New Media Seminar, Fall 2010

In the fall 2010 semester I will be teaching a graduate seminar, and I wanted to use this space to share some of my thoughts and plans.

Some context: I get to teach graduate seminars only once every two years, which doesn't seem like all that often. I like the idea of matching the topic to my current research interests, which explains why I'm not going to repeat the seminar I taught last time on indie culture (which I thought went pretty well). I'm still interested in indie culture, but I have been looking at new areas of study. I see the opportunity to teach graduate students as an occasion to read work that I want to know better. Some of it might be material I have read before but not studied carefully, and some of it will be new to me as it will be to everyone else in the seminar.

Elana and I have been working on a project on convergence-era television and cultural status, and this research has piqued an interest in the history of media technologies. So much of what is interesting about TV in recent decades is a product, in part, of the integration of digital TV technologies. Thinking about the intersection of television's contemporary social and technological identities has made me want to know more about the history of communication technologies, and to think about new media (in the current sense of digital media) in light of this history.

I am posting this here for a few reasons. Most importantly I want prospective seminar participants to have a sense of what they are signing up for. This will be a reading-intensive course with a fair bit of time spent on the past rather than the present of new media. I also wanted to pull the curtain back a bit to reveal the process of developing a course. When I was a student I would have been happy to learn more about instructors' thinking behind teaching certain topics and shaping a syllabus. And I am also eager to invite your feedback, whether in the comments or elsewhere,
to help me find the right shape for a course on a topic, New Media, that always threatens to get out of hand. I'm happy to hear from students past and future, as well as others who have taught or studied these topics. Feel free to suggest more readings, to let me know about your experiences teaching this material, or to warn me off of spending a week on Marshall McLuhan.

Some of the work I have in mind to consider in this course will fit into the typical conception of new media studies. Benkler and Lessig are clear instances of scholars engaged with questions about changes brought on by digital communications. But some of the work I want to look at is much older, and considers media which are no longer new in terms of what changes they wrought on society and culture. I'm not sure how much of the material that interests me will fit into the course. I don't know if work on oral vs written cultures will make the cut and I don't know if spending too much time on telegraphy and telephony will unduly tax the patience of media studies MA candidates who are probably more interested in today's internet than the Victorian internet. But these are all topics I want to know more about.

Below are some likely and possible readings. The ones I'm especially eager to include in the course are marked with a *.
In the past one assignment I have given in a course like this is a book review, where students in groups of between three and five all read the same book. We then have one seminar meeting that's a kind of book club, where we have panel discussions of each book. The items I'm considering for this assignment are marked with a #. Of course there is much more here than one can teach in a single semester, so much of the work below won't make the cut. And because I'm interested in TV first of all, that is the medium that will likely get the most time during the semester.

Charles Acland, ed., Residual Media (Minnesota, 2007).

*Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Yale, 2007) / Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody (Penguin, 2009).

Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."

*William Boddy, New Media and the Popular Imagination:
Launching Radio, Television, and Digital Media in the United States (Oxford, 2004).

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin
, Remediation: Understanding New Media (MIT, 2000).

#Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, YouTube:
Online Video and Participatory Culture (Polity, 2009).

James W. Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (New York: Routledge, 1992), or possibly just Chapter 8, "Technology as Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph."

Susan J. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922 (Johns Hopkins, 1989).

Claude Fischer, America Calling: A social history of the telephone to 1940 (California, 1994)

Robert Friedel, A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium (MIT, 2007).

Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree, New Media 1740-1915 (MIT, 2003).

Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History and the Data of Culture (MIT, 2008)

Henry Jenkins and David Thorburn, eds., Rethinking Media Change (MIT, 2004).

#Mark Katz, Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music (California, 2004).

*Derek Kompare, "Publishing Flow: DVD Box Sets and the Reconception of Television," Television & New Media 7.4 (2006), 335-360.

Lawrence Lessig, Remix Culture: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (Penguin, 2008) / Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity (Penguin, 2005).

#Amanda Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized (NYU, 2007)

*The Essential McLuhan (Basic, 1996).

*Michèle Martin, "The Culture of the Telephone," in Patrick D. Hopkins (ed.), Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender and Technology (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989), 50-74.

Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1990).

Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost, Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2009).

Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2002).

*Benjamin Peters, "And lead us not into thinking the new is new: a bibliographic case for new media history" New Media & Society 11 (2009), 13-30.

#Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything:
How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters (Crown, 2009).

*Lynn Spigel, Make Way for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America (Chicago, 1992).

Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson, eds.,Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition (Duke, 2005).

Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet (New York: Berkeley, 1998).

Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003).

#Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence (Rutgers, 2009).

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, The New Media Reader (MIT, 2004).

*Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (Routledge, 2003)


dkompare said...

Intriguing course. I need to ask: is this an MA or PhD course? If it's the former, I'd advise narrowing it a bit. Are you going to proceed chronologically or thematically? What sorts of assignments will they be doing?

I would also consider seasoning it with some relevant media (print, audio, video) from the periods under consideration. Archive.org is of course loaded to the gills with great, useful stuff, but you could tap the hive-mind for other suggestions. This kind of connects scholarship to primary sources in a useful way (at least for me, when I've done it in grad courses).

On a similar note, if you're using my DVD piece, I'd be happy to do a chat or Skype session with your class (especially since we're all in the same time zone!). Keep us posted on how this develops!

michael z newman said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Derek. It is an MA course, so my ambitions can't go totally wild. I definitely wouldn't go strictly chronologically. I might want to cluster the TV readings together. But I would probably save some of the stuff on contemporary new media for the end. As for assignments, definitely readings questions posted to the class blog before class, the book review, probably a conference-length paper at the end, and probably one more short assignment due early in the semester. And I really like the idea of bringing you and maybe others in to "visit." Looking forward to it.

Jason Mittell said...

Looks great! I'd put in a plug for making some (if not all) of the assignments in media other than the written academic essay. I've found in my teaching (advanced undergrad) that the best way to understand and grapple with a medium is to create something in it. See the latest iteration of these assignments from my ongoing class. Good luck!

jlr said...

Late comment! But I really appreciated this post, and cribbed some from it when I was working on my Transmedia TV syllabus. It's probably closer to a seminar I'm developing for the fall on Media in Transition, so I'll be returning to your list again over the summer.

It looks like media archaeologies are of particular interest to you, so you might want to consider a book by Kittler in particular (e.g. Grammaphone, Film, Typewriter or Discourse Networks). Also weird ones like The Telephone Book by Rita Raley or Audiovisions by Zielinski. And New Media/Old Media is a great anthology for this sort of stuff.

Andrew said...

Hey! I found this blog while doing some McLuhan/Carey readings, and it intrigued me, so I thought I'd give you the perspective of an undergraduate student who just completed a course on "Technology, Change and Communication" at UF's J-School.

I strongly encourage keeping the Ong, Standage and Carey readings. I'd also add some more McLuhan; I don't know if one week does the man justice.

As for keeping the Victorian Internet, I think that it is very beneficial to anyone studying media.

I would strongly encourage Michael Wesch's Anthropological Introduction to YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU), especially if you are teaching this with a focus on the television.

My personal idol is Clay Shirky, so I think keeping "Here Comes Everybody" is essential to studying the effects of social networking.

Keep in mind, I'm only an undergraduate, and I've only taken one related class. I'm sure you would be looking for more research-based and more advanced material than I was using. However, I hope I helped in some way.