January has been an unusually exciting month. Working from the home office, but this office is in Vancouver rather than Bristol. While I’m sure colleagues think I’m skiing, I can confirm 1) there’s no snow and 2) I don’t ski. I sit at the table, switching my view from the laptop to the window and continue to operate between and across my two cities, separated by 8 hours. There have been article proofs for Paragraph 38.1, organising the 27 January Productive Margins Forum 27Jan2015_FINAL, liaising with Davis & Jones and with Bashart Malik about their commissioned work with the Muslim Engagement in Bristol project, finalising the wording of the Know Your Bristol on the Move Open Call for artists’ residencies, learning how to shoot 16mm film and hand process with Caffenol C at Cineworks, running a workshop on city symphony films for young artists and sorting out the Spring term’s teaching, which starts on 2 Feb.
I have also been happily putting together a Forum on ‘media archaeologies’ for the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. The Forum emerges from the Sept 2014 Archaeologies of Media and Film conference in Bradford. I brought 7 archaeologists together to focus on the specific contributions that archaeological methods and questions might make to understanding media technologies. Now the invitation has been extended to media scholars and archaeologists with interests in media technologies and networks to explore similarities, differences, challenges and critical-practical specificities.
While ‘media archaeologies’ emerged in German scholarship in the late 1970s/80s and came to the attention of the English-language academy via Geoffrey Winthrop-Young’s translation of Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter in 1999, it has recently been taken up more widely as an exciting theoretical and methodological shift within media studies. In 2010, in The Routledge Companion to Film History (ed. William Guynn), Erkki Huhtamo defined ‘media archaeology’ as ‘a particular way of studying media as a historically attuned enterprise’ that involves researchers ‘”excavating” forgotten media-cultural phenomena that have been left outside the canonized narratives about media culture and history’ (203). In the same year, Jussi Parikka added that ‘media archaeology needs to insist both on the material nature of its enterprise – that media are always articulated in material, also in non-narrative frameworks whether technical media such as phonographs, or algorithmic such as databases and software networks – and that the work of assembling temporal mediations takes place in an increasingly varied and distributed network of institutions, practices and technological platforms’. German media theorist and trained archaeologist, Wolfgang Ernst, describes media archaeology’s focus on the ‘nondiscursive infrastructure and (hidden) programs of media’ (2013, Digital Memory and the Archive, p. 59). If media archaeologists such as Thomas Elsaesser, Wolfgang Ernst, Lisa Gitelman, Erkki Huhtamo, Jussi Parikka, Cornelia Vismann and Siegfried Zielinski have been interested in scalar change, material-discursive assemblages and deep time relations as they pertain to media technologies and networks, how might archaeologists with interests in the media actively contribute to the shaping of this field?
Alongside archaeology’s discursive travels across the humanities, most notoriously via Michel Foucault, archaeologists have long engaged with media. From Silicon Valley to Atari dumps, from the mobile phone to the media technologies of post-war astronomy and from telegraphy to the material-discursive actions of media as sensory prostheses, the global archaeological community has produced a large number of important studies of media techno-assemblages that both map specifically archaeological approaches and push at the limits of archaeology as a discipline. What are the archaeological specificities that mark out a distinct disciplinary approach to understanding media? How might the practices of media archaeologists such as Huhtamo, Parikka, et al challenge assumptions that archaeologists located within the discipline might have about their methodological and conceptual specificities? In short, where are the boundaries between media archaeologies and archaeologies of media? How are those boundaries drawn, performed and maintained? And how might we work together to ask new questions of media technologies and their relations?
The forum invites contributors to submit responses to media archaeologies. The forum invites contributors to draw out key archaeological theories and practices to contribute to the rich field of media ecologies, archaeologies and ‘variatologies’ in order to explore the implications of distinct yet diverse archaeological approaches to media assemblages. Commentaries are being welcomed in the form of short academic texts (1,000 – 3,000 words) or in other forms suitable for print, including drawings and images.
Commentaries will be selected in terms of originality, diversity and depth and will be published in a forthcoming Forum in Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. Deadline for submissions is 3 February 2015. We’ve already had a very enthusiastic response from colleagues across the disciplines and I’m quite excited about the potential for this gathering to inspire new collaborations and research.