Historiography of Communication
Comm 3326 - Spring 2000
Tuesdays 5:20-7:50pm, 1128 CL

Jonathan Sterne
Office: 1130 CL (mailbox in 1117 CL)
Office Phone: 624-6797 (I check once a day MTW)
Email: jsterne+@pitt.edu (I check at least once daily when I'm in town)
Office hours: by appointment

Required Books (available for this course at the Pitt bookstore):

C. Wright Mills. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford.
John Durham Peters. 1999. Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Michel Foucault. 1978. The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction (trans. Robert Hurley). New York: Vintage Books.

Recommended Books (sizable chunks are assigned and will be available as photocopies; you should consider seeking out and purchasing your own copy):

Bonnie Smith. 1998. The Gender of History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Karl Marx, et. al. 1992. Capital Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy. New York: Penguin Classics.
Carlo Ginzburg. 1980. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (trans. John and Anne Tedeschi). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Jacques Derrida. 1976. Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Michel Foucault 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper). New York: Pantheon.

Prospectus

"Historiography" traditionally denotes three related fields of inquiry: the philosophy of history, the writing of history, and the history of history. This course will apply these concerns specifically to the problem of studying communication and especially media history. How and why would we write histories of communication? Can we study a single medium or mode of interaction? How can we usefully delimit historical context? What is historical context and why should we care, anyway? How can we treat historical documents as evidence of the past without falling into naïve positivism? How can we consider historical documents as texts without losing the ability to make claims on reality? Recurring course themes will include the construction of historical problems and objects; forms and conceptualizations of time and historical continuity and change; modes of historical description; the epistemology of archives, documents, and memories; and the state of the fields of communication historiography.

This course is designed to cultivate a particular orientation toward the task of writing history and to offer an occasion to reflect upon the writing of history. It is a not a survey of all major schools of historical or historiographic thought, or even the major works of communication history. Though it is concerned with method, it is not a methodology course. As a consequence, you will not become a communication historian simply by virtue of completing the readings on the syllabus. Nor will you become a philosopher of history. This course will trouble both of those mystified positions by demanding the simultaneous engagement with philosophical and historical thought and refusing the separation between "history" and "the philosophy of history." Too often we hear and read of philosophical reflection "paralyzing" research, of being somehow above, outside, or up against the work involved in the crafting of knowledge. Yet sustained, systematic reflection drives the writing of history; the horizon of all historical claims is ultimately philosophical. Thus the originality of much historical work is not simply in the encounter with a unique or arresting document in the archives; it is in the very questions that drive the writing of history and the ways in which people seek to answer those questions.

 

Requirements

Etiquette:

1. Full and complete attendance, attention, participation, listening and reading.
2. Participation in a course mailing list.
3. Good faith and good humor toward your colleagues in the classroom and on the mailing list. For both: disagreements are expected and encouraged, but please keep nitpicking to a minimum; personal attacks are not acceptable under any circumstance.

Product:

1. Public Journals

I expect a minimal level of extended public reflection on readings and class discussions in the form of two long (approximately 500 word) posts to the discussion list over the course of the semester. These can come at any time (though I will suggest times for those of you who need a little motivation), and they should not simply be responses to others' messages on the list. Rather, journals should simply reflect upon a small point raised in the readings and class discussion, and thereby provide the raw material for a new discussion thread, should others choose to respond.

2. Project Proposal

No later than mid-way through the semester (though proposals will be accepted as early as the third week of the course), you will turn in a proposal for your final project. The proposal should be at least 5 pages and provide a detailed enough description of the work you plan to do that we can meet and talk about it. You are welcome to meet with me prior to writing your proposal as well. The exact nature of the proposal will depend on the option you choose for your final project; the details are below.

3. Final Project

There are a number of options available. The earlier you commit to one, the better. All papers should be at least 25 pages (6250 words) in length, conform to a known academic reference system, and be carefully crafted, formal pieces of writing. Grades of incomplete are strongly discouraged as they generally have a negative effect on the quality of the final product.

a) The Standard Seminar Paper.

This paper will be the result of original, searching, creative, and sustained thought applied to materials discussed in the course. Additional outside reading is emphatically encouraged, though it should not substitute for substantive discussion of significant issues covered in the course. Advancement of a cogent thesis is also of paramount importance.

Proposals for this option should include a clearly stated hypothesis, a rationale for your object of inquiry, a discussion of approach, and a line of reading that will facilitate further development and refinement of your ideas.

b) Historical Revision:

Revision is not a skill often taught in graduate school, but it should be. This is your chance to take a piece of historical writing you've already begun and revise it, using the course to refine your thinking about the material and develop your historiographic personality. Keep in mind that the purpose of this option is to facilitate extended reflection upon research you have already undertaken; it is not simply to facilitate further research.

Proposals for this option should include a discussion of the project as it currently stands; a substantive plan for further revision - especially in terms of philosophical, critical, stylistic, and interpretive issues; a discussion of other work that you need to do in order to be able to rewrite the paper (such as additional outside reading or revisiting source materials). You should also append a copy of the current version of the paper to the proposal.

c) Mapping a trajectory:

This is the standard "literature review" option with a few twists. In addition to characterizing the subfield that you wish to pursue (note that this does not mean simply summarizing others' work), this project should include a discussion of how you intend to situate yourself in this field and how the range of philosophical positions it deploys relates to the philosophical stance you hope to embody or articulate in your own project (the latter should be defined positively). You may also wish to devote a section of this paper to the practical side of research: the mechanics of the research process as you imagine it, possible sites, collections, archives that will facilitate your research, grant monies available, etc.

Proposals for this option should include a description of your chosen subfield, a planned line of reading, and initial impressions of characteristics and problems in your chosen subfield or hypotheses that you want to advance.

d) Metahistoriography:

This is the "application" paper, similar to the seminar paper in style, similar in the trajectory paper in direction, but differing in consistency. Here, you will focus on the characterization and critique of a very small sample of historical or historiographic writing - ranging from a single work (book, article) to a very few - as the substance of your analysis, rather than surveying a larger field as a prelude to analysis (in contrast to option {c} above). Here the task is not merely a "close reading" of historical writing, but a vigorous and thorough analysis of it through some of the protocols you will have developed over the course of the semester.

Proposals for this option should include a discussion of what documents will be examined, their significance, a planned line of reading, a discussion of your planned approach and any hypotheses you have.

e) I am open to other approaches. Please discuss your ideas with me prior to the fourth week of class if you plan to do something other than one of the four above papers.


Course Outline

All readings required [except for recommended readings, which are in brackets]. Additional recommended readings may be announced.

I. Fundamentals

11 January: Apologia

On the history of communication history and its relation to the history of history; on the course; on the relationship of theory and history; on research; on documents.

18 January: Subjects and Objects of History

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. (Save the appendix for next week.)

Smith, Bonnie. 1998. "The Practices of Scientific History," in The Gender of History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 103-129.

[Smith, Bonnie. 1998. "Introduction: Gender and the Mirror of History," in The Gender of History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 1-13.]

25 January: Creativity - and the Banality of Method

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. "Appendix: On Intellectual Craftsmanship," in The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 195-226.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1993. "The Practice of Reflexive Sociology (The Paris Seminar)," in Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc J.D. Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 217-253.

Smith, Bonnie. 1998. "The Narcotic Road to the Past," in The Gender of History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 14-36.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. 1994. "Conclusion: From Chaos to the Brain" in What is Philosophy? (trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell). New York: Cornell University Press, pp. 201-218.

[Deleuze, Gilles. 1977. "I Have Nothing to Admit," Semiotext(e) 2:3, pp. 110-116.]

1 February: Historical Time

Braudel, Fernand. 1972. "History and Social Science," in Economy and Society in Early Modern Europe (ed. Peter Burke). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 11-42.

Williams, Raymond. 1977. "Hegemony," "Traditions, Institutions, and Formations," "Dominant, Residual and Emergent," and "Structures of Feeling" in Marxism and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 108-135.

Benjamin, Walter. 1968/1950. "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Illuminations: Essays and Reflections (trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt). New York: Schocken, pp. 253-264.

Fabian, Johannes. 1983. "Time and the Emerging Other," in Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 1-36.

[Marx, Karl. 1990/1867. Introduction to "The Process of Accumulation of Capital" and "Simple Reproduction" in Capital, Vol I: A Critique of Political Economy (trans. Ben Fowkes, intro. Ernest Mandel). New York: Penguin Classics, pp. 709-724.]

8 February: Communication as a Variable in and Object of Historiography

Peters, John Durham. 1999. Speaking Into Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

II. Critical Realism

15 February: The Practice of Historical Materialism

Marx, Karl. 1990/1867. "The So-Called Primitive Accumulation" in Capital, Vol 1: A Critique of Political Economy (trans. Ben Fowkes, intro. Ernest Mandel). New York: Penguin Classics, pp. 873-940.

[The introductory theoretical section of Capital is recommended: "The Commodity," "The Process of Exchange," and "Money, Or the Circulation of Commodities," pp. 125-244.]

McChesney, Robert. 1993. "Conflict, Not Consensus: The Debate Over Broadcast Communication Policy, 1930-1935," in Ruthless Criticism: New Perspectives in U.S. Communication History, eds. William S. Solomon and Robert W. McChesney. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 222-258.

Martin, Michéle. 1991. "Introduction" pp. 3-14 and "The Culture of the Telephone" in 'Hello, Central?'' Gender, Technology and Culture in the Formation of Telephone Systems. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, pp. 3-14, 140-166.

22 February: Cultural History I: How to Do Things With Experience

Ginzburg, Carlo. 1980. "Preface to the English Edition," "Preface to the Italian Edition," Sections 1-29 in The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (trans. John and Anne Tedeschi). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. xi-61.

[The rest of the book is recommended and is available from the reserve desk at Hillman library.]

Douglas, Susan. 1987. "Introduction," Inventing American Broadcasting 1899-1922. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. xv-xxix.

Cohen, Lizabeth. 1990. "Introduction" and "Encountering Mass Culture" in Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-9, 99-158.

Chartier, Roger. 1997. "Introduction: An Ordinary Kind of Writing: Model Letters and the Ancien Regime in France" in Roger Chartier, Alain Boureau, and Cécile Dauphin, Correspondence: Models of Letter-Writing from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (trans. Christopher Wendell). Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 1-23.

29 February: Cultural History II: The Problem of Context

Anderson, Benedict. 1991. "Introduction," "Cultural Roots," "The Origins of National Consciousness," "Creole Pioneers" in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Revised Edition). New York: Verso, pp. 1-65.

Gilroy, Paul. 1993. "The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity" in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 1-40.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1994. "Historical Systems as Complex Systems," and "Call for a Debate about the Paradigm" in Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth-Century Paradigms. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 229-256.

 

7 March Spring Break 2000!

 

III. Textuality

14 March: Textual Dimensions of Historical Documents and Writing

White, Hayden. 1978/1966. "The Burden of History" in Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 27-50.

______. 1973. "Preface," "Introduction: The Poetics of History" and "Conclusion" in Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. ix-42, 426-434.

______. 1987. "The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory," in the Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 26-57.

LaCapra, Dominick. 1985. "Rhetoric and History" in History and Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 15-44.

21 March: Deconstruction as Historiographic Stance

Derrida, Jacques. 1976. "Preface" and "Writing Before the Letter" in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. lxxxix-93.

[Spivak's "Translator's Preface," pp. ix-lxxxvii, is recommended]

[Derrida, Jacques. 1981. "Implications: An Interview with Henri Ronse" in Positions (trans. Alan Bass). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 3-14]

28 March: How to Happily Write History While Living With Deconstruction

Derrida, Jacques. 1986. "Declarations of Independence," New Political Science 15 (Summer), pp. 7-15.

Scott, Joan. 1988. "Introduction" and "Gender: A Useful Category for Historical Analysis" in Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 1-11 and 28-52.

Warner, Michael. 1990. "The Cultural Mediation of the Print Medium" and "The Res Publica of Letters" in the Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 1-72.

 

IV. Genealogy

4 April: Genealogy at Work

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction (trans. Robert Hurley). New York: Vintage Books.

______. 1985. "Introduction: Modifications," in The History of Sexuality Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure (trans. Robert Hurley). New York: Vintage Books, pp. 1-13.

[______. 1980. "The History of Sexuality" and "The Confession of the Flesh" in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper). New York: Pantheon, pp. 183-228.]

11 April: Genealogy as Historiographic Stance

Nietzsche, Freidrich. 1967/1887. "Preface" and "'Good and Evil,' 'Good and Bad,'" in On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (ed. Walter Kauffman, trans. Walter Kauffman and R.J. Hollingdale). New York: Vintage, pp. 15-56.

Foucault, Michel. 1972. "Appendix: The Discourse on Language" in The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith). New York: Pantheon Books, pp. 215-237.

______. 1977. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" and "History of Systems of Thought" in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews (ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon). Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 139-164, 199-204.

______. 1991. "Questions of Method" in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality with Two Lectures and an Interview with Michel Foucault (ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 73-86.

[_____. 1998. "Foucault" in Michel Foucault: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 Volume 2 (ed. James Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley and others). New York: The New Press, pp. 459-464.]

[_____. 1980. "Two Lectures," "Truth and Power," and "The Eye of Power" in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper). New York: Pantheon, pp. 78-133, 146-165.]

18 April: Media Genealogies

Tagg, John. 1988. "A Means of Surveillance: The Photograph as Evidence in Law," in The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, pp. 66-103.

Hunter, Ian, David Saunders and Dugald Williamson. 1993. "Preface," "Introduction" and "The Pornographic Field" in On Pornography: Literature, Sexuality and Obscenity Law. London: Macmillan, pp. vii-56.

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. 1996. "Remediation" Configurations 4:3 (Fall), pp. 311-358.

25 April: Unravelling or Resolution, depending. . . .

The fundamental problems of communication historiography, revisited.

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Copyright 2000 Jonathan Sterne