Historicizing Media in Transition
The idea that history can be re-ordered is almost unsettling. However, I understand and fully agree that through sharp perception and the emergence of information which may have been obliterated from view, we reconstruct meaning. I accept that it’s not unlikely that two people can interpret the same historical event in different ways, what is unsettling is when my long held beliefs built on history/historical events are challenged. Nonetheless, Uricchio (2003) weaves together a story of the historical development of the mass media field and “the current construction of media history” (p.24). The author makes a point about “closing the loop between interpretation and text” – this point invokes a question about whether loops can ever be closed. If we accept that interpretations differ, should closing the loops be even of concern? Mundane? I don’t think so. This piece is important because it shows that long held notions can and should be challenged. The author sufficiently discusses the turn in writing media history. The prejudices discussed that often inform how history is told are important and function as cautionary notes. However, I am choosing to ignore his last point about historian’s biases informed by “the desire to…construct integrated narratives” – this is exactly how I want to proceed as I weave stories of the historical development of community radio. A question I want to throw out there is whether there is a history or “histories” (p.30).
The Problem of Journalism History
A piercing piece by Carey (1973) in which he laments the way journalism history is taught and approached. He asserts that graduate level courses geared toward journalism history lack robustness; that there is a recurring fashion of reproducing and adding miniscule contributions to what is already known. What is needed he argues, are “fresh perspectives and new interpretation” and that primarily, focus should be on telling the “history of reporting” (p.4). I wonder then what the author might have thought of Rodger Streitmatter’s Mightier than the Sword. In this book, Streitmatter, although he does not go into case details highlights how journalists reported and the role the US media played in influencing the country’s history.
Using Raymond Williams’ notions in Structure of Feelings Carey (1973) makes a call to both Professors to critically evaluate and rekindle the approach to and what about history they teach. Students too must imagine a fresh field on inquiry, making sure to remember that “cultural history is a study of historical consciousness” that brings forth not what is stale but feelings and actions (p.4). As such, I don’t believe that the danger is in a rush to suddenly be interested in researching in the same areas. Rather, Carey (1973) challenges us to ask ourselves about the contribution we are making when we do research. We should not be excited by producing ‘exhausted’ studies that follow a linear path. The challenge is how we narrate history without making miniscule contributions to what is already known. I find myself rethinking my dissertation project.
In Rethinking Media Change, the author does an exceptional job providing a broad historical look of how the history of media has transitioned over time. He takes us back to look at how it started and what caused the transition. One of the intriguing aspects of the article was looking closely at how other disciplines have chipped in this transition and changed the way we do research by adding methodologies and methodological approaches to doing such research. Because of this transition the studying of different mediums like film, television and radio became more focused and specifically tailored to understand these mediums instead of just knowing their histories and the histories of the institutions that operate them. The author also explains how technology advancements in communication has and will continue to pay a role in this transition as it changes the way culture perceive and create media. I think the author intended to show their readers the historical transition of media all the way to modern times showing us how the transition is still on-going. I also think he wants the readers to understand that there are different ways of doing media research when looking at media history as a transparent rather than constructed and untouchable.
The author of The Problem of Journalism History highlights major issues and problems within the history of the field of journalism. He highlights the paradigm of implication as the major issue of the problems with journalism history because it works as an umbrella covering the field and tying it up to political press. He believes that the paradigm has been used so much over time and that it has achieved its intent which makes it ideal to move on from this paradigm. He suggests to change the approach of teaching in schools and social science departments to help students better understand history with a critical lens. I think the authors intent is to shift or tweak the current paradigm of journalism and allow students to take another approach when looking at the history of journalism.
The articles of this week have given me great insight on the history of different media mediums and where, how and when their methods of research started, changed and developed. For someone who’s doing research on film and cinema studies, I really enjoyed reading about how film was approached back then and how overtime and with the rise of different schools of research that changed the way film was being interpreted. I was also a little bit exposed to different methods of film research and the difference between doing research on films, their institutions, and their history. The basics are always a good starting point to help understand where to take my research from here which is what these readings have done.
This week readings, mainly the first, remind me of Lang’s 2013 argument that media, as an industry and as an academic discipline, faces a Kuhnian crisis (Lang, 2013, p.10). Familiar themes and long-held assumptions have been challenged, according to Thorburn, Jenkins & Seawell (2003, p. 24), in the light of new technologies, practices, and notion of convergence and mediation. A crisis that was born from its inability to make sufficient progress and answer questions that could help in rewriting the history of media, explaining its current critical transition, and predicting its future.
The authors of Rethinking Media Change: the Aesthetics of Transition have suggested using cultural approach to revise the earlier transitions in media history in order to understand the constructional, operational, and relational changes in media. Whereas the narrative approach might tell the story from the medium’s owner perspective and by its sentimental journalists, and the content analysis or audience measuring (quantitative methods) might simplify the outcomes when limits expressions and explanations, considering the social and cultural aspects when revisiting media history (in a mixed approach) can be useful to apprehend the cultural transformations and social interactions. People are used to ignore the media role in history unless it had a direct effect on the course of their history. Aljazeera channel, as an example, would not be associated with Arab Spring history if it didn’t had, and still has, observable effects. These effects would not be easy to understand away from its cultural fit and its social path.
Maybe the most interesting piece for this week is the last one about the material culture and its importance as a physical evidence that historians can benefit from while writing history. The reading is, basically, demonstrating how the study of the material culture, such as concealed, absent, or consumed objects, could help to solve the ambiguities within historical events. Morral (2009, p.47) advocates using social and cultural history of objects aligns with the art context. While Riello proposes an approach to tackle alternative sources by placing objects in a dialogue with methodologies and narratives instead of using them within tenacious framework. In this way, objects could assist historians to avoid giving singular meanings and see history through multifaceted, co-existing, perspectives.
Here is Adamson suggesting, by using an example of the absence of the 18th-century British footstool, writing history through a method of reading missing historical information as an interesting zone of study and not as an obstacle (2009, p. 192). Historians are opted, as we have discussed last week, to hunt for patterns within historical records when they look into the past. Since picking those patterns is based on the historian own perspective and interpretation, it might be useful, according to Admason, to isolate any left patterns or any gaps between or within specific patterns and concentrate on their edges in order to define their exact outlines and consider them as thought-provoking parts of the writing process.
However, looking into objects’ origin or historical uses (the social life of things methodology or the biography of material objects methodology) had better be restricted to a primary objective of constructing improved-questions about the history and the relationships among evidences and not to answer questions (Riello, 2009, p. 29).
What I have learned from this week readings is that historians should not limit themselves on one approach if they give high regards to the subjectivity of their works. One approach or one methodological tool will not be sufficient in springing all the essential evidences. Moreover, the readings highlight the significance of not only studying non‐material/non-physical culture, such as religions, symbols and customs, but also material culture that could be critical when writing history and attempting to interpret, explain, and determine conclusions about its moments. The nature of the physical elements that has been used to build a structure in a community conveys a valuable evidence that might describe how the people of this community lived and could explain any of their abnormal perceptions or actions.
Something interesting that happened this week:
Millions photos and illustrations from the pages of public domain books originally digitized by the US Internet Archive have been uploaded to Flickr by Kalev Leetaru, a researcher at Georgetown University in Washington DC:
Lang A. Discipline in Crisis? The Shifting Paradigm of Mass Communication Research. Communication Theory (10503293) [serial online]. February 2013;23(1):10-24. Available from: Communication & Mass Media Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 2, 2014.
‘History and Material Culture’ – ed. Karen Harvey
I had issue with Giorgio Riello’s chapter in ‘History and Material Culture.’ Riello’s breakdown of how to use objects for historical study was helpful, but s/he treats the subject like it is a new phenomenon within historical study. Cultural history is a relatively new discipline within history, however, art historians (and media people) have been using and studying the object as evidence since the 19th century. There is this illusion that art historians only study painting, but that hasn’t been true for several hundred years. Instead of positioning this approach to historical study as something ‘new,’ I think it would be more helpful to position this methodology within it’s historical roots of art history and anthropology.
Riello positions the object as being useful in historical study in three ways:
1) History from things
2) History of things
3) History and things
I was a bit confused by what Riello meant by positivism, but otherwise I thought it was a good article with a nice explanation of how and why to use objects. In sum, “Historians should position objects in a dialogue with methodologies and narratives.”
As Glenn Adamson (a noted design historian and curator) points out in the second article, problems can arise within positioning objects within a narrative. Adamson, in a Holmesian style tackles the case of a missing 18th century footstool that is prominent in the 18th century paintings and prints of William Hogarth (Tete a Tete in Marriage a la Mode), but is missing from extant artifacts in museums. Adamson’s discussion of how to do history from what is missing is enlightening. Adamson’s view of history as a web with holes that the construction of the narrative does not allow everything to be caught, was something that I particularly liked. As Adamson points out, what is NOT there, NOT made, NOT done, (NOT saved, NOT said, NOT etc.) is just as important and revealing about a society as what IS present.
Social History of Media & Rethinking Media Change
For me, the most helpful aspect of these readings were the working definition they provide of cultural history, but I digress. The Social History of Media begins with pointing out two assumptions historians MUST be aware of in order to take to task the writing of history:
1) Asserting that everything has gotten worse
2) Assuming there has been continual improvement
Better would be “media viewed as a system in perpetual change in which different elements play greater or smaller roles.” Different media systems are existing concurrently and continuing to play similar roles (or take on different roles), but the scope of these roles fluctuate as different medias are introduced or become more prominent. Media mediates culture and how people interact with one another. As different medias become important, the way people interact with one another changes.
I also really liked the concept the authors present of monopoly of knowledge that new technologies create and what this can mean for larger cultures. I find this particularly applicable with the current technological landscape.
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