can imagine a useful enrichment they should ask the candidate whether they considered adding such materials. // Enrichment can take many forms and can raise interesting copyright problems. Often video of dramatic performances are not available because of copyright considerations. Museums and archives can ask for prohibitive license fees for reproduction rights which is why evaluators shouldn’t expect it to be easy to enrich a project with resources, but again, a scholarly project can be expected to have made informed decisions as to what resources they can include. Where projects have negotiated rights evaluators should recognize the decisions and the work of such negotiations. // In some cases enrichment can take the form of significant new scholarship organized as interpretative commentary or essay trajectories through the material. Some projects like NINES actually provide tools for digital exhibit curation so that others can create and share new annotated itineraries through the materials mounted by others…. [This is a primary concern of both of my classes. Rather than uploading data and expecting it to stand on its own, my students will be charged with contextualizing it, and linking their individual data points together into a compelling argument. I’ve already made special arrangements with several institutions for copyright clearances and waiver of reproduction fees. In other cases, students will have to negotiate (with the libraries’ and my assistance) copyright clearances; this will be a good experience for them!]
  • Technical Design (Is the delivery system robust, appropriate, and documented?)In addition to evaluating the decisions made about the representation, encoding and enrichment of evidence, evaluators can ask about the technical design of digital projects. There are better and worse ways to implement a project so that it can be maintained over time by different programmers. A scholarly resource should be designed and documented in a way that allows it to be maintained easily over the life of the project. While a professional programmer with experience with digital humanities projects can advise evaluators about technical design there are some simple questions any evaluator can ask like, “How can new materials be added?”, “Is there documentation for the technical set up that would let another programmer fix a bug?”, and “Were open source tools used that are common for such projects?” // It should be noted that pedagogical works are often technically developed differently than scholarly resources, but evaluators can still ask about how they were developed and whether they were developed so as to be easily adapted and maintained. [Project developers are focusing on this, and they’re documenting the process through a “ticket” system. We’ll ask our students for technical feedback at various points throughout the semester. Their suggestions — which they’ll elaborate upon in their blogs — will inform the development of the platforms even after the end of the semester.]
  • Interface Design and Usability (Is it designed to take advantage of the medium? Has the interface been assessed? Has it been tested? Is it accessible to its intended audience?) …Now best practices in web development suggest that needs analysis, user modeling, interface design and usability testing should be woven into large scale development projects. Evaluators should therefore ask about anticipated users and how the developers imagined their work being used. Did the development team conduct design experiments? Do they know who their users are and how do they know how their work will be used?… // It should be noted that interface design is difficult to do when developing innovative works for which there isn’t an existing self-identified and expert audience. Scholarly projects are often digitizing evidence for unanticipated research uses and should, for that reason, try to keep the data in formats that can be reused whatever the initial interface. There is a tension in scholarly digital work between a) building things to survive and be used (even if only with expertise) by future researchers and b) developing works that can be immediately accessible to scholars without computing skills. It is rare that a project has the funding to both digitize to scholarly standards and develop engaging interfaces that novices find easy. Evaluators should look therefore for plans for long term testing and iterative improvement that is facilitated by a flexible information architecture that can be adapted over time… // Finally, it should be said that interface design is itself a form of digital rhetorical work that should be encouraged. Design can be done following and innovating on practices of asking questions and imagining potential… Evaluators should look expect candidates presenting digital work to have reflected on the engineering and design, even if they didn’t do it, and evaluators should welcome the chance to have a colleague unfold the challenges of the medium.

Cheryl Ball discusses the MLA’s recommendations here, in the discussion forum for her “Evaluating Digital Scholarship” workshop (2010).  I especially appreciate her comments about the wide variety of projects that constitute “digital scholarship,” and which require dynamic criteria for evaluation. She also talks about a fantastic “peer review” exercise she designed for her undergrad “Multimodal Composition” class. They began with Virginia Kuhn’s “components of scholarly multimedia” — conceptual core (“controlling ideas, productive alignment with genre”); research component; form/content (do the formal elements serve the concept?); and creative realization (“does the project use appropriate register? could this have been done on paper?”) — then added two criteria of their own: audience and timeliness. In each of my fall classes we’ll spend a good deal of time examining other online exhibitions and mapping projects and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. I think asking the student to write a formal “reader’s report” — after we’ve generated a list of criteria for assessment — could push their critiques beyond the “I like it,” “I don’t like it,” “There’s too much going on,” or “This wasn’t clear” feedback they usually offer. I attribute the limitations of their feedback not to any lack of serious engagement or interest, but to the fact that they (me included!) don’t always know what criteria should be informing their judgment, or what language is typically used in or is appropriate for such a review.

The Institute for Multimedia Literacy has created a handout on “multimedia scholarship grading parameters” that also starts from, and expands upon, Kuhn’s criteria (the following are direct — but, in some cases, abridged — quotations):

  • Conceptual Core: Is the project’s thesis clearly articulated?Is the project productively aligned with one or more of the multimedia genres outlined in the IML program? Does the project effectively engage with the primary issues raised in the project’s research?
  • Research Competence: Does the project display evidence of substantial research and thoughtful engagement with its subject? Does the project use a variety of types of sources (i.e., not just Web sites)? Does the project deploy more than one approach to its topic?
  • Form and Content: Do structural and formal elements of the project reinforce the conceptual core in a productive way? Are design decisions deliberate and controlled? Is the effectiveness of the project uncompromised by technical problems?
  • Creative Realization: Does the project approach its subject in creative or innovative ways? Does the project use media and design principles effectively? Does this project achieve significant goals that could not have been realized on paper?

Here are their additions:

  • Coherence: First and foremost, academic multimedia projects should be coherent, effectively spanning the gap between “tradition” (text) and “innovation” (multimedia) and ultimately balancing their components. A successful multimedia project, in other words, would clearly suffer if translated into a traditional essay, or, conversely, into a “purely” multimedia experience with little or no connection to the broader field within which it participates. The strong multimedia project is not merely a well-written paper with multimedia elements “pasted in”; neither is it merely a good multimedia project with more familiar textual elements “tacked on.” Coherence, then, refers to the graceful balance of familiar scholarly gestures and multimedia expression which mobilizes the scholarship in new ways.
  • Self-reflexivity: A second quality accounts for the authorial understanding of the production choices made in constructing the project. Because these may be difficult or impossible to discern by engaging with the project, we advocate post-production reflection, offering students the opportunity to reflect on and to justify the choices and decisions made during the creation of the project. We also recognize that in many instances it may be more significant for students to reckon with the process of production rather than an end product; again, reflexivity through reflection helps manifest the evolution, and gives instructors a means for gauging learning. [Students will be encouraged to use their process blogs to address these issues.]
  • Control: By control, we mean the extent to which a project demonstrates authorial intention by providing the user with a carefully planned structure, often made manifest through a navigation scheme and a design suited to the project’s argument and content. Control has to do with authorial tone / voice / cuing as well as with the quality of the project’s interactivity if it calls for user interaction. If, for example, it is the student’s intention to confuse a user, it is perfectly appropriate to build that confusion into the project’s navigation scheme; such choices, however, must always be justified in the project’s self-reflexivity.
  • Cogency: Cogency refers to the quality of the project’s argument and its reflection of a conceptual core. Cogency is not a function of an argument’s “rightness” or “wrongness.” With most assignments, students are free to take any position they like; cogency is reflected in the way the argument is made, not in what the argument is.
  • Evidence: What is the quality of the data used to support the project’s argument? Is it suited to the argument? Further, the project should reflect fundamental research competency as understood and dictated by evolving standards of multimedia research and expression.
  • Complexity: Multimedia projects often suffer in being considered somehow outside a larger discourse or context. Complexity refers to the ways in which the project acknowledges its broader context, contributes to a larger discussion and generally participates in an academic community.
  • Technique: Strong scholarly multimedia projects should exhibit an understanding of the affordances of the tools used to create the project.
  • Documentation: Finally, with a nod toward the dramatic technological shifts that characterize contemporary media practices and the fact that formats come and go with alarming rapidity, we advocate a documentation process that describes the project, its formal structure and thematic concerns, with attention to the project’s attributes and the particular needs required for either the student’s own archival process, or those of an instructor, program, or other entity. This, too, offers another stage for assessment, inviting students to consider their work within a larger context, and offering instructors a site for understanding the learning that has occurred [Our individual and aggregated class blogs will serve this purpose].

I’d have to adapt this for graduate classes — but it’s a great starting point.

There’s also this “Grading 2.0: Evaluation in the Digital Age” discussion thread on HASTAC, which, although I haven’t been able to wade through all the comments yet, seems to advocate for a portfolio approach. I think my students’ “process blogs” will function much like a portfolio.

Finally, I’ve found Steve Anderson’s “Regeneration: Multimedia Genres and Emerging Scholarship” essay extremely helpful in addressing my concerns about the evaluation of “self-expressive” projects. I plan to ask everyone to read Anderson’s piece early in the semester. I had been concerned that some students would assume that, because our projects make use of the same tools they use to create their (often self-expressive or experimental) student films and psychogeographic maps and impressionistic audio pieces, our multimodal scholarly projects could be narrative-based and purely expressive, too. I imagine that at least a few students are unfamiliar with using production as a research methodology: how many have conceived of geotagging as more than a means of “placing” their Flickr uploads or recording their “sensory memories” of particular places in the city? I’m not denigrating these activities — there’s definitely a place for them (including in some of my other classes) — but this fall, I want to focus on multimodal scholarship, and developing appropriate criteria for evaluating it. As Anderson says, “narrative may productively serve as an element of a scholarly multimedia project but should not serve as an end in itself.”


Chicago Sound

Chicago friend Eric to the right, blonde who’s *not* Leah to the left; Cap’n Jazz in the back

It’s an awful picture, but it captures pretty accurately the way I saw the scene through tear-blurred eyes. I had waited 16 long years! And after a few failed attempts, I finally found myself standing before the Brothers Kinsella, Davey Bohlen, Victor Villareal, and Sam Zurick on their home turf, in Chicago.

I discovered Cap’n Jazz when I started college in 1994, a year before the band’s demise yet too late to see them play live. Having missed out on the ur-band itself, I settled for — and was really into, actually — its offspring: Joan of Arc, American Football, the Promise Ring, Owen, Owls, Make Believe, even the many, many superfluous Kinsella projects. When my brother-in-law, Patrick (who made an impulsive one-night trip this past January to catch their “secret” reunion show at the Bottom Lounge; I wish I had been so impulsive), told us of their rumored reunion late last year, I wasn’t exactly stoked. How could a bunch of thirty-something-year-olds manage to do the disheveled, kinetic, rhythmically unpredictable, adorably off-key thing that charmed my socks off back in the early 90s?

I don’t know how, but they did it. The Wicker Park show was totally awesome (as have been all of their reunion shows, as far as I can tell). Totally worth the wait. Worth suffering the indignity, the week before, of being denied entrance to their show at Brooklyn Bowl, while undeserving (I jest!) 16-year-olds, who weren’t even alive during the “Chicago sound” halcyon days, got in.

The idea of a “geographic sound” dawned on me shortly after I started working at Blue Train, an independent music store in State College, PA, at 18, and initiated a weekly habit of trading CDs. My then-boyfriend was on the university’s independent concert committee, which often brought in “caravans” of bands from the same region, who were traveling together between DC, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. I discovered that my musical tastes were concentrating in particular geographic areas: Glasgow (Mogwai, Arab Strap), Chapel Hill (Superchunk & Merge Records), DC (Fugazi and almost all things Dischord), Austin (Mineral, Stars of the Lid, and, later on, all those “big sky” bands), Louisville (Slint, Rodan), and, most of all, Chicago (Tortoise, Shellac, all the Kinsellas’ projects). (These cities, with the exceptions of Chapel Hill and DC — and with the addition of Brooklyn and Reykjavík — still give rise to the music I like most.)

Back then, not having ventured much past the East Coast, I started to wonder about the connection between place and sound. Why did particular cities generate such vibrant music scenes? And why did particular scenes generate such distinctive “sounds”? What was it about Glasgow that engendered such melancholy? Why all the clippedness and exasperation in DC? Why all the alternating angularity and fluidity in Chicago?

August 27, 1994, via Metro
August 27, 1994, via Metro 

Will Straw, Alan O’Connor and Holly Kruse have written about the political, economic, and cultural factors that together mold and sustain a music scene (for more “music scenes” literature, see my “City and Sound” syllabus). Marc Faris addresses the defining characteristics of “that Chicago sound” of the early to mid-90s: loyalty to a “workingman persona,” the centrality of Steve Albini and his commitment to “material authenticity” (my term) in recording, an emphasis on rhythm over melody and harmony, and a distinctive musical “visual culture” that is, too, tied to material authenticity.”

I guess I’m looking for something more, though — something more than human actors, aesthetic choices, ideological loyalties. Perhaps because Chicago feels so materially distinctive to me — so solid, so securely rooted to the earth, so broad-shouldered (if you’ll pardon the cliche) and, simultaneously, towering (Wright and Mies, lake water and steel) — I want to think that this physicality somehow informs the city’s culture, including its music. Tony Mitchell writes, in an article I unfortunately can’t recommend, of Sigur Rós’s connection to Iceland: their music “could be said to express sonically both the isolation of their Icelandic location and to induce a feeling of hermetic isolation in the listener through the climactic and melodic intensity of their sound.” I like this idea. True or not, it’s a satisfying thought. Whether or not there’s a there there, in Mitchell’s argument, I like that he finds a “there” in Sigur Rós’s sound.

I still can’t explain how the spatial-to-sonic translation works, but I know I hear Chicago in Thrill Jockey and Drag City. And I especially enjoyed hearing that “there” — the ur-“Chicago Sound” of the 90s — there, in Wicker Park, on a lovely Saturday night, with two long-time friends.


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



Digital Humanities and New Ways of Knowing. UCLA’s (Center for?) Digital Humanities and Media Studies recently released a “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” which explains that DH is “not a unified field but an “array of convergent practices” that have the potential to profoundly transform the “production and dissemination of knowledge.”[1] A well-designed DH project fosters “attention to complexity, medium specificity, [and] historical context” and promotes “analytical depth, critique and interpretation.” It accepts that knowledge might exist in many forms: “it inhabits the interstices and criss‐crossings between words, sounds, smells, maps, diagrams, installations, environments, data repositories, tables, and objects.” The process of knowledge production is “anchored in making: making in the poetic sense of poeisis, but also in the sense of design carried out in action.” Digital humanists “make” knowledge, they build theory, by building things, designing websites, plotting maps, producing video and audio and, as always, writing cogently. Although one need not have expertise in all modes of production or communication – DH projects are necessarily collaborative in part because of the need to tap into others’ specialized skills – one should have basic literacy in these various modes. DH thus has a stake in the recent discussions about expanded “21st-century literacies.” As Stephanie Barish and Elizabeth Daley, who are affiliated with USC’s Institute for Mutimedia Literacy, argue, “To be literate today, one must understand how strategically chosen and juxtaposed combinations of media enable the construction and dissemination of meaning in ways that bypass or enrich traditional text and the spoken word. Indeed, one must not only be able to read such media, but also to author it.”[2]

Such knowledge work calls into question the distinction between theory and practice. And, through its continual reflection on process, this work also has the potential to raise critical questions about what constitutes knowledge, “who gets to create [i]
,… how it gets legitimated and authorized, and how it is made accessible to a significantly broader (and potentially global) audience.”[3]

Teaching Through the Digital Humanities. All this talk about scholarship might suggest that DH is primarily a field, or practice, for advanced scholars – for people who, as our traditional research models suggest, are specially trained and have been authorized to participate. In other words, DH seems like a faculty affair. Yet the critical skills and values that DH promotes – critical examination of methods, multiple “literacies,” collaboration, internationalization, interdisciplinarity, careful consideration of research presentation, making research accessible to wider publics – are also central to the 21st-century university’s pedagogical mission. DH might not be right for all types of classes, or for all faculty and students – the literacy of print-based reading and writing and research skills required for individual study are still an integral part of any contemporary curriculum – but there is significant opportunity for greater integration of DH into the classroom.

One impediment to that integration is the way many teachers have been trained to think about technology in the classroom. As Barish and Daley note, “To date, much of the support for university faculty to use media is directed toward technical services and basic pedagogical applications.”[4] Faculty are encouraged to use audiovisual materials in the classroom, to integrate social media, etc., “but the implications of their use, as well as the formal components and theoretical basis of multimedia, are not addressed.” Nor is “teaching with technology” instruction tailored to address specific intellectual content. If faculty become more aware of how technology might enhance their own scholarship, they are likely to approach classroom technology as something more than mere illustration or ornamentation. Possible means of introducing faculty to the potential of the Digital Humanities – or at least helping them to develop rudimentary technological literacy so they can more meaningfully integrate technology into their classes and perhaps encourage “multimodal” student projects – include sending faculty to the regularly occurring THATCamps or the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, or, given the number of talented, technologically adept faculty at The New School, hosting a summer “digital humanities boot camp” (much like the camp Parsons’ MFADT organizes for its incoming students each summer) on campus during the semester breaks.


As we encourage faculty to change the way they think about technology in the classroom, we must also reconsider how we ask our students to use these learning tools, and to what ends. “Although many students are involved in the creation of their own expressive media presence through personal webpages and social networking,” Presner and Johanson write, “they are infrequently engaged in either interrogating or applying these technologies in their learning and scholarship.”[5] Faculty should be helping students to develop both traditional and new (media) literacies and “the technical skills related to this literacy,” as well as…

tools for critical analysis, the ability to navigate across, reconfigure, and evaluate different media forms, the ability to negotiate and work across diverse cultures and communities, the ability to synthesize material and bring together different methodologies to solve complex problems, the ability to interpret and construct models for responding to real-world situations, the ability to critically evaluate the potentials and limitations of new technologies, and the cultivation of a broad understanding of the social, historical, linguistic, and cultural context in which they are learning and working.[6]

A well-organized DH project has the potential to reinforce all of these skills and promote critical thinking that is transferable to any kind of problem in any context, inside the classroom or out.

Presner and several colleagues have involved their students in the development of HyperCities, a well-funded, frequently lauded interactive map – or, as described on the website, a “a collaborative research and educational platform for traveling back in time to explore the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive, hypermedia environment.” On HyperCities, “student projects exist side-by-side with scholarly research and community collections and can be seen and evaluated by peers.”[7] He finds that his students “demonstrate a high degrees of skill in articulating a multi-dimensional argument in a hypermedia environment and bring together a wide range of media resources,’ including 2D maps, 3D models, photos, videos, audio, text, etc. Their success can likely be attributed to the fact that the existing content on HyperCities models for the students what a successful submission looks like – and because the public nature of the site, and the stature of some of their co-contributors, motivates students to take the challenge seriously. Through their work on HyperCities, the students come to appreciate the distributed, “processural, iterative, and exploratory” nature of digital scholarship.

USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy is based on offering many such experiences for undergraduates. The IML’s Steve Anderson and Anne Balsamo explain the program’s philosophy:

Participants in IML programs learn to “write” multimedia by first learning to critically read it. Students develop proficiency with the modes of formal analysis required for the critical evaluation of a wide range of multimedia artifacts—including images, video, sound design, information visualization, typography, interface design, and interactivity. In addition, students become familiar with the major theoretical frameworks guiding the development of contemporary multimedia applications and interactive experiences. One of the key concerns of multimedia pedagogy is ensuring that students avoid the uncritical adoption of conventions of commercial or entertainment media. The IML curriculum addresses this concern by exposing students to a broad range of multimedia genres—such as argumentative, documentary, essayistic, experiential, game-based, narrative, and archival forms—and by teaching the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. In their own projects, students are required to justify their authoring and design decisions to demonstrate that their use of media and techniques are appropriate to their overall communicative goal.

As students become critical readers of multimedia, they also learn to produce it in a scholarly way. Students gain experience in both individual and collaborative forms of multimedia authorship. Rather than positioning “multimedia literacy” or “scholarly multimedia” as an emerging field, the IML focuses on developing strategies of integration with existing disciplines and academic practices. The strength of the IML methodology is its modeling of pedagogical practices that are highly mutable, scalable, and flexible in implementation.

Wherever and however (in individual productions or group projects) these practices are implemented, that implementation must be followed up with critique. While students might learn to engage in a form of social or cultural critique through their multimedia creations, they must also learn how to critique their own multimodal productions – how to assess their success in serving their intended purpose, effectively making an argument, meaningfully (and not gratuitously) employing various modes of presentation, etc. As the rampant DH boosterism and invariably positive commentary on projects like HyperCities (despite its limitations) reveals, the Digital Humanities community has yet to build a tradition of critique.[8] In the DH classroom, a project isn’t complete when it “goes live” online, or when the video is screened; a period of reflection and critique must follow.


[1] Schnapp, Presner, et. al, 2. Presner writes elsewhere: “I consider ‘Digital Humanities’ to be an umbrella term for a wide array of practices for creating, applying, interpreting, interrogating, and hacking both new and old information technologies” (“Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge”).

[2] Stephanie Barish and Elizabeth Daley, Multimedia Scholarship for the 21st Century, Educause Forum for the Future of Higher Education (Educause, 2005): 39.

[3] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[4] Barish & Daley, 40.

[5] Presner & Johanson, 4.

[6] Ibid. For more on new “literacies,” see Henry Jenkins, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” Occasional Paper on Digital Media and Learning (MacArthur Foundation).

[7] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[8] See Jennifer Howard, “Hot Type: No Reviews of Digital Scholarship = No RespectChronicle of Higher Education (May 23, 2010). USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy has developed a list of criteria for evaluating multimedia student work.


Trying to Wrap My Head Around the Digital Humanities, Part 2

Laying Bare the Process of Scholarship. This reflection on method and process is another defining characteristic of Digital Humanities 2.0. “From a distance,…much of what is currently done in digital humanities has the look of automation,” argues textual theorist Johanna Drucker; it often appears as if digital scholarship consists of feeding a data set into database, and waiting for it to crunch the numbers and perhaps graph or map the results.[1] Digital humanists “have to show that digital approaches don’t simply provide objects of study in new formats, but shift the critical ground on which we conceptualize our activity… The challenge is to structure instruments that engage and enable these investigations.” Sometimes these investigations happen when the instruments call attention to themselves. Matthew Kirschenbaum notes that the technologies he worked with in creating the William Blake Archive, a text-and image-encoding project that has been online since 1995, “constantly make their presence felt, visibly and palpably pushing back against the interface we attempt to enfold around them.”[2] This is a common occurrence in the digital humanities, he says, because “necessity often dictates that we adopt and adapt tools and technologies that were originally developed for other needs and audiences.”[3]

But in the 15 years since the Blake Archive debuted, new technologies have emerged that make even the most rudimentary sketch appear professionally produced; they often smooth over the cracks and create a semblance of rhetorical seamlessness. Likewise, new tools have the potential to further automate data input, crunching, visualization, and analysis. DH projects often use these tools, but do not do so uncritically. As Drucker says, “Digital humanities projects are not simply mechanistic applications of technical knowledge, but occasions for critical self-consciousness.” In creating an interactive version of her book The Virtual Window, Anne Friedberg discovered the limitations and affordances of the print and interactive formats: “the digital format is not at its best in building a complex argument; it works by accretion, by juxtaposition, by comparative assemblage. It is rhizomatic.”[4] Creating a digital humanities project requires that one consider the unique capabilities of particular instruments, media formats, etc., and employ those that are best suited to their particular project.

Foregrounding these considerations in the public presentation of a digital humanities project has the potential to open up the scholarly process to a wider audience, and to invite them into a conversation on method, value, even the purpose of research. Avi Santo and Christopher Lucas have noticed a shift “in scholarly work practice, from an emphasis on polished demonstrations of academic virtuosity to a foregrounding of scholarly process and collaboration.”[5] Blogging one’s research or posting drafts online and soliciting comments – through standard blog comments, or through platforms like Commentpress or Sophie – can “illuminate the shadowy process of critical thinking, encouraging readers not only to digest finished works, but also to learn from and evaluate the mechanisms of their creation.”[6] The public is thus not merely an audience for this work; it has the potential to critically engage with it and perhaps even contribute.[7]

The actions that constitute the research process in DH might seem foreign to our traditional models of humanities scholarship, which emphasize solitary study and single authorship. Presner describes DH as a “humanistic practice anchored in creation, curation, collaboration, experimentation, and the multi-purposing or multi-channeling of humanistic knowledge.”[8] Many proponents of DH draw particular attention to its collaborative nature, which helps it to “leverage the increasingly distributed nature of expertise and knowledge and transform this reality into occasions for scholarly innovation, disciplinary cross-fertilization, and the democratization of knowledge.”[9] This “distribution” of expertise and knowledge spans both traditional disciplinary boundaries and geographic boundaries. Inclusive, team-based DH projects are thus well positioned to respond to, and foster, interdisciplinarity and the globalization of education.[10] Computer scientists from California might collaborate on a project with designers from China, historians from Canada, and high school students from Zimbabwe.[11] By further integrating institutions outside the university – Presner mentions libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, advocacy groups, non-profits, schools, and local communities (I would add arts organizations) –  DH projects can become inter-institutional, inter-public, fostering “community-based learning experiences” that promote “new forms of civic engagement.”[12] Such ways of working have the potential to make possible new ways of knowing.


[1] Johanna Drucker and Bethany Nowviskie, “Speculative Computing: Aesthetic Provocations in Humanities Computing,” in A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Ray Siemens, John Unsworth, and Susan Schreibman, Hardcover., Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

[2] Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, “’So the Colors Cover the Wires’: Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability,” in Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Ray Siemens, John Unsworth, and Susan Schreibman, Hardcover., Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

[3] The “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” exhorts scholars to not only think critically about how they use existing tools, but also to play an active role in creating new tools, as does George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media. Digital humanists should seek “not only to seek to understand and interrogate the cultural and social impact of new technologies, but to be engaged in driving the creation of new technologies, methodologies, and information systems, as well as in their détournment, reinvention, repurposing, via research questions grounded in the Arts and Humanities: questions of meaning, interpretation, history, subjectivity, and culture. (Schnapp, Presner, et. al., 6)

[4] Friedberg 153.

[5] Avi Santo and Christopher Lucas, “Engaging Academic and Nonacademic Communities through Online Scholarly Work,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 133.

[6] Ibid. 133-4.

[7] Related concerns that are central to DH are open access, intellectual property rights (i.e., allowing content makers to control theirs), and digital preservation (See Brett Bobley, “Why the Digital Humanities?” 2008 [pdf no longer available] and Schnapp, Presner, et. al., 10). Making sure that these “knowledge productions” remain open and publicly accessible requires that scholars and librarians “work together to ensure that the output of our scholarly work is created, published, shared, and preserved appropriately” (Bobley, 3).

[8] Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”

[9] Schnapp, Presner, et. al., “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0”: 5.

[10] There is much talk about how DH might reconfigure, or reinvent, the academic discipline. We might need a new university structure to accommodate this “transformation of scholarly practice from individuals working and writing in isolation to team-based approaches to research problems that cannot be conceptualized, let alone solved, by single scholars. Here, we are beginning to see the emergence of finite, flexible, and nimble ‘knowledge problematics’ that do not derive from or reflect entrenched disciplinary lines, methodological assumptions, or scholarly silos. I see these knowledge problematics as “virtual departments,” which exist only for a finite period of time, are agile, and are constantly built and dismantled. To use a term from the emergent field of digital cultural mapping, they might function as “overlays” on existing departments and institutions, connecting distant scholars and communities together and creating new feedback loops or among between them” (Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge”).

[11] “Digital Humanities scholarship not only cuts across and unifies traditional fields in the humanities (literature, history, the arts) but also brings the tools—both technological and methodological—of other disciplines to bear on the analysis of culture and society. For example, tools from Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help historians to map the transmission of cultural artifacts; architectural modeling and simulation tools aid archaeologists in the investigation and recreation of ancient city spaces and societies; text-analysis and data-mining tools help linguists and literary scholars to detect and analyze patterns in the study of complex textual corpora (Todd Presner, Chris Johanson, et. al., “The Promise of Digital Humanities,” White Paper, March 1, 2009: 3)

[12] Presner & Johanson, 3.

On to Part 3…