Here’s the current version of the syllabus for my upcoming fall class on the history of digital media. Really excited to be teaching this.
Histories of Digital Media
This course is an overly ambitious attempt to cover a great deal of ground, interweaving cultural histories of networks, simulations, information, computing, gaming and online communication. Students taking this course are responsible first and foremost for making their own judicious decisions about which of many strands in that weave to focus on and pursue at greater depth through a semester-long project.
The reading load for this course is heavy, but in many cases it is aimed at giving students an immersive sampler of a wide range of topics. Many of our readings are both part of the scholarship about digital culture and documents of the history of digital culture. I expect students to make a serious attempt to engage the whole of the materials assigned in a given week, but engagement in many cases should involve getting an impressionistic sense of the issues, spirit and terminology in that material, with an eye to further investigation during class discussion.
Students are encouraged to do real-time online information seeking relevant to the issues of a given class meeting during class discussion. Please do not access distracting or irrelevant material or take care of personal business unrelated to the class during a course meeting, unless you’re prepared to discuss your multitasking as a digital practice.
This course is intended to pose but not answer questions of scope and framing for students. Some of the most important that we will engage are:
*Is the history of digital culture best understood as a small and recent part of much wider histories of media, communication, mass-scale social networks, intellectual property, information management and/or simulation?
*Is the history of digital culture best understood as the accidental or unintended consequence of a modern and largely technological history of computing, information and networking?
*Is the history of digital culture best understood as a very specific cultural history that begins with the invention of the Internet and continues in the present? If so, how does the early history of digital culture shape or determine current experiences?
All students must make at least one written comment per week on the issues raised by the readings before each class session, at the latest on each Sunday by 9pm. Comments may be made either on the public weblog of the class, on the class Twitter feed, or on the class Tumblr. Students must also post at least four links, images or gifs relevant to a particular class meeting to the class Tumblr by the end of the semester. (It would be best to do that periodically rather than all four on December 2nd, but it’s up to each of you.) The class weblog will have at least one question or thought posted by the professor at the beginning of each week’s work (e.g., by Tuesday 5pm.) to direct or inform the reading of students.
Students will be responsible for developing a semester-long project on a particular question or problem in the history of digital culture. This project will include four preparatory assignments, each graded separately from the final project:
By October 17, a one-page personal meditation on a contemporary digital practice, platform, text, or problem that explains why you find this example interesting and speculates about how or whether its history might prove interesting or informative.
By November 3, a two-page personal meditation on a single item from the course’s public “meta-list” of possible, probable and interesting topics that could sustain a project. Each student writer should describe why they find this particular item or issue of interest, and what they suspect or estimate to be some of the key questions or problems surrounding this issue. This meditation should include a plan for developing the final project. All projects should include some component of historical investigation or inquiry.
By November 17, a 2-4 page bibliographic essay about important materials, sources, or documents relevant to the project.
The final project, which should be a substantive work of analysis and interpretation, is due by December 16th.
Is Digital Culture Really Digital? A Sampler of Some Other Histories
Monday September 1
Ann Blair, Too Much to Know, Introduction
Hobart and Schiffman, Information Ages, pp. 1-8
Jon Peterson, Playing at the World, pp. 212-282
*Adrian Johns, Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars From Gutenberg to Gates, pp. 1-82
Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet, selection
Imagining a Digital Culture in an Atomic Age
Monday September 8
Arthur C. Clarke, “The Nine Billion Names of God”, http://downlode.org/Etext/nine_billion_names_of_god.html
Ted Friedman, Electric Dreams, Chapter Two and Three
Film: Desk Set
Colossus the Forbin Project (in-class)
Star Trek, “The Ultimate Computer” (in-class)
Monday September 15
Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/
Paul Edwards, The Closed World, Chapter 1. (Tripod ebook)
David Mindell, “Cybernetics: Knowledge Domains in Engineering Systems”, http://21stcenturywiener.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Cybernetics-by-D.A.-Mindell.pdf
Fred Turner, Counterculture to Cyberculture, Chapter 1 and 2
Alex Wright, Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age, selection
In the Beginning Was the Command Line: Digital Culture as Subculture
Monday September 22
*Katie Hafner, Where Wizards Stay Up Late
*Steven Levy, Hackers
Wikipedia entries on GEnie and Compuserve
Monday September 29
*John Brunner, The Shockwave Rider
Ted Nelson, Dream Machines, selection
Pierre Levy, Collective Intelligence, selection
Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth Mother Board”, Wired, http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass_pr.html
Monday October 6
*William Gibson, Neuromancer
EFFector, Issues 0-11
Eric Raymond, “The Jargon File”, http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/index.html, Appendix B
Bruce Sterling, “The Hacker Crackdown”, Part 4, http://www.mit.edu/hacker/part4.html
Film (in-class): Sneakers
Film (in-class): War Games
Monday October 20
Consumer Guide to Usenet, http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps61858/www2.ed.gov/pubs/OR/ConsumerGuides/usenet.html
Julian Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace”
Randal Woodland, “Queer Spaces, Modem Boys and Pagan Statues”
Laura Miller, “Women and Children First: Gender and the Settling of the Electronic Frontier”
Lisa Nakamura, “Race In/For Cyberspace”
Howard Rheingold, “A Slice of Life in My Virtual Community”
Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen, selection
Monday October 27
David Kushner, Masters of Doom, selection
Hands-on: Zork and Adventure
Demonstration: Ultima Online
Richard Bartle, “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades”, http://mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm
Rebecca Solnit, “The Garden of Merging Paths”
Michael Wolff, Burn Rate, selection
Nina Munk, Fools Rush In, selection
Film (in-class): Ghost in the Shell
Film (in-class): The Matrix
Here Comes Everybody
Monday November 3
Claire Potter and Renee Romano, Doing Recent History, Introduction
Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, short selection
World Wide Web (journal) 1998 issues
IEEE Computing, March-April 1997
Justin Hall, links.net, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zQXJqAMAsM&list=PL7FOmjMP03B5v3pJGUfC6unDS_FVmbNTb
Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality”
Last Night of the SFRT, http://www.dm.net/~centaur/lastsfrt.txt
Joshua Quittner, “Billions Registered”, http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/mcdonalds_pr.html
A. Galey, “Reading the Book of Mozilla: Web Browsers and the Materiality of Digital Texts”, in The History of Reading Vol. 3
Monday November 10
Danah Boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Life of Networked Teens
Bonnie Nardi, My Life as a Night-Elf Priest, Chapter 4
Meet-up in World of Warcraft (or other FTP virtual world)
Michael Wesich, “The Machine Is Us/Ing Us”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g
Ben Folds, “Ode to Merton/Chatroulette Live”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bBkuFqKsd0
Monday November 17
Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble, selection
Steven Levy, In the Plex, selection
John Battelle, The Search, selection
Ethan Zuckerman, Rewire, Chapter 4
Linda Herrera, Revolution in the Era of Social Media: Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet, selection
Monday November 24
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, selection
N. Katherine Hayles, How We Think, selection
Mat Honan, “I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook For Two Days”, http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me
Monday December 1
Gabriella Coleman, Coding Freedom, selection
Gabriella Coleman, Hacker Hoaxer Whistleblower Spy, selection
Andrew Russell, Open Standards and the Digital Age, Chapter 8
Adrian Johns, Piracy, pp. 401-518
Film: The Internet’s Own Boy
Monday December 8
Eugeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here
Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything, selection
Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future? , selection
For the “Is digital culture really digital”, I’d suggest Ted Chiang’s short story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” It was a Hugo nominee, so I read it-I thought it was a better essay than story.
Great suggestion. Thanks!
Looks pretty good. There is probably something better than this on digital culture outside the U.S., but I have used
“The Otaku’s Pseudo-Japan” from Azuma, Hiroki. Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. Translated by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2009.
with some luck. I am sure there is stuff that would fit your class better, however.
We’ll have to compare notes, Timothy. I’m working on a book about the history of interactivity through an architecture-design-cybernetics-AI lens and teaching some similar stuff. Drop me an email and let me know where I can send you my syllabus.