MCMA 550 History of Media Arts and Culture

MCMA 550 History of Media Arts & Culture
Prof. Michele Leigh ( or
Fall 2013 Location: COMM 2216
Monday, 3:00 – 5:30 PM Office: Communications 1121L
Office Hours: M 1-3 PM, T/Th 12-2


This course introduces students to the history of the reproducible media arts, beginning with their prehistory in printmaking, and focusing on photography, cinema, radio, television, video and other visual, audio, and digital media. We locate media technologies in the historical and material conditions of their emergence. We investigate how various media interact with and make history. We explore how media art forms and movements arise historically and how these relate to expansion/evolution of mass media and popular culture.

This course is a collaborative learning experiment in reading, research, writing and presentation. When it is over, we shall have collectively constructed a historical sketch and timeline of media arts and culture. Each participant will prepare an introductory lecture and bibliography on a historical development in media art history, identifying the technological, social and aesthetic origins of media when they were new, and then track the history and context of those media throughout the semester, as others introduce new/er media. The effect will be an illuminating, fun acceleration and intensification of media, art and culture.

Course Goals:
This course will provide students with:

  • an understanding of the main trajectories of media history
  • the tools for evaluating primary and secondary historical sources
  • the foundation necessary for fitting their own artistic/scholarly practice within an historical framework
  • prepare students for teaching a variety of topics on the history of media arts

Students are expected to attend class sessions and participate in class discussions. Active participation means prior reading of assigned materials and sharing of relevant thoughts and experiences both in class and on-line on Dr. Leigh’s website. Students are encouraged to bring to class or post examples of alternative media from a variety of sources to further class discussions. You must check your email and my site regularly for announcements. If you miss a class it is YOUR responsibility to get notes or materials from a classmate. Assignments are due as indicated on the course calendar. All assignments must be turned in prior to the beginning of class. Assignments turned in during or after class will be considered late. Late assignments will lose 10 points for each day they are late. ALL assignments MUST be turned in, regardless of how late they are. Failure to turn in an assignment will result in an F for the course.

Class Assignments:
Historical Topic Presentations – You will each have to give one presentation on one of the media covered in class. The topics will be randomly assigned.

Lead Discussion – You will each choose one week in which you will lead discussion on the course readings.

Weekly Blog Postings – Each week you must post comments and/or questions on at least two of the readings on the class Blog. Feel free to post media examples that might be pertinent to discussion. Your questions/comments MUST be posted by 9 am on Mondays before each class.

Participation – You are required to come prepared to class and to speak regularly. One of the best ways to process difficult concepts and material is to talk about it and to listen to what others have to say.

Final Project – You will each research and prepare a syllabus for an undergraduate course on the history and theory of a media related to your research/creative interests. You will also prepare notes for a lecture and a presentation one of topics on your syllabus.

Final Exam – You will each give a presentation on your pedagogical approach to creating your syllabus and lecture.

Grade Breakdown:
Historical Topic Presentation 25%
Lead Discussion                     15%
Blog Postings                          15%
Participation                             10%
Final Project                             25%
Final Exam                              10%
Total                                        100%

Date           Topic(s)                                                  Reading

8/19             Introduction                                             Benjamin/Pooke
8/26             Printing and the Industrial Revolution     Hamilton/Lovejoy/Saff1, Saff3, Saff5, Saff7
9/2               LABOR DAY/NO CLASS
9/9               Photography        – Lauren leads discussion on the readings                                                                                            Benjamin/Emerling/McQuire/Kroes

9/16             Proto-Cinema/Moving Pictures        – Jane leads discussion on the Readings                                              JP gives a brief history of Cinema                                                                     McQuire/Musser/Grau/Manovich/Kluszczynski

9/23             Sound Recording  – Jay leads discussion on the reading // Mickey presents                                                a history of sound recording//Doron presents a history of radio                                          Sterne/Ch.2 of Sound Business by Michael Stamm (available on line through Morris Library)/ Mileham

9/30             Radio        – Guest Lecture  – Professor Jay Needham                                                                                       Hendy/Thomas/Danesi

10/7             Televsion   – Matt leads discussion on the readings// Stacy presents a                                       history of TV                                        Spigel/Anderson/Gray

10/14            FALL BREAK/NO CLASS

10/21           Video           – Mickey leads discussion on the readings//Lauren presents a                                             history of video             Rosler/Lovejoy/Joselit / Videoart

10/28           Computers         – Jane presents a history of computers                                                                                          Shanken/Lovejoy/Bolter11/Barker

11/4             Video Games    –  JP leads discussion on the readings// Jay presents a                                     history of video games                              Wolf /Bolter4

11/11           VETERANS DAY/NO CLASS

11/18           Networks    – Stacey leads discussion on the readings                                                                              Shanken2/Bolter14/McPherson

11/25           Digital Culture and the World    – Doron leads discussion on the readings//Matt                             presents a history of Digital Culture                 Lovejoy7/Betts/Anderson

12/2              Media and Pedagogy                            Nilson / Weimer

FINAL EXAM: Dec 11, 2013 3:10-5:10

Class Bibliography

3 thoughts on “MCMA 550 History of Media Arts and Culture

  1. Jay Oetman

    This summer I had the pleasure of performing in a production of West Side Story at a small community theater in Chicagoland. Partly due to the quality of the performance (that is in no way a reflection on myself but rather on the quality of our superb director and lighting guy) I was able to really come to a new appreciation of the magic of theater. The relevance of this observation and revolution of thought in myself is that after reading the eighth section of Benjamin selection wherein he states that: “the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing.” The intimacy of stage acting is a very different animal than the connection between audience and screen actor, of that I feel quite certain.

    After reading section nine, I questioned myself. Benjamin goes on to state that a stage actor experiences an emotional disconnect because he is acting for a camera. Whether or not this is true is beyond my knowledge, however it made me question: why does our cinematic culture prefer to perform before a live audience in one genre alone: the sitcom? Would drama be diminished if we performed it before a live studio audience? If Benjamin claims that actors lose their aura before the cold lifeless lens, than why don’t we expand our expectations and perform filmed drama in front of a live studio audience?

  2. Doron Alter

    After graduating from four years in film school I think I can say that the most important thing that I learned is that the object of a film is to create a world with it’s own set of rules and life insted of just trying to imitate one. After reading the first part of scott mcquire “Visions of Modernity” I immediatly started questioning my methods and responsibility as filmmaker/media artist. In his article mcquire states: “Confronted with this pervasive faith in photo-mimesis one needs to pause and ask: what is the itinerary of desire that has so insistently positioned the camera upon the throne of truth in represantation? for clearly the symbiosis between the camera and realism offers a point of departure rather than a final destination. Realism is a vexed concept and suffers repeated identity crises insofar it harbours different and often warring tendencies within its embrace. The division between essence and appearence, which has proved so durable in philosophy, has often been echoed in aesthetics in the current gap between expressionist and straight realisms. The fact that both sides of this argument claim to exert unique power over reality depending on whether realism is concieved as a reconstruction of appearences which penetrates the mere surface of things or as an absolute fidelity to appearences which itself reveals essential truths is less a sign of confusion within the concept than the conflictual space of its emergence.”
    In the article “a small history of photography” Walter Benjamin presents photos as a mere scientific tool that allows us to go across through time and space, this is how he describes the portraits of david octavius hill’s wife, we are curious about that woman that was once alive and we want to know her name. and maybe this scientific like explanation that Benjamin gives us is the answer to mcquire’s question: why do people want to believe in photography as a reflection of reality I think that it is dangerous to think like that and think that the most interesting part is the gap that is created between reality and the essence of it and the way and it is reflected in the photograph/cinema/television and so on. Personally I think it is the most interesting part because I’m curious to see how art decides to deal and handle this gap between reality and represantation. I think that the moment art denies that gap is the opening that propoganda needs to come in and take over. I guess that an example of that we can see in Lenny Riefenshtal films for the nazi regime during the 1930’s. Maybe it’s not what Mcquire aimed for but I think that the most important thing for us as artists is to present our art as art and nothing more maybe just like the french new wave and danish dogma 95 tried to.

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