Approaches to Media History
MWF, 2:00 PM-3:00 PM
In this course, we zoom out to do an overview of media history by looking at three interlocking regions. The first is the region of system, understood in terms of the relationship between media, social organization, and power, from the early writing systems that ordered agriculture to the nineteenth and twentieth-century relation between ideology and mass media such as television. In this region, we learn how the flow of communication organizes society and creates hierarchies of power. The second region is the region of matter or materialism. Here we look at the technologies themselves, such as pig skin manuscripts, paper, the substance of film, and the environmental implications of devices such as smartphones. The question is how specific “materialities” of communication shape the historical moments in which they take hold. The third region is the digital “platform,” like Google, Facebook, or Amazon. Because of their economic impact and wide social influence, platforms combine the regions of system and matter. While studying platforms, we also ask if they are as new and exclusively digital as they seem. Throughout the course, we alternate between 1) weeks that mix lecture with student research and presentation about topics in media history and 2) weeks for discussing readings that exemplify the very different theories and methods researchers have used, over time, to write the history of media.