Media and History Course

In the spring, I’ll be teaching 3 sections of CUA’s Media and History course. The stated goal of the course is to “explore mediation in and across time,” with the hope of introducing students to questions about the transitions and interactions among media and culture. In the past, the course hasn’t been taught as a comprehensive survey of media history (teaching several thousand years’ worth of media in fifteen weeks would be rather difficult). Instead the emphasis is on using past media transitions to make sense of contemporary transitions, which I think is a good idea. So far, I have the basic scaffolding for the course set up, including the books I’ll require my students to read:

  • Paul C. Gutjahr, An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880, which I believe will riase some interesting questions about 19th Century print culture here in the US.
  • Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America. Still one of the strongest and most accessible cultural histories of the cinema. I’ll probably supplement his book with more recent accounts of waning studio profits and new distribution technologies (these discussions of film are obviously quite timely).
  • Susan Douglas, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination. In part, this is an excuse to spend some more time with another cool book, but discussions about the social role of radio also now seem timely with the emergence of podcasts, internet radio, and other modes of broadcasting (or narrowcasting as the case may be).
  • Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media. I’ll likely use the “haunted media” theme as a framing device for the course and insert Sconce’s chapters on telegraphy, telephone, radio, etc, throughout the semester.

I’ll certainly supplement these books with some relevant historical essays (too tired to list them right now) and required encounters with relevant texts (Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, possibly the Bela Lugosi film, Murder by Television, and others). I’m thinking out loud over here, so any suggestions or observations would be welcome.


  1. Matt Said,

    November 27, 2005 @ 1:56 am

    I don’t know, but towards the end something like Videodrome might be applicable?

  2. Chuck Said,

    November 27, 2005 @ 11:10 am

    Videodrome might be interesting. I do need to spend some time talking about the major shifts in the 1980s (the emergence of video and cable, the “birth” of the high concept film, etc).

  3. McChris Said,

    November 27, 2005 @ 12:01 pm

    It looks like you’ve got quite a reading list already – is this for an intro level class? I like Brian Winston’s Media Technology and Society quite a bit since he’s highly skeptical about many of claims about new technologies, and he has chapters devoted to things like cable and laserdisc. I assigned the chapter on the Internet to the intro-level production class I taught last spring, and I thought it was good for getting a bunch of people up to speed on the history of the Internet, but many of the more technophilic students complained his tone was “grumpy.” Would you read some of Tom Schatz’s work on “New Hollywood” if you went into blockbusters?

    I’ve been assigned to TA a class titled “New Communication Technologies” next semester. I chatted with the prof about her plans for the class, and I was pretty surprised when she said, “In the past, I spent most of the semester discussing cable TV.” The class will emphasize the Internet more, but, as a thirty-year-old, cable wasn’t even on my radar as a new technology.

  4. Chuck Said,

    November 27, 2005 @ 12:36 pm

    The Winston book looks good. I might use his chapter on the Internet (or a similar chapter on a recent technology). I don’t think a little grumpiness is a bad thing, of course (after all I like Adorno). Tom Schatz on “New Hollywood” would be good.

    I do think some time on cable would be good, especially since I want to cover changes over the last two centuries (though focusing primarily on the relatively contemporary). I think it’s worth looking at the changes that cable introduced–I still remember getting cable for the first time and being amazed that there was an entire network devoted to sports (!) and one dedicated to kids’ shows (!). Of course, talking about cable might also help foster larger conversations about media deregulation and other more recent institutional questions.

  5. cbd Said,

    November 27, 2005 @ 4:12 pm

    I think the strongest part of Winston’s book is his introduction, which includes a very useful framework for thinking about technological change. The rest of the book is a little uneven.

  6. Jason Said,

    November 28, 2005 @ 3:09 pm

    No plans to include anything about videogames? I know its still rare to see it in the classroom, but you might consider including some machinima (Red V Blue) to talk both about video game media culture and the production of media/cinema using video game technology…

  7. Chuck Said,

    November 28, 2005 @ 3:41 pm

    Yeah, I do need *something* about video games. I simply forgot to mention them since I was writing primarily about the major texts for the course. Machinima is an interesting possibility, especially in terms of those issues of media in transition. I may look at the Video Game Reader for 1-2 short essays to cover that history.

  8. Jason Said,

    November 28, 2005 @ 10:31 pm

    You might also look at the new Handbook of Computer Game Studies (MIT Press 2005) edited by Joost Raessens and Jeffrey Goldstein and/or ScreenPlay: cinema/videogames/interfaces, edited by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska. If you are able to make it to Dave’s on Saturday night, I’d be happy to chat about idea.

  9. Chuck Said,

    November 28, 2005 @ 11:49 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions. Hope we can talk about it IRL at some point….

  10. New Kid on the Hallway Said,

    December 15, 2005 @ 2:52 pm

    Teaching Carnival IV

    Greetings and welcome to Teaching Carnival IV! It’s been a pleasure to have a legitimate excuse for rummaging around the internets, finding new blogs, and spending lots and lots of time reading things that were neither written by my students

RSS feed for comments on this post