Media Histories: Epistemology, Materiality, Temporality

March 25–27, 2011
Friday – Sunday
Columbia University

Columbia University – IKKM Weimar – Princeton University
New York, March 24–26, 2011

How can we write the history of media technologies and highlight their impact on aesthetics and knowledge without relapsing into deterministic or apocalyptic modes of thinking? And how can we write the histories of media without privileging cultural semantics over the technical materialities of media? What constitutes the materiality of a medium: its technological apparatus, the epistemic conditions of its gradual emergence and evolution, or its appropriation and use in various cultural practices? How do disciplinary epistemologies shape or impede our understanding of media? To what extent do media write and conceive of their own history and evolution?

In the last two decades the history and materiality of media have become central analytic issues within the humanities and social sciences. The inextricable link between the study of media and the means and methods of writing history calls for revising the conflicting priorities of various fields that range from the philosophy of history to the history of technology. This conference aims at examining and juxtaposing the competing paradigms that delineate the field of media history. The rise of media archaeology in Germany has spawned a distinctive tradition, whose influence is only beginning to be felt in North America. But in this tradition, the study of media histories was originally pursued not for its own sake but to reconceptualize the histories of literature, science, and aesthetics through an analysis of their dependence on media. In the same period in the U.S., early cinema emerged as a new paradigm in film studies; art historians began to conceptualize material transformations of sensory perception, and historians of science set out to highlight the material agency of technologies. Disciplines as diverse as architecture, anthropology and literary studies, have also begun to stretch our conceptions of the discursive and technical origins of media technologies.

The international symposium will bring together scholars from both sides of the Atlantic and from these various disciplines to assess the differences and commonalities that constitute the historical study of media. Taking place from March 24 to March 26, 2011 on the campus of Columbia University, the conference is organized by the Columbia University Seminar on the Theory and History of Media (Andriopoulos, Larkin), the International Research Institute for Cultural Technologies and Media Philosophy Weimar (IKKM Weimar; Engell, Siegert), the Program in Media and Modernity and the Aesthetics and Media Track of the German Department at Princeton University (Levin, Wegmann), and the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University (Martin). The conference will be opened with a keynote lecture by Jonathan Crary and feature an evening lecture by Joseph Vogl. Four panels will juxtapose and contrast different approaches to an overlapping set of materials and questions.

Conference Coordination

Anna Kenoff (Buell Center)


Laura Frahm (IKKM Weimar)

Outline of the Conference Program

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Keynote Lecture by Jonathan Crary

Friday, March 25, 2011

Panel I: Paperwork and Book History

The medium of print has often been constructed as a medium of knowledge and Enlightenment. This panel will complicate our idealized accounts of book history by contrasting the history of print with the history of paperwork, filing systems, and bureaucracies.

Speakers: Adrian Johns, Barbara Wittmann

Respondent: Ben Kafka

Panel II: The Making And Marking Of Time

Media mark their own time and the temporality inherent in media may also shape our written historiographies of media. Yet, at the same time, the measuring and conception of time is in itself subject to history and shaped by the introduction of technical instruments.

Speakers: Jimena Canales, Mary Ann Doane, Lorenz Engell

Respondent: Anna McCarthy

Evening Lecture by Joseph Vogl

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Panel III: Materialities Of Culture And Technology

In what ways do religions and other cultural processes form part of the a priori that give rise to media? This panel will explore the interaction between technical media and religious imagination by analyzing and contrasting materialities of culture and technology.

Speakers: Weihong Bao, Erhard Schüttpelz

Respondent: (TBA)

Panel IV: Histories Of Material Media

The Archaeology of Media, the cultural history of early cinema, and the historical study of Communications constitute different modes of writing the history of material technologies. This panel will explore the diverging and overlapping methods of these approaches to the question of how we can write the history of media.

Speakers: Tom Gunning, John Durham Peters, Bernhard Siegert

Respondent: (TBA)