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Amodern 4: The Poetry Series

MEDIA ARCHAEOLOGY OF POETRY AND SOUND

A Conversation with Shannon Mattern

Christine Mitchell, Shannon Mattern

Shannon Mattern’s broad-ranging media archaeological research, writing and teaching attend to textual and literary spaces, sound archives and the materialities of media migration and transformation. Her 2007 book on urban library design, The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities, and in-progress manuscript projects on media archaeology and media mapping herald a multifaceted body of scholarship into the ways people encounter, uncover and engage with texts – bound and sounded, digitally displayed and card-indexed – and the media and infrastructure that channel, contain and condition them. Her influential blog, Words in Space, further foregrounds the practice of media study by bringing thinking and writing together with the sharing and development of pedagogical and research tools and resources.

This conversation alights on Mattern’s experience and insight to offer an indispensable entrée to the pleasures, risks, stakes and meanings of media historical investigation and hands-on archival work for literary and performance scholars confronting their objects of study as media artifacts. Addressing the practicalities and problems around archival research and archive building, Mattern charts the territory and signals key debates for newcomers to media archaeological ventures with respect to what sound and media archives mean, and the ways we encounter and create them.

The dialogue unfolded over email in Spring 2014, between Montreal, Quebec and New York, New York.

-Christine Mitchell

 

I’d like to start by recognizing some broad continuities between our experiences with poetry archives: your work on the Woodberry Poetry Room as a historically designated space for engaging poetry, whether sounded, read, studied or written, and controversies surrounding its architectural renovation, and my work unraveling the media-technological and institutional histories of the SpokenWeb digital poetry archive and reconfiguring that archive as a close listening and sound editing game for mobile devices.

In these encounters, poetry and literary archives quickly assert themselves as complex multimedia assemblages. Any focus on the sound of archives seems to quickly point back to a range of media, conditions of technological and institutional storage, competing or overlapping frameworks of memory. What’s special about sound archives? What do we gain from focusing on sound as a unique modality in these encounters?

One of my earliest memories of the archive was during a day trip to a Roman Catholic university, where I was doing research for one my graduate advisors on the roots of modern propaganda in the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, an organization founded by Pope Gregory XV in the 17th century to coordinate missionary work. My high school Latin wasn’t quite up to the challenge of reading papal bulls, so I had to work closely with the archivists to find the material I was looking for, and they introduced me to a graduate student who agreed to read some of the texts aloud to me. So, my initial experience of the archive was as a space where archivist and patron engaged in highly personalized exchanges, and where the material was animated, both through its “aura” and through its discovery and recontextualization by the researcher. In this case, that material was sounded-out for me – through a private reading, no less! Now that I think back on it, I was incredibly fortunate that this was my foundational archival experience.

Another early memory was in the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, where I was studying the work of architect Louis Kahn (who designed a fantastically multisensory library, about which I’ve also written, at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire). The archivist had wheeled out from storage dozens of very large drawings and floorplans on heavy-stock paper. Flipping through them was a two-person effort. So, again, my experience of these archival materials was informed in large part by their format, which necessitated that I encounter them with my full body, and in collaboration with another body. I remember the cool smoothness of the substrate; the improvised dance through which the archivist and I flipped over each massive sheet; the burst of air and satisfying whoosh that emanated from each sheet as it was dropped atop the pile; our movement around the table, as we aimed to study these large, detailed drawings from all angles; and our ongoing chatter about Kahn, his history at Penn, and his Exeter library.

Thus, archives, for me, have always been places of multisensory engagement. Of course I’ve since had many archival experiences that fit the unfortunate stereotype – “dusty” boxes (it’s always about dust!); ocularcentrism, silence, discipline. In the two examples I shared, I wasn’t there for the sound – it wasn’t sonic “subject matter” I was after – but sound ended up underscoring my experience of the archival material, and, I’m sure, ultimately shaping the affective character of my research project. But what if we’re specifically seeking out sound in the archive? Well, sound can tell us all kinds of histories that photos and films and manuscripts can’t. Sound allows our historical subjects to resonate for us – and there’s a meta-dimension to that resonance: we also hear the materiality of the recording device in the recording itself. So any sonic archival document is archiving the historical event and its own recording. I suppose we could say the same thing about a historical photo or film: the scratches, faded colors, unorthodox frames, and slow flicker of the historical image also document how vision was constructed, and how subjectivity was shaped through that technologized vision, at a particular moment in time. And Ann Stoler makes a similar claim about paper-based records in the Dutch colonies: they’re just as much about colonial activity and the colonized populations as they are about Dutch record-keeping and archive-making practices.

But the sound recording can also offer historical clues, can open up historical dimensions that other archival modes can’t: sound, for instance, can suggest the material and volumetric properties of both the recorded sounding subject or object and the space in which that recording occurred. Audio recordings also revive particular aspects of the historical figures we might be studying – the grain of their voices, for instance – that wouldn’t be apparent in, say, a typewritten manuscript or a photograph. Sound archives also played a foundational role in the early years of anthropology, ethnomusicology, folklore studies, and linguistics – and they’re now regarded as a critical resource for fields like environmental science, oceanography, history, and media and literary studies.

I’d like to add a detail from my experience in Concordia’s archive to your evocative reflections. My aim was to flesh out the history around sound recording on campus in the late 1960s, early 1970s, but I entered the archive to find it frustratingly silent. SpokenWeb, with the archive’s support, had already re-archived the archive by digitizing and making available poetry recordings that had been held on campus at that time.

However, the other institutional sound recordings it had in its collection – language exercises, engineering lectures, etc. – remained unsoundable. The recordings could be handled and seen, but not played without paying for the digital transfer. In the university’s moving image archive, I was granted one “freebie” transfer (of a 1968 video lecture in communications) from an unusual format, and then told that future transfers would not be made. Why? Because their old machine used to do these transfers needed to be preserved (and, I speculated, for less eccentric subjects?)

Undoubtedly, these are surprises and frustrations that greet newcomers to archival research, and relate to the challenge of formats from a particular era. But the experience points to yet another level of the sound meta-archive – the playback question, and to the machine collections that are increasingly forming part of media archaeological work, such as Lori Emerson’s Media Archaeology Lab or Wolfgang Ernst’s Media Archaeological Fundus. Do you see this type of archive developing specifically for sound archives, or do such collections already exist? How important is it to access sound through “original” machines and contexts, whether technological, architectural or other? How might we strike a balance between archival work – approaching a historical subject like recorded poetry or literary performances – and media archaeological work that takes scenes and conditions of recording to be its historical subject?

The archiving of playback devices (see 11:14 through 12:17 of this video about the British Library’s archived sonic playback equipment) isn’t unique to sound. Film and proto-film archives, for instance, also often keep old playback devices on hand. And we could even say that the conservation work in archives of old manuscripts and other written or print forms is, in a sense, a means of preserving the “playback mechanisms” of these old texts.

In some cases the medium-of-original-recording-and/or-playback is an integral part of a text’s identity, and in other cases, it makes less of a difference. That said, it does make a difference whether one records a performance (a poetry reading, a concert, a lecture, etc.) on a reel-to-reel or an iPhone, or whether one listens to that performance via an LP or an mp3, with headphones or over a car stereo; we have to consider whether that difference makes a difference within the context of our research questions or our listening experience. If, for instance, we’re thinking about site-specific musical compositions (there’s a long tradition of composers writing pieces to accommodate or exploit the acoustics of particular venues, and even to feature specific pipe organs in specific cathedrals) or sound art (much of which is designed for specific locations, or requires playback in controlled settings, using particular equipment), the specific architectural setting and playback set-up are integral parts of the overall sonic “text” and experience.

And there are technological means of “emulating” the historical performance or listening experience. Arup, the global engineering firm, makes use of its SoundLab to simulate the acoustics of buildings in development – and that technology can also be used to recreate the acoustics of historical performance halls, provided you can input their dimensions and information about their construction materials. But of course even if we can gather what the room sounded like, we can never recreate the climatic conditions (which affect how sound travels through space), the social context, or even the appropriate modes of listening – what Jonathan Sterne calls the “audile technique” – for particular historical performances.

For those cases where the historical conditions of playback do matter, sound archives might look to the fascinating work taking place within video game archives. In November of 2013 I attended a discussion between Emerson and Ben Fino-Radin, digital repository manager at the Museum of Modern Art, and wrote about it for Nautilus magazine. They discussed the “emulation” of classic video games, which enables newer consoles to “emulate” older consoles’ behavior. Fino-Radin specified that emulation isn’t merely a technique; it’s a methodology that requires rigorous documentation and intimate familiarity with the capabilities and limitations of both new and old technologies, and with the ways that players interact with them. MoMA’s archivists “capture” both the historic game and platform, and they interview players (of the classic game) and rigorously document their experience of the game before emulating the system on a current platform in such a way that it resembles, as closely as possible, the behavior of the original. We can imagine applying this methodology to audio archives. Although the further we’re removed in time from the audio events or technologies we’re archiving, the less likely we are to find original attendees or users to share their experiences.

It’s interesting to consider what might count as emulation in the case of an archive of poetry readings. Poetry performance is often understood in terms of ephemerality and uniqueness, a singular marking of time, voice and place, but its rendering in/as media makes performance legible in terms of versions, copies and reproductions. It is the evanescence of sound, Kate Eichhorn has written, that makes the sound archive a “compelling contradiction” in contrast to other kinds of stored media. It might be said that media archaeology in the poetry archive introduces a productive collision between understandings of voiced literary performance as uncontainable, as non- or differently mediated, in its foregrounding of archival practices in the transmission of literary histories.

If we invoke Geert Lovink’s definition of media archaeology as the hermeneutic reading of the new against the grain of the past, what do we make of such collisions, which often do as much to reshape the archive as to read it? In other words, if media archaeology remains a method – and a loose grouping of diverse approaches at that – how should scholars address the tension between preservation and transformation that media archaeological research both addresses and practices?

Of course reading the new against the grain of the past, looking on the “margins” of media history, and writing “alternative histories of suppressed, neglected, and forgotten media that do not point teleologically to the present media-cultural condition as their ‘perfection’” — all stated goals of media archaeology — require that we dig back into the historical record (Huhtamo & Parikka 3). These “neglected” histories aren’t likely to have been written about in published materials we’d find in the library or on Google Books — that’s why they’re regarded as “neglected” and “marginal” — so, we have to go to the archive to piece together these alternative stories.

Thus, archival research is an integral part of media archaeological work. But when it comes to media archaeological theory, the archive is typically handled metaphorically, or through the lens of Foucault, who defines the archive as the discursive system that determines what’s sayable and knowable. That larger discursive system of course encompasses the archive of boxes and papers and servers and climate-controlled storage and white gloves and metadata – but very rarely does media archaeology get down and dirty in the archive-as-institution. Despite all of media archaeology’s professed concern with the technical and operational aspects of media, despite their interest in hacking and circuit boards and soldering irons, media archaeologists very rarely talk about getting their hands dusty, and risking paper cuts, in the archive-proper (Kate Eichhorn talks in The Archival Turn in Feminism about how infrequently archivists themselves are engaged in academic discussions about the archives). If they engaged more with the thinking in archival science and with everyday archival practice, they’d realize that archivists have long acknowledged that the archive is not an objective, factual representation of history. Archivists have long reflected on the politics, ethics, aesthetics, and subjectivity of their practice. Preserving, organizing, describing, and storing historical records involves judgment and making choices at various stages: what gets preserved? what gets discarded? how should the collection be organized? what metadata scheme should be used? how is everything accessed? And all those choices add up to a shaping of the archive – a transformation of the assemblage of boxes that was bequeathed to the archival institution, into a processed archival collection. Preservation thus necessarily involves transformation.

In that respect, SpokenWeb has been fortunate in having had the opportunity (and the challenge) of creating an accessible repository for a series of institutional poetry recordings as it explores them as an object of literary study. Team members got a crash course in archival decision-making that demanded a self-conscious relationship to the construction of a historical literary event alongside practical management of its digitized (and other) artifacts.

In many respects, archival consultation for SpokenWeb became an exercise in collection and display. From this perspective, and given the neglect of archival science you’ve observed in some corners of media archaeological practice, is there a sense that researchers who engage in these kinds of collection activities risk treading on archivist territory, ignoring best practices or reinventing the archival wheel? What archival practices stand to be usefully challenged by “interference” from, or collaboration with, newcomers? Does “doing archives” sit in tension with maker culture or share productive affinities with it? Are some sound archives “sounder” than others? I’m thinking here about distinctions between different types of media collections— new sets of “old” machines, on the one hand, and “new” sounds or newly discovered speech recordings, on the other—as well as the very different kinds of expertise demanded of them.

In an interview with Garnet Hertz, Jussi Parikka acknowledges that a fetishization of the obscure, an interest in “marginalia for [their] own sake,” can promote a “curiosity cabinet way of doing media history” that fails to engage with politics or theory. That curiosity cabinet approach can also mean that these old machine collectors fail to tap into relevant expertise in the archive world – and fail to reap the benefits of linking their collections to those in other archives. There are lots of progressive librarians and archivists, including those at universities like The New School that have vibrant design programs, who’ve given considerable thought to how they integrate objects and technologies in various formats into their collections. As we discussed earlier, many archives often have old technologies, like reel-to-reel or record players, on-hand already to serve as playback devices for old media – but media archaeologists could advocate that the archivists acknowledge those devices as archival materials themselves.

That said, there are some incentives for “going rogue” and staying independent. As Lori Emerson admitted in a 2013 interview with the Latin American libraries blog Infotecarios, she has mixed feelings about building partnerships between her Media Archaeology lab and library-run archives:

While some of the most ardent and loyal supporters of the MAL are from libraries and archives, at the same time the institutions themselves seem to take on a life of their own and they have, from my perspective, proven to be remarkably inflexible, bureaucratic, and resistant to change. By contrast, most of the MAL’s success comes from the fact that we’ve been largely invisible to the institution until this year and so the MAL has been able to unfold over time, as our thinking changes and evolves, and quickly and easily adapt to problems at hand without being accountable to anyone or to hierarchical structures, pre-determined “outcomes,” grant cycles, or set five-year plans. That said, I want to be clear that I have a strong allegiance to librarians and archivists themselves and I hope that in the near future the MAL will find a way to be an independent extension of a library archive in a way that incorporates the MAL’s holdings into the library catalog at the same time as it acts as an incubator for the library archive for cutting-edge practice-based research.

Do you think concerns like Emerson’s are more likely to arise around artifact collections that are close to, or occupy, institutional spaces? I’m reminded again of your work on the Woodberry Poetry Room, remarkable in its original designation in 1931 as a space dedicated to all things poetry, including sound media and performance. When a renovation was proposed for the space (designed by renowned architect Alvar Aalto), a conflict erupted between architectural preservationists and those who wanted to update the room to meet contemporary needs. Digital poetry archives are also varied attempts at room-building, with many created at arm’s length from university archives, some – like SpokenWeb – trying to build on campus collections for the web. Do you think the four-walls-and-a-roof Woodberry experience holds lessons for digital poetry archives with respect to upsides and downsides of longevity and renewal? Despite exaggerated talk about the demise of the university, are there relationships between prestige physical collections and prestige institutions?

I think these concerns are relevant even for far-from-institutional archives. My graduate Archives, Libraries & Databases class visited the Interference Archive, a Brooklyn-based archive of social movements’ materials, and the archivists spoke with us about various invitations they entertain to partner or merge with more established institutions. Of course the prospect can be appealing – particularly for a volunteer-run organization; the institution provides space, intellectual and physical infrastructure, stability, the potential for greater visibility, the promise of a paycheck… In her fantastic The Archival Turn in Feminism, Kate Eichhorn talks about the complicated politics of donating radical feminist zine collections to established – and sometimes elite and conservative – institutions. It’s a matter of weighing what’s gained and what’s lost in the transaction.

Institutional partnerships offer all these same benefits – and potential compromises – for web-based or fully digital collections. Among the many benefits of bringing digital archives into partnership with educational institutions are (1) the fact that universities are likely to be constantly reassessing and strengthening their digital infrastructures, which bodes well for the collection’s preservation; (2) the potential for integrating the archival material into classes and public events means that there’s potential to build new publics for this material – publics that, we hope, will remain invested in its preservation and creative use. Having physical space in which you can bring people together to engage with archival material – to read or listen to archival material together, to animate it through debate, to use it as inspiration for the generation of new work, to transform it through creative use – has important pedagogical, epistemological, and even political and economic consequences. Demonstrating to potential funders that your collection is put to use can help to secure financial support, and a dedicated constituency, essential to the collection’s longevity.

You draw attention to interviewing as forming part of media archaeological methodology. In my experience with SpokenWeb, the university archives were somewhat shallow with regard to media use on campus, and I turned to interviews to flesh out the story of sound recording – of which the poetry series was just one instance. Rather than farming these interviews for missing details to support a story about disembodied institutional media, they showed personnel to be key actors in establishing protocols for media use and enacting institutional ideology through new media acquisitions and deployments. These research interviews ended up doubling as artifacts in the project’s oral history archive, sitting alongside recordings of interviews with poets who read at the poetry series, and verbal recollections from past poetry series audience members.

Does media archaeology “proper” eschew oral history, given its posthumanist derivation? How can we understand the relationship between oral history and media history, and do we need to cultivate a better relationship between the two? To borrow your phrasing, can we start to detect a difference that makes a difference here in terms of listening to history—rather than construing it from other directions?

While Kittler did write about the history of orality, he wasn’t really into oral history. But several other media archaeologists do make use of oral history – or, given that there are varying definition of “oral history,” it might be safer to say these folks frequently make use of the recorded interview. Matthew Kirschenbaum and Lori Emerson both interview authors in their studies of how old computer software and hardware inform the writing process. Jussi Parikka has interviewed various artists to better understand how their work both informs, and is informed by, media archaeology. Laine Nooney and Jacob Gaboury have also made extensive use of oral histories in their work on feminist and queer computing and gaming histories.

I think there are plenty of media historians who make use of oral history, particularly as a means of understanding historical media use and access and the role of media in people’s everyday lives. Others in “production studies” use oral histories to capture the experiences of journalists and filmmakers and other media-makers and designers. Oral history seems particularly well suited for media archaeology because it allows us to capture perspectives that aren’t often represented in the written historical record – those subaltern voices, those “alternative histories” of “suppressed, neglected, and forgotten” media and people. Plus, listening to people talk through their material practices of media use offers insight into dimensions of media materiality that an examination of the media-object itself can’t provide. Wendy Chun, in her introduction to New Media, Old Media, where she contrasts media archaeological and cultural studies-oriented approaches to studying media, argues that media archaeologists “often seem blind to content and user practices”; oral history could aid in overcoming that oversight – or in hearing through that oversight.

Sound archives have prompted literary scholars to shift attention from close reading of texts to close listening, where recorded sound offers inroads to learning more about specificities of poetry performance not only with respect to speech sounds, but also “material” (non-speech) sounds. For some, this leveling of sound is contentious, especially if such material, atmospheric or contextual sounds – more often considered background or noise – come to be aesthetically fused with, or just recognized alongside, literary “signal,” as in the soundwaves that are properly constitutive of literary performance. At the same time, alongside new sonic interpretations of the archive is a panoply of speech visualization tools that re-introduce a visual mode to literary analysis as they facilitate even closer listening, in projects undertaken, for instance, by Al Filreis.

Can “distant listening” be far behind, and what do we stand to learn from it? Given the time and resources necessary to develop analytical software tools, might scholars start to orient themselves around software types, or proximities to/from the sound archive, both historically and methodologically speaking?

While I did major in English in college, I won’t pretend to be a “literary scholar.” That said, I will venture to say that attending to the contextual sounds in a recording of, say, a poetry reading, doesn’t mean that we’re equating those sounds – a clanging radiator, or an audience member coughing, for instance – with those of the literary “signal.” If we consider the canonical-but-highly-flawed Shannon-Weaver model of communication, we see that all signals pass through noise, which means that the message encoded by the sender necessarily varies from the message decoded by the receiver. That “noise” is an integral part of any communication event – and if we care about how the sonic “signal” or event is perceived by its audience, we have to consider those contextual noises.

We wouldn’t say that the acoustic properties of the space – physical or virtual – in which the recording happens, constitute “noise” per se, but they, too, figure into making the recorded text what it is. As do various qualities of the “sending” instrument: the reader’s voice, the instrument’s timbre, the digital file’s fidelity, the loudspeaker’s clarity. Imagine Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet, for instance, performed on 40 portable iphone speakers arranged around a performance hall – or 40 earbuds. It’d be a totally different piece.

In short, if we consider any text or artwork to be an event – something that’s performed or enacted – we have to grapple with the ways that noise intervenes in, or context informs, the transformation of text-on-a-page, or code-on-a-digital-storage-device, into sounds-in-the-air.

As for sonic visualization and distant listening: given how attention and funding are being directed, I’d say growth in this field is inevitable! I do see a lot of data visualization, “distant reading” and “cultural analytics” work in media and design studies, but I’m only peripherally aware of how these new methods are employed in literary analysis. I’d recommend looking at the work of Tanya Clement and her HiPSTAS project. Annie Murray and Jared Wiercinski, also of SpokenWeb, have also written a great article on the value of different means of visualizing sound.

We’re just now developing a critical vocabulary for data visualization and “culturomics” – and I think we can apply many of the lessons learned in this more established area to the emerging field of “distant listening.” In particular, rather than fetishizing the technique or technology, we need to consider which questions we might ask for which these approaches might serve as valid methods. What could we learn by creating a waveform representation or a spectrogram – or another mode of visualization regularly used by audio engineers – of a poetry recording? These representations could tell us something about rhythm, poetic structure, the timbre and changing pitch of the reader’s voice – all measurable variables. Clement suggests that these visualizations serve as “hermeneutical guides,” offering new means of interpreting texts. I’d suggest that these tools can also aid in “post-hermeneutic” work: they could help scholars think about, for example, performance (which, of course, can also be wrapped up in the hermeneutics of the text); the “sociology” of poetry, or how the reading-event fits into a social system like “the poetry community”; or even cognitive studies of poetry (shudder to think!).

You’ve organized your teaching around media archaeological methodology for some time, and in especially innovative, hands-on ways. What are some of the ways you’ve integrated sound archives into your pedagogical approach? Have you had any surprising insights from engaging students with these?

I’m wondering whether you find today’s students to be attuned to questioning knowledge-structuring interfaces (past and present) and media and communications infrastructure. I’m thinking here about McLuhan’s pop influence around media in the 1960s. Is media archaeological thinking abuzz intuitively among students? In other words (or in Kittler’s words), are students down with the media that determine our situation—and might this show media archaeology (or one version of it) to be a passing, albeit valuable and productive, fad? I must acknowledge that I’m asking this on the heels of a seminar put on recently by Concordia University’s Media History Research Centre called “What Was Media Archaeology”?

For the past twelve years I’ve taught a course called “Media and Architecture,” which offers a reverse chronology of media-spaces. When we talk about sound and the city, particularly in regard to radio and early telecommunications, I occasionally integrate archival audio from Bell Telephone and Western Union and old radio broadcasts. In my undergraduate “City and Sound” and graduate “Sound and Space” classes, we integrate some archival radio and field recordings and recorded sound art. When we think about the “deep history” of the sonic city, however – the sounds of public address in ancient Rome, or of early industrialization in Western Europe, for example – we often have to rely on sonic historical reenactments, which drives home for students the relative recency of our capacity for sound recording, and the fact that our sound archives have a relatively short history. We then have to explore other methodologies for piecing together, or recomposing, the sonic histories of more distant pasts.

Students in my “Urban Media Archaeology” and “Media and Materiality” courses also occasionally make use of audio archives – or create their own “archives” of self-produced field recordings and oral histories – in the production of interactive maps and online exhibitions.

I find my students to be very eager to consider the genealogies and archaeologies of our “knowledge-structuring interfaces.” This may be attributable in part to the fact that these issues are central to my own research on archives, libraries, and the various intellectual and physical infrastructures (or interfaces) we’ve created to store, classify, and preserve knowledge throughout human history. I love thinking about this stuff – so these historical concerns are infused into all of my courses, regardless of their overt foci.

But I’m not alone. There are plenty of scholars, artists, curators, designers, etc., who, through their teaching and practice, have long been working with ideas and methods central to media archaeology: non-teleological approaches to historiography; “digging into the past”; giving voice to the subaltern, the marginalized; focusing on materiality; exploring the generative potential of critique; etc. And there have always been deliciously curmudgeonly historians who’ve “questioned the newness of the new” – who can dig up all kinds of historical precedents to serve as evidence that nothing’s ever truly “innovative.”

I’ve always been a little suspicious of scholarly trends – particularly ones that are driven by neologisms and are very demographically homogeneous in their leadership. But I do think media archaeology came (in part through German-to-English translation) at an opportune moment and offered an assemblage of ideas and tools that that allowed us to push back against digital boosterism and the fetishization of virtuality and the “non-object.” Media archaeology coalesced and codified a set of approaches (which, granted, many folks were likely using already in piecemeal fashion), and gave us set of references and a discourse to talk about our shared concerns with historicizing the “new” and attending to all the “stuff” comprising those “non-objects.”

Media archaeology has served valuable theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical purposes. Yet maybe we have jumped the shark – in which case we might want to get started on the media archaeology of media archaeology itself.


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