Welcome to the Fall 2013 Issue of Mediascape, "History and Technology." This issue’s theme considers the reciprocal relationship between Technology and History, on one hand examining the various histories of technology, and on the other hand contemplating the impact of new technologies upon the research, writing, and presentation of historical scholarship itself. The field of cinema and media studies — itself historically tied to a small cluster of moving-image technologies — finds itself at a crossroads in the age of "new media," an ever-expanding term encompassing a rapidly multiplying panoply of devices, formats, services, networks, and platforms of expression and communication. The same radical technological shifts are also transforming the academy today, prompting reflection on the future of history. As a fully digital journal, Mediascape's modern, media-rich format is well suited for scholarship that blends cutting-edge historical research with visually literate presentation. When paper, the writing material of nearly all recorded history, is abandoned and replaced by celluloid, video, or digital media, what kinds of historical communication are possible?
This issue's two Feature articles are both archival histories engaging with questions about narrativizing and analyzing large, raw, poly-vocal repositories of discourse. Bryan R. Sebok's "Headline Hollywood: A Discourse Analysis of the Variety Archive" digs into the recently digitized archive of the motion picture trade periodical Variety — an online collection spanning over 27,000 issues and 105 years — analyzing the discourse surrounding widescreen technologies in the 1950s. Sebok excavates the vast digital archive using a combination of both quantitative and qualitative methods, simultaneously yielding new insights into the interactions between industrial discourse and technological change while also providing a methodological model for media studies scholars working with enormous data sets. Christina Peterson's "The Crowd Mind: The Archival Legacy of the Payne Fund Studies’ Movies and Conduct (1933)" revisits the primary research material used to write one of the foundational studies in the history of media effects scholarship, Harold Blumer's Movies and Conduct. Peterson reviews a fascinating collection of "movie autobiographies" written by the study's young participants, arguing that Blumer's disciplinary training as a collective psychologist and predetermined conclusions about youth audiences both shaped his study's methodology and skewed his ultimate interpretation of the data.
The Reviews section surveys how various technologies of media enable history to be read, constructed, interfaced with, interfered with, and diseminated. In "All the World’s a Video Wall: Technology, Humanity, and the Things in Between," Judith Kohlenberger and Samuel Zwaan review Chris Salter’s ambitious history of performance art, Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (2010), adding their own multimedia explication to the book’s treatment of video art installation. Randy Laist, in "Murder and Montage: Oliver Stone’s Hyperreal Period," reviews Stone’s films JFK (1991) and Natural Born Killers (1994), draws on Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the hyperreal to assert that these films' frenetic montage style, their reflexive deconstruction of media images, and their contradictory stance toward "truth" together work to destabilize notions of reality and history.
Brook Belisle's "Total Archive: Picturing History from the Stereographic Library to the Digital Database" suggests that contemporary conceptualizations of the digital "total archive"
repeat and reconfigure archival aspirations circulated in earlier eras, such as the emergence of stereoscopic photography in the nineteenth century. By tracing various different ways visual culture has imagined and re-imagined the "total archive" from the 1800's to the present, Belisle argues that such ideas mediate how we might understand history itself. In Andrew Myers's review of Useful Cinema, a new edited volume collecting historical essays on non-theatrical cinema, Myers highlights the book’s theoretical focus on "utility" as an illuminating entry point for considering how media and media technologies can be contextualized within institutional and social histories. In "Something Borrowed from the Past: Wedding Photography and Super 8mm," Paul Gansky examines how the marketing discourse promoting the recent trend of Super 8 wedding photography severs the format from its long and varied history, re-historicizing it as a nostalgic artifact of 50's domesticity.
"Columns" has approached the intersection of history and media by focusing on how key social issues are engaged with through texts. In his essay, "Transmission: Considering New Media and the Online Histories of HIV/AIDS,"
Christopher Garland looks at how HIV/AIDS has been historicized within the context of new media. The larger issue, Garland argues, is that the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the new media age share a common historical moment, a temporal proximity that has allowed for a productive intersection in the historical representation of HIV/AIDS. From new media to print media, Randy Laist uncovers the complex historiography of the miniseries Roots and the novel upon which it was based. His essay, "Alex Haley's Roots and Hyperreal Historiography," examines the problematic history of Haley's novel, in relation to the miniseries, focusing on questions of representational, exoticization, and ultimately the very "authenticity" of the literary source.
META offers a wide range of approaches to the many questions related to history, media production, and place. Section co-Editor Kelly Lake begins, in "In Retrospect: 2012 Los Angeles Animation Festival," with an overview of the 2012 LAAF that focuses on how the films of classic animators, such as the Fleischer Brothers, are being brought into dialogue with more contemporary works, in order to expose audiences to many of the forms major works. From animation to photography, Jens Schröter explores the deceptively simple question, "can a photograph show something fictional or not?" His essay, "Photography and Fictionality," brings together a wide range of complex theoretical frameworks in order to consider the complexities of photography as an object, an index, and as a certificate of that which has past (moving beyond merely narrative, structural, and aesthetic concerns). Catherine Grant continues this line of thinking by exploring the potentialities of understanding embedded in the act of intertextual viewing. Her essay, "Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies," is a multimedia exploration of "transtextuality," bringing together a written analysis of this phenomena with number of her visual works in order to explore the complex concepts at play when films are viewed "through," and in relation to, other filmic texts.
The historical implications of production practice are also central in the two interviews selected for this issue. In the piece titled "A Film is Alive During its Making," filmmaker and teacher Thom Andersen, more recently recognized for his work Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), discusses the particularities of his work in relation to the city, captured on film, as a historical text. In our other interview, titled "On Cinemetrics, Video Essays, and Digital Scholarship: An Interview with Dr. Yuri Tsivian and Dr. Daria Khitrova," Dr. Tsivian and Dr. Khitrova discuss the development of cinemetrics, a tool and method of quantification for the collection of shot duration data, as well as the kinds of conclusions that can be culled from this data.
Ideally, this issue of Mediascape serves to raise a number of questions about the manner by which media scholars define and interpret history in relation to technology. The hope is that this issue will spark even larger questions about our relationship to history through media, and vice-versa. How do media technologies project memories onto media narrative, and how are media narratives engaged through memory and identity? How does the contemporary transformation of the past into ones and zeroes affect our conception and study of history? How has the progression of digital media technologies shaped the role of history in film and media studies? Perhaps the emergence of the digital archive is indicative of a shift, if not in the scope of cinema and media studies itself, at the very least in the avenues of investigation that are open to us. The idea here is to question what media history means in relation to massive changes in technology over the last several years (to which the digital accessibility of this journal is merely one sign), but it is also intended as a call to engage with technology in the larger historical project of our field.
-- Andrew Myers and Andrew Young, Co-Editors-in-Chief