Ether and Ore: An Archaeology of Urban Intelligences

Ether and Ore: An Archaeology of Urban Intelligences” in Laura Kurgan and Dare Brawley, eds., Ways of Knowing Cities (Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2019): 120-30


Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: 5000 Years of Urban Media

University of Minnesota Press, November 2017

Awards: The Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award; Media Ecology Association’s Dorothy Lee Award

Interviews: Jennifer Reut, “Urban Scanner,” Landscape Architecture Magazine (July 2018): 38-44; Chris Richardson, “Shannon Mattern: Code and Clay, Data and Dirt,” This is Not a Pipe [podcas]

(May 17, 2018); Jeffrey Wood, “How Media Has [sic] Shaped the City,” Talking Headways [podcast]

(May 2018); Ian Garrick Mason, “The Intelligence of Cities,” urbanNext (November 2, 2017); “Shannon Mattern on ‘5000 Years of Urban Media,’” with Mack Hagood, Mediapolis 4:2 (November 2, 2017).

Reference point for artist Lila Fowler’s Code Clay, Data Dirt exhibition, Firstsite Gallery, Colchester, UK, 2019.


Mud, Media + the Metropolis (2016)

I was honored to be invited to share a chapter from my forthcoming book, Ether/Ore: Archaeologies of Cities and Media, at the University of Amsterdam in May. This particular chapter, “Of Mud, Media, and the Metropolis: Aggregating Histories of Writing and Urbanization” will also appear this fall in a special “Geology of Media” special issue of Cultural Politics, edited by Jussi Parikka. You can find my slides here.


Scripts, Standards, Lists + Diagrams

Simon Evans, The Skin of the Earth is a Blue Blouse (detail), 2013
Simon Evans, The Skin of the Earth is a Blue Blouse (detail), 2013

I keep a list on my iPhone of all the current and upcoming exhibitions I want to see. I learn about some of these shows through ads in Artforum or other art magazines, through reviews in the Times or the New Yorker or other periodicals, through blogs, through friends, etc. Sometimes I’m familiar with the artists; sometimes I’m not. Sometimes it’s a photo of the work that piques my interest, sometimes it’s a review or a description in a press release, sometimes it’s the reputation of the gallery, and sometimes it’s merely the exhibition title. More often than not, I don’t know what I’m in for. I’d say my gallery itineraries are 30% predictable; 70% crapshoot.

I consider myself lucky that yesterday’s Chelsea excursion yielded at least a 75% hit rate. Really good stuff. And I’m a little freaked out by the striking similarities between the 15 shows I saw. Of course I gravitate toward any art grappling with language and text and the “aesthetics of administration” and “institutional critique” — but I really can’t explain how nearly every piece I saw yesterday hit all those buttons. Totally weird, and totally awesome.


Aesthetic Reconstruction

Li Huasheng, 0669, 2005
Li Huasheng, 0669, 2005

So this was another tough week. Dammit, love, you jerk. Do you hate me or something?

When matters of the heart get me down, I get my ass to Chelsea. Embraced by those pristinely white walls, comforted by that warm gallery light and that construction-site-meets-parfumery-scented air, delighted or challenged by all the fantastic or awful stuff hanging on the walls and nested in vitrines, I can reassure myself: “Well, at least you guys are still here for me.” TMI, I know. But what’s the use of pretending that my professional endeavors, which are ostensibly the focus of this website, are hermetically sealed off from the rest of my “being”? As if one’s intellectual pursuits are divorced from affect.

I always seem to find, retroactively, a theme for all my gallery tours. Today’s was “reconstruction.” Gee, I wonder why. Aside from my obvious personal motivations for finding messages of “rebuilding” in the work I saw today, most of it actually wasin some way or another, addressing the construction of space and/or meaning — with ink, paint, text, sound, etc.


Tracks + Traces: More Art

Back in December, to celebrate the completion of another semester and all my grading, I saw some art:

Gabriel Orozco’s “Thinking in Circles” at Marian Goodman:



Recover Lost File: I Wrote About Ben Fino-Radin and Lori Emerson on Preserving Obsolete Media for Nautilus Magazine

Cover Image: “XFR STN” Test Pattern, created by DuArt. Courtesy DuArt Restoration
Cover Image: “XFR STN” Test Pattern, created by DuArt. Courtesy DuArt Restoration

Last Friday Ben Fino-Radin, digital repository manager at the Museum of Modern Art; and Lori Emerson, assistant professor of English and director of the Media Archaeology Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder, convened at NYU ostensibly to discuss “New | Media Archives.” I was invited to write about their discussion for the lovely and exciting Nautilus, a new-ish science magazine, which I highly recommend. You can read my post, which was assigned the rather prolix headline, “Preserving Yesterday’s Tech to Get a Better Gasp on Today’s,” here.


IYLSSIF 5: What Media Studies Makes: Forms of Scholarship

The fifth in an epic, six-part series of lectures from my intro to graduate studies lecture course, which I’m posting online in the hope that others will find them useful. [Part 1 Here, Part 2 Here, Part 3 Here, Part 4 Here; the lectures are unedited — hence, you might be a bit confused by a few inexplicable notes and slides about administrative issues]. We started off by describing the premise of the class; then discussed how students could find their own position within the program and the field; then helped students map that field, appreciate its breadth and the various intellectual and create traditions it draws from; then talked about practical methods for maintaining one’s orientation within the field and within one’s own work. Now we talk about the various forms one’s scholarship can take, ranging from traditional academic writing to more experimental writing forms, to “multimodal” scholarship and theoretically informed, research-based media production.




  • Academic Sources?
  • Next Week: begin w/ visit from GPIA re: IFP – Deadline: 10/15


In our field, media studies, we take a cross-platform, comparative approach to studying various modes of communication. This comparative approach characterizes not only our subjects of study, but also our methods and our means of presenting the outcomes of our work.

[SLIDE 4] Just as, last week, we talked about different platforms and software for taking notes, organizing projects, etc., we also have to think about what technologies can serve us as research tools – as methods – and what can help us present our work in the most effective way possible. That’s in part what multimodal scholarship is about: thinking about how different media might allow you ask new research questions, engage your subject in new ways, and share your in-progress or finished work in ways that “do justice” to your subject and your argument, that give appropriate form to your content.

As your reading for this week suggested, media studies makes scholarship in traditional written forms and in “multimodal” forms. Film, field recordings, databases, etc. can all function as research tools and as platforms for presenting our research-based, theoretically-informed work. Or course there’s still room for using these media as creative forms – as means of pure artistic expression – but today we’re going to focus on how these technologies might shape the forms of our research and theorization.

[SLIDE 5] Guest: Amir Husak



  • Researchers are more than “content providers” – they “fully engage with the platforms and tools of the digital era” (120)
    • Computing humanist
    • Blogging humanist
  • “Who better to reimagine the relationship of scholarly form to content than those who have devoted their careers to studying narrative structure, representation and meaning, or the aesthetics of visuality (and aurality)?” (120)
  • [SLIDE 7] Remember Henry Jenkins from our 2nd Lecture, on History of the Field: “New media literacies include the traditional literacy that evolved with print culture as well as the newer forms of literacy within mass and digital media…. [We] must expand [our] required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new.

Beyond core literacy, students need research skills…. Students also need to develop technical skills…. Yet, to reduce the new media literacies to technical skills would be a mistake on the order of confusing penmanship with composition….

  • [SLIDE 8] “The multimodal humanist…brings together databases, scholarly tools, networked writing, and peer-to-peer commentary while also leveraging the potential of visual and aural (and interactive) media that so dominate contemporary life… She aims to produce work that reconfigures the relationships among author, reader, and technology while investigating the computer simultaneously as a platform, a medium, and a visualization device. She thinks carefully about the relationship of form to content, expression to idea” (120)
  • [SLIDE 9]  CommentPress
  • [SLIDE 10] “The multimodal scholar explores new forms of literacy that include authoring and analyzing visual, aural, dynamic, and interactive media….[and imagines] what it would be like to immerse yourself in a scholarly argumentas you might immerse yourself in a movie or a video game. She investigates what happens when scholarship looks and feels differently, requiring new modes of engagement from the reader/user” (120)
    • “’How do you ‘experience’ or feel’ an argument in a more immersive and sensory-rich space?’ ‘Can scholarship show as well as tell?’ ‘Will representing data differently change the ways we understand, collect, or interpret it?’ ‘What happens to argument in a nonlinear environment?’” (121) – AFFECTIVE dimension


  • [SLIDE 11] “…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)
  • [SLIDE 12]Book vs. Database:
    • Book calls for linear organization
    • Database allows for tangents – allows us to “present multiple lines of thought in relation to the materials at hand and to invite others to join us in this process in extended collaboration and convention. Working with databases allows us both to present our arguments differently and to understand our materials differently. Thus, the database might itself be understood das an interpretive platformthat can support and extend the core methodologies of the interpretive humanities…” (121)
    • [SLIDE 13] Wunderkammer: even though it’s organized like a book, it allows for tangents, links etc.:
    • [SLIDE 14] Thinking/Making
  • [SLIDE 15: Korsakow] New forms of argumentation: “multiple, associative, digressive, even contradictory” (122)
  • “navigating new pathways through scholarly materials that can transform the questions scholarship might ask” (122)
    • [SLIDE 16] John Snow’s 1854 Cholera Map of London

These claims are not unique to the database!

  • [SLIDE 17: Audio/Video] “…imagine very different scholarly ‘outputs’at the surface of the screen – we might create powerful simulations, visualize space and time in compelling ways, or structure data that the user can then play like a video game, richly annotate on the fly, or capture and represent in interesting new ways” (122)
    • [SLIDE 18] Mark Kann’s “Deliberative Democracy and Difference” on Vectors:
  • STILL NEED A METHOD – Topic for next week!

Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0

  • [SLIDE 19] Process (research AND design!) over product! Collaboration, Interdisciplinarity, distributed networks of knowledge production
  • McPherson: “imperative that we be involved in the design and construction of the emerging networked platforms and practices” – design our own tools (123)
    • [SLIDE 20] Manifesto: “…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 détournement (turnabout, derailment), reinvention, repurposing, via research questions grounded in the Arts and Humanities: questions of meaning, interpretation, history, subjectivity, and culture” (6)
    • [SLIDE 21]: URT + Mapping the Social Life of Zines
  • “determining and designing the interface to information, data, and knowledge becomes just as central as the crafts of writing, curating, and coordinating” (7)
    • [SLIDE 22: Dr. Strangelove] Faden on Media Stylos: “In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of French critic and filmmaker Alexandre Astruc’s inspiring essay “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: Le Caméra Stylo,” I began making short films and videos in lieu of academic conference papers. Astruc’s essay called for a new film practice that moved beyond both avant-garde abstraction and narrative story telling and embraced a full range of intellectual practicesfrom filming philosophy to emulating the 17th century literary essay.”
      • Would not advocate misrepresenting your presentation in a conference or workshop proposal – or aiming to alienate your fellow panelists
      • Still, Faden has taken cues from Astruc in thinking about film- or video-making as a means of thinking through theory, or creating media that critiques itself or its own process of construction
      • Mix of media formats and rhetorical modes
      • Allows for consideration of form in relation to content– format of argumentation parallels format of its subject
        • [SLIDE 23] Issues of FAIR USE
        • [SLIDE 24] SCMS Fair Use
  • [SLIDE 25] Evaluating Multimodal Work
  • [SLIDE 27] Communities of Digital Humanities-inspired graduate students: HASTAC:



  • Production faculty claim that the biggest problems with students production projects are (1) problematic conceptualization, which is related to weak writing and (2) sound design
  • [SLIDE 28: Book of Hours, 1460] Grad students tend to write in a way that constitutes what they think is “academic” writing
    • Gerald Graff, education historian, author of “Scholars and Sound Bites” in PLMA: “When students write ponderously and evasively, it is often not because they could not do otherwise, but because they are convinced that such writing is what their professors want” (1041)
    • Becker, sociologist well known for his work on “art worlds,” also addresses the compulsion grad students feel to “sound academic,” to put on a particular “writerly persona” – advocates for simplicity

[SLIDE 29] Toor on Orwell:

  • “A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
  • Toor: 83 comments!

[SLIDE 30-31] Graff’s Tips:

  • “Be dialogical. Begin your text by directly identifying the prior conversation or debate that you are entering” (1050)
  • “Make a claim, the sooner the better, and flag it for the reader”
  • “Remind readers of your claim periodically, especially the more you complicate it”
  • “Summarize the objections that you anticipate can be made (or have been made) against your claim.” (1050)
  • “Say explicitly – or at least imply – why your ideas are important, what difference it makes to the world if you are right or wrong, and so forth” – “So what?” (1051)
  • “Generate a metatext that stands apart from your main text and puts it in perspective” – “I do not mean to suggest that…” “Here you will probably object that…” (1051)
  • “you are probably so eager to prove that you’ve left no thought unconsidered that you find it hard to resist the temptation to say everything at once, and consequence you say nothing that is understood while producing horribly overloaded paragraphs and sentences” (1051)
  • “Be bilingual. It is not necessary to avoid academese – you sometimes need the stuff… [Bu]
    try to say it in the vernacular as well” (1051)
  • “If you could not explain it to your [friends], the chances are you don’t understand it yourself” (1051)

[SLIDE 32] Most “tips” focus on the style, and take for granted the “how” – how to start a paper when you’re not given a particular assignment, a paper that might be longer than those you’ve written in the past, a paper that serves a different purpose than those you’ve written as an undergrad or for work…


[SLIDE 33] Moxley, Publish, Don’t Perish:

  • Audience Analysis
  • Purpose Analysis: reporting, critiquing, objecting, investigating, persuading?
  • Voice Analysis
    • Becker on Persona & Authority: speaking in imperatives, passive voice, etc
  • Process Analysis
    • “What are your writing rituals? What is the best time of day for you to write? Where do you like to write?” (Moxley 39)
    • Becker: “you have already made many choices when you sit down to write, but probably don’t know what they were” (17)


  • “…some academics believe that they are violating the rules when they write without an outline. Or, more sadly, when they cannot come up with an outline, some academicians fear that their idea is weak and insignificant, that they lack the critical thinking skills necessary to write well. In fact, recommending that one always outline before writing is based on the foolish assumption that thinking and writing are not related, that first one thinks and then one writes” (Moxley 27)
    • Becker: You needn’t work out everything before starting to write; “Writing can…shape your research design” (Moxley 18)
  • [CLICK]Freewrite Drafts: write without hesitation – “try to ignore critical thoughts and focus on generating ideas” (29)
    • Helps you “(1) develop ideas that you otherwise would not develop, (2) overcome the tightness and frustration associated with beginning new writing projects, and (3) create a flow that helps establish a voice in your prose” (29)
    • “…when you let your thoughts about the research flow, they often gain a forcefulness, a sense of directness and insight, that they otherwise might lack” (29)
    • “When reviewing your freewrites, identify the details that seem most significant. Put brackets around the sections that you believe are worth keeping.” (29)
    • Zinsser on Style
  • [CLICK]Dictate Drafts
    • “sometimes dictated drafts have a strong, natural voice” (31)
    • “can speak faster than you can write” (31)
  • [CLICK] Draw a Cluster Diagram
    • “Rather than trying to force your ideas into a formal outline, you can pictorially represent them on the page and then draw lines between ideas that seem somewhat related” (31)
    • Remember discussion on CONCEPT MAPPING
  • [CLICK] Draw a Pie Diagram
    • “…allows you to estimate visually how much tie you should spend addressing each aspect of your / subject” (31, 33)
  • [CLICK] Make a Formal Outline


  • Intro / Methods & Materials / Results / Discussion / Conclusion
  • Intro / Subheaded Sections / Conclusion – with Transitions!

Gregory Colon Semenza, Graduate Study for the 21st Century:


  1. The Controversy Paper: “claim that purports to end a controversy or debate” (93)
  2. The Textual Crux Paper: “for years readers have pondered the meaning of an ambiguous, unclear, or even a missing part of a given text…Your research leads you to a strong conclusion about the meaning of the problematic text or term..” (93)
  3. The Gap in Scholarship Paper: “in reading the scholarship about a particular subject, you are struck that no one has said anything about a related and seemingly important matter. You decide to widen the scope of the conversation” (93)
  4. The Historical Contextualization: “clarify the meaning of a particular work or explain its provenance, immediate reception, of influence on other contemporary texts” (94)
  5. The Pragmatic Proposal: “more interested in praxes than theory for its own sake” (94)
  6. The Theoretical Application
  • The “so what?” question + Situating your argument

MORE INFORMAL DH-INSPIRED FORMS OF ACADEMIC WRITING – Work through some ideas before formal publication

[SLIDE 39] Revision

  • Zinsser’s revised m.s.: pp. 10-11
  • Becker on necessity for writing multiple drafts – “writing need not be a one-shot, all-or-nothing venture. It could have stages, each with its own criteria of excellence” (14)
  • [SLIDE 40] Use of Writing Center

[SLIDE 41] Giving Credit Where It’s Due

  • Plagiarism – Don’t do it; honor the collective thought and creation that inspired your own thoughts – just as you would have others do to your own work
  • [SLIDE 42] Crediting Photos
  • Make sure you’re familiar with what constitutes academic honesty and dishonesty
    • “Piece-mealing” an argument is plagiarism
  • Style Guides


  • Each has affordances and limitations
  • Choice should be guided by what “tool” is right for the job (must cultivate “material consciousness”) – We’ll talk more next week about methods.
  • In this week’s discussion section, you’ll look at various platforms for multimodal scholarship.

Otherworldly & Untimely

Amy Bennett

I’m belatedly posting photos from “Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities,” which Jess Blaustein and I saw (and loved!) together at the Museum of Art and Design last month. The show was right up both of our (unheimlich) alleys. Jess did some amazing work on dollhouses in her dissertation (which I actually read), and she and I bonded ten years ago at Penn over our shared interest in heterotopias.

Lori Nix, Violin Repair Shop
Charles Matton, Rhinoceros: Homage to Eugene Ionesco

I’m posting here primarily so I can remember the show. My crappy iphone photos certainly don’t do justice to the work; there are much better photos on MAD’s website.

Adolf Konrad, packing list, December 16, 1963Earlier that afternoon we saw the “Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art” show at the Morgan Library. I had worked with the curator, Liza Kirwin, last summer on my “Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions” special issue of The New Everyday. It was great, finally, to see in-person all the artefacts reproduced in the exhibition’s lovely Princeton Architectural Press catalog — but we got the sense that the didactic material in the gallery was a little screwy. Some of the wall texts seems misplaced or redundant.

Charles McGrath wrote in his Times review of the show: “The more you study the Morgan exhibition, the more you realize that lists are everywhere, and that list making is an essential human activity — a way not just of keeping track but also of imposing order on what would otherwise be chaos.” That seems pretty obvious to me. What’s not obvious about the lists on display here — what distinguishes them from the to-do’s I sketch out on napkins and scrap paper — is the fact that these are the enumerations of creative, designerly minds. These are lists of things that typically defy itemization, of concepts spanning a jarring array of rhetorical registers and ontological categories. These are enumerations of a different form and function. Here, aesthetics — what one might regard as “excess” in a form as utilitarian as the list — serves a communicative, a rhetorical, purpose.

In “The Memo and Modernity” John Guillory suggests that, “[i]n our epoch, large numbers of people write, are even compelled to write, but they do not for the most part write poems or scientific papers; they fill out forms, compose memos or reports, send interoffice emails” or make lists. “This writing is informational, and it has the same generic specificity as any other kind of writing.” Kirwin is exploring this generic specificity of the list — and in so doing, she helps to address Guillory’s final question: “why writing has remained the indispensable ‘art of transmission’ in the era of technologically mediated information.”


Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions

I edited a special issue of The New Everyday on “>Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions (September 2010), featuring contributions from Laura Bergeron, Dan Cohen, Kate Eichhorn, Lisa Gitelman, Katie Harvey, Liza Kirwin, Linda Levitt, Andrew Piper, John Thompson, Heidi Wilkins, and myself.