Open to advanced undergraduates with permission of the instructor (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This course explores both theories and practices of media history and analyzes how media more generally contribute to the writing of history. We consider how media’s ability to document the present—both in fiction and non-fiction—provides an archive of the recent past, in turn presenting the illusion of a more complete popular memory of the last century or so. In addition to parsing the relationship between history, the past, and mass media, we consider the stakes of writing media history more broadly. What factors do we need to consider in writing about the past and how do we treat the materials that we use in our enquiries? As the media’s complexity and its own diverse stakes shape its history, we explore divisions between social, aesthetic, cultural and technological media histories and the more business-minded institutional and economic studies. In examining the materials used to write media histories—primary and secondary sources, archival records, trade and fan press, promotional materials and social documents—we think about the problems of asserting truth, both on screens and the printed page. We also consider the particular difficulties and significance of writing the history of popular media, especially given their seductive, if often false, claims to "reality." Readings include selections from Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History and the Data of Culture ; Rosen, Change Mummified: Cinema, Historicity, Theory ; Lewis and Smoodin, Looking Past the Screen: Case Studies in American Film History and Method ; and Carr, What Is History ?