MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing An innovative program that applies critical analysis, collaborative research, and design across a variety of media arts, forms, and practices. Tue, 15 Apr 2014 20:34:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Recruit the CMS Class of 2014 Thu, 10 Apr 2014 18:43:18 +0000 The resumes of Denise Cheng, Rodrigo Davies, Erica Deahl, Julie Fischer, Alexandre Gonçalves, Jason Lipshin, Eduardo Marisca, and Lingyuxiu Zhong.

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3 Questions with Seth Mnookin Wed, 02 Apr 2014 15:21:30 +0000 Journalist and best-selling author discusses the challenges and impacts of science writing.

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Seth Mnookin 1024x739 3 Questions with Seth Mnookin

MIT Assistant Professor of Science Writing Seth Mnookin is the best-selling author of The Panic Virus, which examines how inaccurate scientific reports linking vaccines to autism have reverberated through the media, causing incalculable damage. Fearing vaccines, some parents have exposed their children to the risks of measles, mumps, and rubella, while scarce research dollars pour into disproving the erroneous reports.

Now the Associate Director of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing, Mnookin was recently selected by ScienceOnline to be included in the Open Lab 2013 anthology of the best science writing online. He sat down with SHASS Communications recently to share his views on science journalism today.

What unique challenges do science writers face, and how does MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing prepare trustworthy science journalists?

A major challenge for writers communicating with the public is simply understanding the language of science, which asserts that we can never be 100 percent sure about anything. Scientists say, “With all of the tests that we’ve done, we’re fairly confident that vaccines don’t cause autism.” In science-speak, that means we’re virtually 100 percent confident. In media-speak and public-speak that implies there’s real doubt. That’s why we need science writers — people who really understand the language of science and the language of non-scientists and can translate between the two.

At MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing (GPSW), we’re giving reporters a year’s worth of instruction on what good science writing looks like. One of the coolest things about the program is how our students are integrated with the MIT community. For instance, we require them to spend 20 hours in the lab with scientists so they understand what it means to do science in a real, tangible way. We also train students in every available medium — they write blogs and a thesis, they do radio and TV segments.

Our hope is that, eight to 10 students at a time, we can inject good science writing into the nation’s bloodstream. And we’re succeeding. To mention just a few of our accomplished alumni: Lisa Song, SB ’08, SM ’09, recently won a Pulitzer Prize; Erico Guizzo, SM ’03, has twice won the Neal Award, considered the “Pulitzer Prize for business media;” and a number of additional GPSW alumni have been honored in recent years for extraordinary work in health care reporting and environmental journalism.

Why is good science reporting important to non-scientists, and what can typical readers do to ensure the information they get is accurate?

We are seeing so many ways in which cutting-edge research is impacting daily lives. Genetic sequencing is a perfect example. It wasn’t that long ago that genetic sequencing seemed like pie-in-the sky, futuristic technology. In 2006, it cost $10 million to sequence a single genome. Today an exome [the subset of the genome made up of DNA segments that code for proteins] can be sequenced for around $1,000. That’s incredible. As diagnostic sequencing becomes more widely available, the public needs to understand the limitations of this incredibly powerful technology; otherwise, people will be vulnerable to snake oil salesmen making outlandish promises.

There are so many sources of information out there, and it’s important to remember they’re not all equally reliable. Just because someone has a slick YouTube channel with good lighting doesn’t mean they’re reputable. I try to remind people that seeing “MD” after a name doesn’t mean that a person is ethical or even intelligent. So, if someone forwards you a link about a medical procedure you’ve never heard of, and it’s never been covered in the mainstream press, you as the consumer have to be skeptical about what’s going on.

Your book The Panic Virus underlined what can happen when science reporting goes wrong. Has the field improved since that story began spreading in the late 1990s? What are the biggest challenges for the field today?

One issue I have with our colleagues in the media is that they tend to do this reflexive “on the one hand, on the other hand” thing — even in cases, as with vaccines and autism, where there aren’t two hands. In the last 10-15 years, there’s been a growing awareness of the fact that merely giving voice to something lends it a kind of legitimacy. When the first specious reports connecting vaccines and autism were published, a lot of news outlets justified their coverage by saying, “We’re not in position to judge.” Today, people for the most part realize that doesn’t really cut it.

When I did my first book, Hard News, about The New York Times, I’d hear a lot of complaints about journalism being unreliable — but it turned out that very few people I talked to were subscribing to newspapers or news magazines. If you care about quality journalism, you need to vote with your wallet. There have been enormous cutbacks in dedicated science reporting, and one reason is because news organizations aren’t convinced that’s what readers care about or are willing to pay for.

We’re lucky in Boston in that we have a fantastic science reporter at the Boston Globe — Carolyn Johnson, a graduate of an early class of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing. Also, The New York Times has a dedicated science section, with phenomenal reporters. So there are plenty of places that do not hype shoddy studies or oversell inconclusive results, and the more those places are supported the more they’ll be able to do the type of responsible science reporting that is so important.”

Seth Mnookin’s books

Mnookin’s most recent book, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, explores the controversies over vaccines and their rumored connection to developmental disorders. The New York Times-bestseller Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top chronicles the the John Henry-Tom Werner ownership group of the Boston Red Sox. Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year.

Originally published by the MIT News Office.

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Video: Neil Gaiman’s 2008 lecture at MIT Fri, 28 Mar 2014 17:55:39 +0000 After six years hiding out on DVD, our video of Neil Gaiman's lecture and conversation at MIT is now available for free online.

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After nearly six years hiding out on DVD, our video of Neil Gaiman’s lecture and conversation at MIT is now available for free online. (Watch above, or download the mobile version.)

Gaiman’s talk and follow-up chat with CMS/W founder Henry Jenkins was the largest event we’ve ever hosted, filling MIT’s largest venue.

Sure, you may not be familiar with Gaiman himself, but you can’t read his writing (The Sandman, Coraline, The Graveyard Book) without recognizing his influences. Carroll, Tolkein, C.S. Lewis. Alan Moore. Lovecraft. Jenkins’ loves Gaiman specifically because he can channel those influences into something both original and wholly borrowable: he’s turned out to be one of the great sources of fan fiction.

Anyway, we’re really happy to finally have the full video up. We also want to give huge credit to Paul B., MIT class of 2011, who put together a complete, geeking-out write-up of the lecture.

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2014 Media Spectacle: Call for Entries Mon, 24 Mar 2014 14:47:16 +0000 Showcasing video projects created by MIT students, staff, faculty and affiliates. Entry deadline: April 21.

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Podcast: Barry Werth and The Antidote: Reporting from Inside the World of Big Pharma Fri, 21 Mar 2014 14:09:19 +0000 Barry Werth's "The Antidote: Inside the World of Big Pharma" gives a behind-the-scenes look at how a startup became one of the great triumphs of bio-tech.

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Barry Werth 200x300 Podcast: Barry Werth and <em>The Antidote</em>: Reporting from Inside the World of Big Pharma

Barry Werth

Journalist and author Barry Werth has been writing about the business and practice of the pharmaceutical industry for more than two decades. The Billion Dollar Molecule, his 1995 book on Vertex Pharmaceuticals, was named one the “75 Smartest Books We Know” by Fortune. His sixth and most recent book, The Antidote: Inside the World of Big Pharma, revisits Vertex, offering unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to a company that that went from cash-starved startup to a triumph of American bio-tech innovation. Werth has also written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Technology Review, among many others publications.

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The Paradoxical Arts of CMS/W Wed, 12 Mar 2014 17:47:14 +0000 "One of the great things about MIT is that, even in the arts, it manages to be an exception to the rule."

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Art, like pornography in Justice Potter Stewart’s view, is one of those things that you know when you see. Certainly in an era where artists, publics and markets have challenged traditional arbiters of taste, Justice Stewart’s logic is hard to dispute. But despite what we as individuals may think, the social reality of art ­— of producing and assessing it, of circulating and preserving it ­— persists. It’s culture, after all, and therefore socially situated, even as it feels defined by the eye of the beholder.

Scholars from Becker to Bourdieu have explored art’s social contingency and institutional forms, and education invariably enters their stories. Whether as an agent of reproduction, a shaper of hierarchies, or simply a microcosm of the larger order, education plays an instrumental role in the value chain of art. One of the great things about MIT is that, even in the arts, it manages to be an exception to the rule. Yes, it hews to the patterns that sociologists of art have discerned, but it does so with a major difference. The Center for Art, Science and Technology (CAST) marks MIT’s latest endeavor to push the boundaries of artistic convention, drawing on micro- and nanotechnology, neuroscience and anthropology (among many other disciplines) for its work. And ongoing activities in ACT (the Program in Art, Culture and Technology) and MAS (the Program in Media Arts and Sciences ­— aka, the Media Lab) offer their own variations, drawing on MIT’s rich tradition of artistic innovation rooted in engineering and science. At the same time that it pursues these ‘outside-the-box’ innovations, the Institute has been enormously successful in its commitment to artistic excellence in a more traditional register ­— theater, music, the visual arts — and in the process assuring a dialogue between the known and the emergent, the established and the yet-to-be-defined.

CMS/W encapsulates this two-sided interaction, compressing it into one department. Creative writing, especially in the hands of such luminaries as Junot Diaz, Joe Haldeman, Helen Lee, Alan Lightman and colleagues, speaks to artistic excellence of the known and widely accepted variety. Indeed, they have garnered virtually every literary prize of any importance. But others in CMS/W are pushing the boundaries of art through less familiar means. Consider Nick Montfort and Fox Harrell’s work with computational media; or the courses that explore the making and expressive capacities of games, films and videos; or research projects that engage with civic art (The Center for Civic Media), location-based storytelling (Mobile Experience Lab) and interactive documentaries (the Open Documentary Lab)…. Each of these (and many more like them!) has pushed the boundaries of art, embracing new technologies and deploying them in unexpected ­— and unexpectedly powerful ­— ways.

Given this elegant match, it would seem that CMS/W is the place to be, infused by artistic currents both traditional and emergent, and blessed with an abundance of excellence in both categories. But there is a catch, and it’s not the W-word to the right of the slash….

An Excursus on Media…

iSkyTV The Paradoxical Arts of CMS/W

iSkyTV, 2013. By the Institute for Infinitely Small Things with Sophia Brueckner. iSkyTV is an online artwork that recreates Yoko Ono’s video artwork “SkyTV”. In iSkyTV you can point Google’s StreetView cameras at the sky anywhere in the world.

Media may be central to how we experience the world, connect with one another and represent ourselves, but, in Jack Roy’s immortal words, they get no respect. Photography, film, comic books, television, games…aesthetically speaking, each has its own history of being treated with active indifference if not outright contempt. The roots of this narrative might be traced to the Reformation, where the abstract word trumped the visceral image. But by the end of the 19th Century, concerns grew more specific. Photography and film were initially dismissed as little more than technological tricks, mere instruments of mechanical reproduction. And while any film student can rehearse the theoretical volleys of Arnheim, Bazin, Balázs, Kracauer, etc. to recover the medium’s aesthetic potentials, Hollywood’s mass popularity and industrial mode of production introduced another set of withering critiques to the mix, including everything from (lowbrow) taste to (corporate) authorship. And then there were the social panics. Sweating palms, bad eyes, demoralization…a school in crime…these and even more lurid charges seemed to cling like bad memories to popular media. Add the Frankfurt School’s critique (as much an indictment of the audience’s critical capacities as the ideological agenda of media industry), multiply by Bourdieu’s wary stance (the conformity at the heart of all that is middle-brow), and the contours of media’s ‘image problem’ begin to emerge.

True, artists from Fernand Léger and Erik Satie to Samuel Beckett and Andy Warhol worked with the film medium, Nam June Paik and the Fluxus crowd with television, and nearly every -ism in 20th Century modernism’s lexicon had its media moment. For the resolutely avant-garde, it approached something like perfection, doubly outside the bounds of the respectably quotidian. The less popular the form, the greater its artistic potential!  But something like redemption for the pleasures associated with popular media seemed out of the question until the arrival of British Cultural Studies and the ferment in the field that followed in its wake. The demystification of power, the joys of fandom, the creativity of resistant readings, and more, all offered ways — after decades of indifference — to recover some elements of value in legacy media, even if it wasn’t exactly old school art.  Creative thinking about the cultural operations of media texts ­— hierarchization, affiliation, anxieties, deployment and repurposing ­— opened the doors to long marginalized (and extremely popular) forms, even in literature, music and advertising. The Pop movement did its bit as well, (a Campbell’s soup can could be art when viewed from the right perspective). And persistence even paid off, with the film community’s long-repeated claims to their medium’s artistic status finding increasing traction atabout the time that film reached the grand old age of 100 (and the photo-chemical grain began to give way to the pixel).

To the casual observer, it might almost seem as though respectability (and thus aesthetic potential) in popular media is a relational affair. Film entered the university as an object of study shortly after television appeared on the scene and attracted the attention of the nay-sayers. Television, in turn, became an object of study with the coming of a more enticing target ­— the computer game. And games gained ground as fresh rounds of hand wringing attended the new kids on the block…Facebook, Twitter and their ilk.

But while today’s computational media, with potentials for interaction, widespread participation and algorithmic creation, and their mobile, app and social media cultures, pose new challenges, they have also entered the scene differently positioned than their mass media predecessors. Tainted to some extent because of their popularity, they also enjoy the allure and productive associations of their computational platforms. As a result, they have largely sidestepped the curse of mass media. That said, despite the convincing efforts of their artist-practitioners, they have not been deemed as sufficiently mature in their expression of aesthetic capacities. So they, too, remain caught in something of a no-man’s land, although for different reasons than film and television.

Like nanotechnology and neuroscience, media have rich aesthetic potentials; unlike them, they are burdened by their troublesome cultural histories and suspected for their popularity. So how might we conceptualize them as objects of study? In what domains should we place them? And how might their framing in an academic setting bear upon our ability to see their aesthetic and expressive potentials to move, to provoke insight, to foster affiliation?

Media, the Academy…and Art

High Rise The Paradoxical Arts of CMS/W

Image from “Highrise/One millionth Tower”, a short documentary celebrating the unique process of collaboration that brings the story of One Millionth Tower to life on the web. By Katarina Cizek.

The disciplines that constitute the Humanities in many cases emerged with 19th Century models of institutionalized education, at least in the US. By mid-Century, as a wave of nationalism crystallized into invented traditions, disciplines joined in, forming professional societies and reifying their identities (MLA 1883; AHA 1884). The social sciences followed a bit later (AAA 1902; APSA 1903; ASA 1905). But the latecomers, the post-World War Two spate of ‘studies’ programs (American Studies; Women’s Studies; Science, Technology and Society; Film Studies…), were cut from different stuff.  American Studies, for example, drew on history, literature, political science and sociology for its work; and Media Studies were equally undisciplined, drawing on art history, literature, linguistics and sociology among other areas.

The point is simple: not only did media have a lingering whiff of suspicion about them, but when finally admitted into the hallowed halls of higher education, they were studied in a disturbingly undisciplined manner. For media, this has proven to be something of a blessing and a curse, with some universities distributing the study of media into different faculties: media studies (film and television) in the Humanities; mass communications (press and broadcasting) in the Social Sciences; media making in the Arts; and ‘new media’ in an array of locations, including Computer Science.

MIT’s constellation of perspectives as embodied in SHASS offers a great opportunity, since CMS/W courses make sense variously within Humanities, Social Sciences and Arts frameworks. Some courses explore the work of texts, styles, systems, meanings and contexts; while others consider their social operations and reception patterns; and still others are concerned with the art and design practice of making and evoking. The problem is that from a disciplinary perspective, where even one of these tents can seem over capacious, this seems somehow, well…wrong. It violates the inherently conservative, tradition-steeped commitment to a particular intellectual stance. But from a CMS/W vantage point, where precisely the ability to make comparisons across theoretical domains and to broker the creative tensions between mens et manus is core to our mission, what could be finer?

What to do with this awkward (from a disciplinary perspective) or perfect (from a CMS/W) fit? It poses a dilemma common to studies areas, but one that gives ‘comparativists’ their particular dynamic. Art as practice and site of critical reflection and even activism is central to the mix. But somehow, media ­— both legacy and emergent ­— keep slipping from sight in the arts agenda. Is media’s shadowy past to blame? Or should we look to their refusal to be properly disciplined as part of the problem? Or might we turn the question around, get out of a defensive posture, and look at what’s really being done with media at places like CMS/W?


Nanny Van The Paradoxical Arts of CMS/W

Created by REV- (lead artist: Marisa Jahn) in collaboration with The National Domestic Workers Alliance, the NannyVan is a bright orange mobile design lab and sound studio that “accelerates the movement for domestic workers’ rights nationwide.” With its pull-out table, colorful design, and acoustic recording booth, the NannyVan convenes domestic workers workers and employers alike to produce and provide new fair care tools.

Is it art? Taking Howard Becker’s “art worlds” perspective, one would look to endorsements by “authorized interpretive communities” such as the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports Fox Harrell’s media work in the Imagination, Computation, Expression (ICE) Lab and the work of the Open Documentary Lab (ODL); or MIT’s Visiting Artists Program, which supports Emmy Award-winning documentary maker Kat Cizek’s year-long residency with ODL. One would consider the actual practices that students and faculty engage in — the games and videos made, the interactive poetry programs and documentaries produced. One would look to the Civic Art program at the Center for Civic Media and Catherine D’Ignazio’s remarkable public space projects or Marisa Jahn’s activist art, including the NannyVan. And one would look to discourse ­— from the many artists who have spoken at the CMS Colloquia, to the framing of the creative work coming from the classroom. And of course, one would look to the program’s graduates and especially those active as storytellers, creators of virtual worlds, filmmakers, and digital artists. Media ­— and media at CMS/W ­— as art? Becker would certainly answer in the affirmative!

Art as act, as production practice, as mode of interrogation, as a means of engaging, connecting, mobilizing… defines a robust and coherent strand of work in CMS/W. Much of that work plays out with emergent media forms and in newly-enabled constellations of networked publics. Like the embrace of neuroscience or micro-technology for aesthetic ends, this work is highly exploratory, defining the ever-shifting borders of artistic engagement. In the case of media, the legacy of inherited prejudices also happens to be a font of knowledge that can inform ongoing artistic practice on the frontiers of the new. And better, the triangulation of humanities, social sciences and arts perspectives on media enriches each, revealing developmental patterns, offering context and yielding insights into the reception process.

So what’s the balance? On one hand, when it comes to art, the (mass) media seem unduly burdened by their popularity, limited by their technology, and challenged by their lack of disciplinary coherence. On the other, these very elements constitute the sources of their power. Popularity holds the potential of broad aesthetic engagement, not art as a mere ornament of distinction and taste hierarchization. As the aesthetic interest in nanotechnology attests, we inhabit an increasing technologized age — what better means to inscribe and reflect upon in our artistic practice?  As the pace of change accelerates, not only does technology’s relevance but also our awareness of its importance to the artistic practices of the past, and media in this sense bring extra value to the table. And as for the challenge of the undisciplined, can there be a stronger endorsement of radical potential?

The pages of In Medias Res, like CMS/W research labs and classrooms, like the work of many of our colleagues, students and graduates, all attest to a deeply rooted engagement in artistic traditions…and those from the humanities and social sciences…and to an ongoing commitment to artistic practice.

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People, Places, Things — Personal Updates for Spring 2014 Wed, 12 Mar 2014 17:04:35 +0000 The latest news from Comparative Media Studies and Science Writing alums, professors, researchers, and students.

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Featured in our latest issue of In Medias Res.

Emily Anthes’ (Science Writing, ’06) book, Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts, came out last March, and she has been traveling around the country giving lectures and talks as part of her book tour. The paperback is due out in April, and she is now back to freelancing full-time and mulling over ideas for the next book.

6708686 150x150 People, Places, Things    Personal Updates for Spring 2014

Marcia Bartusiak

Marcia Bartusiak from the Graduate Program in Science Writing was invited to give a talk at the 27th Texas Symposium for Relativistic Astrophysics in Dallas in December. The only non-scientist invited to participate, she was there to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the conference. The premiere forum for the field, it which meets every two years at locations around the world (but which still retains the name where it was first held in 1963). Bartusiak’s talk was titled “Bermuda Triangles of Space: How the Public First Met Black Holes.”

Taylor Beck (Science Writing, ’12) is a freelancer in New York, writing mostly for Fast Company and occasionally for GQ, about topics related to neuroscience, tech, Japan, and innovation. She recently finished reporting on a documentary about sleep, for former HBO producer John Hoffman and his non-profit production company The Public Good Projects. She does book research, editing, and fact-checking for authors like Susannah Meadows of the NYTimes Magazine, D.T. Max of The New Yorker, and Shane Snow of Wired, Fast Company, and the New Yorker. (Shane also co-founded Contently, a free platform for writers which you all may find useful for aggregating your stories online). Taylor covers topics ranging from creativity in tech start-up founders to alternative medicine to Japanese robotics, culture, art, and business. Her goal for 2014 is to branch out to new venues, take on longer feature stories, and find a book she wants to write.

Visiting Fulbright Professor Mine Gencel Bek gave a presentation on the alternative media in Turkey at the international conference The Point Is to Change, in San Francisco. She also taught an online Media and Children’s Rights master’s course in the Distance Learning Center at Ankara University. During IAP, she taught Media and Ethics. She submitted an edited book on Media, Children and Youth in Turkish. Currently, she is polishing an article on digital inequality and identity to submit to an international refereed journal. She started to write a blog for T24, a Turkish left wing online newspaper. She managed to find another grant from the Turkish National Science Academy and thus will be able to stay at MIT until June 2015.

Jim Bizzocchi (CMS, ’01) reports, “It’s been a great year. Finished my sabbatical — now making good use of what I learned from my time reconnecting with CMS and with Henry Jenkins at USC. Great to be teaching again, and to continue my own research. Beginning a three-year research grant — developing my computationally generative video sequencing and presentation system. Very pleased to be doing this in partnership with William Uricchio and the Open Documentary Lab.”

Kristina Bjoran (Science Writing, ’11) is now working for a communications firm (Forum One Communications), which works exclusively for non-profits and government agencies. She works with high-profile, Seattle-based global health non-profits. She manages web and communications development and designs user interactions and marketing/fundraising campaigns.

Eugenie Brinkema’s first book, The Forms of the Affect, will be coming out in March via Duke University Press. She will be giving invited talks at the University of Rochester (on “The Human Centipede”) and University at Buffalo (on rhythm, language, and pornography) in February and April.

Alison Bruzek (Science Writing, ’13) started working at WGBH News as Project Manager of the Forum Network, an online video lecture series.

ChanAnita 092509 People, Places, Things    Personal Updates for Spring 2014

Anita Say Chan

Anita Say Chan (CMS, ’02) is currently an Assistant Research Professor of Communications and an Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research and teaching interests since completing her masters with CMS continue to focus on globalization and digital cultures, innovation networks and the “periphery”, and science and technology studies in Latin America. Her manuscript on the competing imaginaries of global connection and information technologies in network-age Peru, Networking Peripheries: Technological Futures and the Myth of Digital Universalism, is forthcoming with MIT Press in early 2014. Her research has been awarded support from the Center for the Study of Law & Culture at Columbia University’s School of Law and the National Science Foundation, and she has held postdoctoral fellowships at The CUNY Graduate Center’s Committee on Globalization & Social Change, and at Stanford University’s Introduction to Humanities Program.

Second-year grad student Denise Cheng has been a busy bee trying to round up all of the knowledge — historical analysis, primary qualitative research — around supporting workers who earn income through peer-to-peer marketplaces. She’s been traveling between economic workshops and media conferences, awed by the diversity of people who are interested in the topic. Her most recent output is a piece for Harvard Business Review, and during IAP, she is leading focus group research and compiling a needs assessments of peer economy providers in San Francisco.

USA Today was the latest to pick up Professor Ian Condry‘s work on the completely virtual Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku. “And she only got so popular because Crypton never gave the character a back story. ‘People started making up their own stories,’ says Condry. She became a ‘crowd-sourced celeb.’” And in October, Condry discussed his latest book, The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story, with the Think podcast run by the Texas public radio station KERA.

Anne-Marie Corley (Science Writing, ’09) is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas.

Grad student Rodrigo Davies spent the summer as an Innovation Fellow at the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, where he helped build Living Innovation Zones, a new program to open up public space in the city, and designed an open data format for public notifications. Since returning to MIT he has continued to develop his research on civic crowdfunding. He has been invited to speak on the topic by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Library of Congress and SXSW Interactive, and has been quoted by Wired, Salon and NPR. He spent January in Kansas City as an MIT Public Service Fellow, supporting the non-profit BikeWalkKC’s campaign to build a bikeshare scheme for the city, and running crowdfunding workshops for local community groups. In April Rodrigo will co-host Build Peace, a conference on new technologies for peacebuilding that is being sponsored by the Center for Civic Media. The event is being held at the Media Lab on April 5 and 6.

Josh Diaz (CMS, ’09) is in Seattle, working at ArenaNet and living with his love and their three cats. He has “earned skill ranks in: baking, Mandarin and is collecting sci-fi and fantasy from authors of color, playing too much Puzzle and Dragons and contemplating woodworking.”

Junot Díaz’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winner book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao received one of its coolest endorsements, that of rock-and-art legend David Bowie. The recommendation was part of an exhibition on Bowie in both Ontario and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in which Bowie listed his 100 must-read books. Diaz was elected to the Society of American Historians. And he also appeared on the Colbert Report, where he was on the receiving end of the familiar teasing of studying writing at an engineering-focused university. “Writing at MIT?” said Colbert. “Isn’t that like teaching engineering at Juilliard?”

January 17th was the first day of classes for Ana Domb (CMS, ’09) at the interaction design masters program she designed and runs at Veritas University in Costa Rica. “Sixteen people have trusted us to join the program. I’m excited and nervous as can be.” In October, she and CMS grad student Eduardo Marisca joined forces in a board game design workshop for kids in Guatemala. They will be writing about that experience in February.

In mid-September, Stephanie Dutchen (Science Writing, ’09) moved from the NIH, where she had been for four years since MIT, to Harvard Medical School, still as a science writer-editor. “It’s been a blast returning to Boston and getting to know the Longwood community.”

Katie Edgerton (CMS, ’13) moved out to Los Angeles the summer after graduating CMS and just finished her first semester in USC’s Writing for Screen & TV M.F.A. program.

 People, Places, Things    Personal Updates for Spring 2014

Garrett Fitzpatrick

Garret Fitzpatrick (Science Writing, ’12) had a report published in the December issue of the 2013 NASA Tech Briefs magazine referencing a white paper he co-wrote at the Johnson Space Center in 2010-2011, titled “Advanced Hybrid Spacesuit Concept Featuring Integrated Open Loop and Closed Loop Ventilation Systems.”

CMS graduate student Sean Flynn helped with the launch of the Open Documentary Lab’s Docubase, started working with the video4change network on impact assessment research, and attended the Sundance Film Festival to represent ODL and write a series of articles about their New Frontier section. Outside of MIT, he completed his third year as Director of the Points North Documentary Forum at Camden International Film Festival, which received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in November.

Sam Ford (CMS, ’07) has published pieces with the Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, PR News, The Firm Voice, The Public Relations Strategist, and — most importantly of all — the CMS/W site. He has also been featured this fall in the Tribeca-award winning documentary ‘Lil Bub and Friendz, and documentaries Soap Life and Who Shot the Daytime Soap?, as well as The New York Times, NPR Marketplace, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Over the past few months, Sam has presented at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association Summit, the Annual Insurance Executive Conference, the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, and the Luxury Marketing Council and participated virtually in sessions for Social Media Today and the Argentinian conference “Vi Encuentro International” through the NeoTVLab in Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, Sam and his wife Amanda Ford (former CMS employee) had a bittersweet November, enrolling daughter Harper (2) in pre-school, but are comforted by daughter Emma (4) now being able to read them bedtime stories, rather than the other way around.

The MetroWest Daily News highlighted the “storied” MIT Game Lab in its role of co-host of September’s Festival of Indie Games. Rik Eberhardt, the Festival’s co-producer and the Game Lab’s studio manager, told the Daily News that “The festival is a great place to open up the process behind game development to a wider community,” adding that “part of the lab’s mission is to educate the public on the development and use of games. People who attend the festival can not only see games made by local developers but get a chance to talk with them at our digital and tabletop showcases. We have some great talks and films programmed to help people understand the community of game development, the importance of games in people’s lives, and the potentials of games that still lie untapped.”

The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge in December awarded the Game Lab “Best Student Developed Serious Game” for their game A Slower Speed of Light, an exploration of how to more intuitively teach the theory of relativity. And the Lab’s game Movers and Shakers, which looks at how players communicate based on conflicting perspectives, was nominated as a best indie game of 2013.

Last May, Anne Glausser (Science Writing, ’09) became ideastream’s Coordinating Producer for QUEST Science, in Cleveland.

Robin Hauck (CMS, ’03) left Digitas in 2012 and has been at EF Education First since then. She have been running the creative group, “The Studio” of EF Tours, as Director of Project Management. In February she takes on a new role as Director of Group Sales and Marketing for Go Ahead Tours, EF’s adult travel business. Her family is doing well. Haley is 15, Lucy 13, and Coco 9, with husband Steve is continuing to love life as an entrepreneur, launching into another new venture with his partner. They live in Dover, Mass., just outside of the city, but, Robin says, “EF is in Cambridge right down the road from MIT if anyone wants to grab coffee or lunch sometime and reconnect.”

In January 2010, Lissa Harris (Science Writing, ’08) and her wife Julia Reischel started, an online local news website for the rural Catskills in upstate New York. The site runs general news, but they have a focus on water politics, land use, environment and agriculture issues that are key in the Catskills. More recently, they have been going analog, with a series of niche magazines; in November, they launched our first print Catskills food guide.

Heather Hendershot 300x199 People, Places, Things    Personal Updates for Spring 2014

Heather Hendershot. Photo by Bryce Vickmark.

Professor Heather Hendershot was featured in September by the MIT News Office. She described how growing up in a Quaker family in otherwise conservative Christian Birmingham, Alabama, came to influence her interest in gender studies and her focus on the “fire and brimstone” versions of conservative television shows and activist battles to have particular shows taken off the air.

Liwen Jin (CMS, ’08) is currently working for the Marketing Strategy and Planning team in Liberty Mutual Group Boston office — great team and exciting projects. He got married in October 2012 to Dawei Shen — a former Ph.D. student in MIT Media Lab. They moved to Brookline, Mass., in January. “Life is good!” says Liwen.

Trent Knoss (Science Writing, ’13) is the digital editor at Backpacker Magazine in Boulder, Colorado, reporting on bears, mountaineering, and the Arctic.

Hannah Krakauer (Science Writing, ’12) accepted the role of Senior Communications Specialist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a Seattle nonprofit institution dedicated to accelerating the pace of neuroscience research using a big science approach.

In October, Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice of the Humanities, published The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew. The book is “a meditation on the unexpected ways in which recent scientific findings have shaped our understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.” Ovations came from the Boston Globe (“Readers will appreciate the passionately argued belief that human perception and understanding can accommodate a physical and a spiritual universe, and that both the known and the unknown are causes for scientific speculation as well as pure wonder.”) and Salon (“Whatever the subject, he writes with a limpid serenity and frankness that feels as fresh and as clarifying as a spring rain.”)

In September, Allison MacLachlan (Science Writing, ’11) started a new job at Owlkids, a children’s book and magazine publishing company in Toronto with a great non-fiction and science focus. She is enjoying writing print and online content, managing projects, and working on marketing strategy. She also blogs regularly for the Canadian Science Writers’ Association.

Lauren Maurer (Science Writing, ’12) got married on January 4th to Noel Trew, a classmate before she came to MIT, and who “was my main support/sounding board/fanboy during my time in the Science Writing program — which is at least part of why I decided I wanted to marry him.”

Stephanie McPherson (Science Writing, ’11) married Jacob Miller, an S.M., ’11, in Mechanical Engineering, on October 6 — and who was the first person she met at MIT.

Assistant Professor Seth Mnookin partnered with literary agent Andrew Blauner and fellow writers — Dennis Lehane, Susan Orlean, and more — on Our Boston: Writers Celebrate the City They Love. $5 from every sale of the anthology went to the One Fund, a group aiding Boston Marathon bombing victims and their families. Mnookin’s work on the autism vaccine controversy was also included in the Open Lab 2013 anthology of the best science writing online.

In January, the Boston Globe highlighted Associate Professor of Digital Media Nick Montfort’s talk on the Atari 2600, part of the Game Lab’s “Push Button” series during IAP. The Guardian followed up by naming Montfort’s book Racing the Beam one of their “Six best gaming books”. Montfort has also has been completing the book Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities for MIT Press, giving presentations and workshops in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., and developing several creative projects, including pi-based poem Round, Duels — Duets with Stephanie Strickland, the collaboration Three Rails Live, the computer-generated book World Clock, and the VIC-20 demo Nanowatt, which was done with one MIT and one remote collaborator. Montfort’s book of poems #! (Shebang), which consists of sections of code followed by output, will be published by Counterpath Press. In March Montfort and Icelandic/American artist Páll Thayer will have an exhibition at the Boston Cybararts Gallery, Programs at an Exhibition. Montfort is continuing work on Slant (a collaborative story generator), on other systems that model literary and poetic processes, and on investigations of porting, translation, modification, adaptation, the issuing of new editions, and other ways of developing digital media work from existing digital media sources.

After graduating from the inaugural class, Maywa Montenegro (Science Writing, ’03) spent five years as an editor and staff writer at Seed magazine in New York. She is back on the academic circuit, halfway through her third year as a Ph.D. student at the University of California Berkeley. Her dissertation “is still in lump-of-clay state,” but she is interested in the politics and political ecology of food systems, with a likely emphasis on seeds.

Susan Nasr (Science Writing, ’06) is graduating from medical school this April, becoming a family doctor, and is writing a newspaper article on how the Affordable Care Act is beginning to change primary care in Rochester, NY.

The Education Arcade’s creative director Scot Osterweil authored a piece hosted on’s State of Play blog about his work developing the ethics-focused game Quandry with Learning Games Network, Fablevision, and Marina Bers of Tufts University. He repeated our shared chorus when it comes to the purpose of games: “We don’t believe that playing the game will automatically help players take better perspectives in their own lives, but we think the game represents a playful way of introducing ideas that can be further developed through reflective conversation with others.”

IMG 3296 People, Places, Things    Personal Updates for Spring 2014

Chris Peterson

Salt Lake City’s Deseret News interviewed recent grad Chris Peterson (CMS, ’13) about the Minerva Project, an attempt to provide Ivy-quality education (and Ivy-level professional credibility) online. He was doubtful it would reach the non-elite, as intended. “Peterson said he believes that Minerva’s cost, though lower than costs at top-tier U.S. universities, will still be out of reach for many meritorious students, especially those from Third-World countries. Peterson also “reclaimed my throne as King of the Internet for MITAdmissions, where I direct digital strategy, lead several strategic recruitment initiatives, and help decide whom to admit to MIT.” He has been teaching in CMS/W, as a TA for CMS.950 in the fall and as co-instructor for CMS.400 in the spring, and continues some research projects in the Center for Civic Media on mapping banned books.

Just after the fall term began, lecturer John Picker had the pleasure of welcoming baby Eleanor to the world. She, along with her mother, is doing well, and she smiles often, “especially at her older brother Alexander and her reflection.” During all that and while teaching, Picker put the finishing touches on a chapter about the origins of the telephone booth for the revised edition of The Auditory Culture Reader (due out sometime this year or next) and joined the editorial board of Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, whose inaugural issue will be published by Bloomsbury in 2015. A paperback edition of The Victorian World, containing his essay “Auditory Anxiety and the Advent of Modernity,” was published by Routledge in November, soon to be followed by a Kindle version.

Talieh Rohani (CMS, ’09) has been working for Rosetta Stone since April. She was one of the product owners of the Advanced English for Business Solutions, which has a web and mobile presence. She also launched a prototype for an oral fluency application that has a powerful speech recognition engine. Currently, she is working on enhancing the LiveMocha community platform and launching a new product line for kids. Over the past year, Rosetta Stone has transformed itself, from selling boxes in the airports to creating mobile/tablet applications and end-to-end e-learning language solutions. It has also entered brain fitness and Math/Science market. Talieh is engaged to Arash Shahangian, whom she met via Facebook. They are planning to get married in the fall and visit Japan’s Snow Monkeys for their honeymoon. Over the past few months, she have developed a passion for K-drama and has started learning Korean. She highly recommends Boys Over Flowers as well as Personal Taste.

Aviva Hope Rutkin (Science Writing, ’13) recently started as a reporter at New Scientist.

Interim Head of CMS/W Edward Schiappa was named Head, proper, in December. His textbook with John Nordin — Argumentation: Keeping Faith With Reason — was released by Pearson in August, and his most recent scholarly book, Classical Greek Rhetorical Theory and the Disciplining of Discourse, was released in paperback in January. He also gave several talks at a conference in November, including “The Phenomenal Text of Michael Moore’s Sicko” (with Daniel Ladislau Horvath and Peter B. Gregg), “Discussion of the 2013 Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8”, and “Boston Strong: Commodity, Identity, or Both?”, each presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association in Washington.

In November, Megan Scudellari (Science Writing, ’08) received the Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award from the National Press Foundation, given to one top young science writer annually for outstanding reporting and writing. She also moved back to Boston in and is happy to be a Massachusetts resident again. Megan and her husband welcomed their second child, a boy, born December 5th. They also have a two year old girl.

Morgan Sherburne (Science Writing, ’09) recently left her job of three years as the outdoors and environment reporter for the Petoskey News-Review in Petoskey, Michigan. She has started as a science writer for the University of Florida’s Health Communications.

0a9ba84 People, Places, Things    Personal Updates for Spring 2014

David Spitz

David Spitz (CMS, ’01) is now President and Chief Operating Officer of RebelMouse, a freemium content publishing and distribution platform from the team behind Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. As of January, RebelMouse was reaching roughly 20 million unique individuals a month across hundreds of thousands of sites.

Abe Stein (CMS, ’13) is working in the communications office at Wheaton College, applying knowledge he garnered in the CMS program to many different projects. He is also working as a researcher and strategist with Azubu, an eSports web-streaming company, which keeps him active and engaged in the sports media and videogame fields. After graduation, he and wife Morgan and son Ezra moved to their new house in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and are enjoying living in the wee bitty state tremendously.

“‘I think we’re going to see continued growth on the indie side,” Philip Tan (CMS, ’03) told the Boston Globe about Fire Hose Games’ launch of a Boston-based game industry incubator, “but I’m not sure we’re going to see anywhere near the same rate of growth on the Triple-A side,” referring to big-budget game development. “The barrier for entry is always dropping, and I think we’re going to see more opportunities for very small teams to recover their costs and make a profit on top of it.”

Associate Professor T.L. Taylor had a busy, but exciting fall semester. She keynoted at Vienna’s Future and Reality of Gaming conference, as well as being invited as plenary speaker at the Association of Internet Researchers conference and McGill’s Participatory Condition symposium. Her article “Words with Friends: Writing Collaboratively Online” (co-authored with Boellstorff, Nardi, and Pearce) was published in the ACM journal Interactions. She was also featured on the Social Media Clarity podcast, discussing her latest book project on live-streaming, as well as quoted in pieces at NBC News and Pomona College Magazine.

Iris Monica Vargas (Science Writing, ’08) published her first book in September, and it has remained on Amazon’s Bestsellers List for the past four months. It is a poetry book about the process of dissecting a human being for medical purposes, written from the perspectives of the medical student who performs the dissection and the donor who offered his/her body to medicine. It has received great reviews and it seems to have a life of its own considering it was published by Terranova, a very small publisher of fiction in Puerto Rico.

Kenrick Vezina (Science Writing, ’11) left a year-long tenure with the Genetic Literacy Project, jumping into freelancing and looking for new opportunities.

220px Wang Jing People, Places, Things    Personal Updates for Spring 2014

Jing Wang

Professor Jing Wang’s two articles “Culture as Leisure and Culture as Capital” and “The Global Reach of a New Discourse: How Far Can ‘Creative Industries’ Travel?” were published in Chinese Media, Routledge, 2013. She also finished editing a special issue for Positions: Asia Critique on “Reconsidering the MIT Visualizing Cultures Controversy.” In October, she flew to Lund, Sweden, to give a talk at Lund University on “Change Makers and New Media Technology: Introducing NGO2.0 and a Civic Hackathon Model” in a conference on ICT for Development in China.” During the same month, she visited Rice University and participated in the review of the Chao Asian Studies Center.

Qi Wang’s (CMS, ’02) first book, Memory, Subjectivity and Independent Chinese Cinema, is to be published in August by the Edinburgh University Press, as part of its series Edinburgh Studies in East Asian Film. She is an assistant professor of film and media studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Genevieve Wanucha (Science Writing, ’09) is starting her second year as the writer for Oceans at MIT, a publication reporting on all ocean-related research at MIT and partner institutions such as WHOI. In tandem, she writes for the website of the MIT Program in Oceans, Atmospheres, and Climate. She is at work on her first book, which will be a creative work of science writing on human emotion, plunging into the lives and minds of neuroscientists, affective scientists, clinicians, and patients with a fatal brain disease called frontotemporal degeneration, a lesser known dementia that steals emotional insight and personality.

After graduating from the Science Writing program in October, Erin Weeks (Science Writing, ’13) started work as a science writer at Duke University, where she has taken over from another program alum, Ashley Yeager (Science Writing, ’08).

Michelle Woodward (CMS, ’02) has been living in Beirut since 2011. She has a daughter, Amina, born in 2009, and her husband, Waleed Hazbun, teaches at the American University of Beirut. Woodward is still working freelance as a photo editor for Middle East Report magazine ( and is also the founding editor of the photography page on the e-zine Jadaliyya ( This semester she has been teaching a history of photography class at a local university.

The post People, Places, Things — Personal Updates for Spring 2014 appeared first on MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing.

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Podcast: Henry Jenkins Returns Mon, 10 Mar 2014 17:12:19 +0000 Legendary former MIT professor Henry Jenkins returns to the Communications Forum for a conversation about his time at the Institute and the founding of CMS.

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Legendary former MIT professor and housemaster Henry Jenkins, now the Provost’s Professor of Communications, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California, returns to the Forum for a conversation about his time at the Institute and the founding of CMS as well as his path-breaking scholarship on contemporary media. Forum Director David Thorburn, Jenkins’ longtime friend and colleague, moderates the discussion.

Henry Jenkins is Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California. He taught at MIT from 1990-2009 and was the founding director of the Comparative Media Studies program at the Institute. He has written many books on film, popular culture and media, including Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008).

David Thorburn is a professor of Literature and Director of the MIT Communications Forum. He is the author of a critical study of the novelist Joseph Conrad and many essays on literature and media. Among his publications: Rethinking Media Change (2007), co-edited with Henry Jenkins.

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In Medias Res Spring 2014 Fri, 07 Mar 2014 20:27:41 +0000 This issue of In Medias Res features the role of the arts in CMS/W -- its history, alumni accomplishments in arts research, and events foregrounding the field.

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Greetings! As the new Head of Comparative Media Studies/Writing, I welcome you to this issue of In Medias Res.

Professor James Paradis stepped down this past September after many years of service that culminated in the merger of Comparative Media Studies and Writing & Humanistic Studies. After I spent most of the fall as Interim Head, Deborah Fitzgerald — Dean of our School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences — named me as Head on December 18, 2013. Professor Paradis is a hard act to follow, but I will do my best.

This issue of In Medias Res features the role of the arts in CMS/W. Anyone spending time on the MIT campus will soon realize that in addition to being the world’s finest science and engineering school, MIT has a vibrant arts scene. By the time you finish reading this issue, you will have a good overview of the ways in which CMS/W participates and contributes to the arts.

Professor William Uricchio begins our journey with his account of Comparative Media Studies and the arts.

Whitney Trettien is now a Ph.D. candidate in English at Duke University, and is an alumna of Comparative Media Studies (SM, 2009). Here she completed a thesis titled “Computers, Cut-ups and Combinatory Volvelles: An Archaeology of Text Generating Mechanisms.” She is interviewed in “People of the Book” by Gretchen E. Henderson, who recently completed a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship here at MIT.

Next up is an exciting excerpt from Professor Joe Haldeman’s newest novel, Work Done for Hire. Though this book will be far from his last, it will be the last published as an MIT professor as Joe has decided to retire after spending the past thirty years teaching and writing in the department. Save the date! A retirement bash for Professor Haldeman will take place on September 12, 2014.

Associate Professor Fox Harrell’s work in his Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab is a brilliant example of how work being done in CMS/W contributes to the arts, a fact recognized last year when his work was included in CTheory’s “Artforum Top 10.” This accomplishment and special events are regularly featured on the CMS/W website, so if you find the articles in this issue of In Medias Res intriguing, be sure to follow us online (CMS/W events can be followed on Twitter or Facebook, as well).

Another exciting example of an ongoing project in the arts is the MIT Open Documentary Lab’s “docubase” project, which gathers together a fascinating collection of interactive, collaborative, location-based, and community-created projects.

Later this spring, CMS/W will feature a visit from Professor Jonathan Sterne of McGill University. Professor Sterne writes about sound and music, communication technologies old and new, contemporary cultural studies, and a range of other matters. He has two books: MP3: The Meaning of a Format considers the mp3 as an historical, cultural and political phenomenon. The Sound Studies Reader collects and comments upon classic work on sound in the human sciences.

Also featured in this issue of In Medias Res is an overview of Professor Rosalind William’s fascinating new book, The Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Morris, and Stevenson at the End of the World (University of Chicago Press). Professor Williams shows that for Verne, Morris, and Stevenson, and their readers, romance fantasy was an exceptionally powerful way of grappling with the political, technical, and environmental challenges of modernity.

Rounding out this issue is an update on the important role CMS/W is playing in the development of the digital humanities. From a class jointly taught by Professor Paradis and Principal Research Associate Kurt Fendt to the development of platforms such as Annotation Studio, a new way for students and scholars to annotate texts collaboratively, MIT is leading the way to exploring the Digital Humanities.

As you can see, CMS/W contributes in important ways to the arts at MIT and beyond. We hope you enjoy this issue of In Medias Res.

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Historians Look to Preserve “The Way Things Are in Digital Publishing” Fri, 07 Mar 2014 19:32:54 +0000 "Perhaps we’d find out what the historian of the 21st century should look like, rather than how to protect the career path of the 20th-century historian for decades to come."

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Pixelated University of Saskatchewan Theses Historians Look to Preserve “The Way Things Are in Digital Publishing”

“The question is to what degree academic associations, universities, and university presses should continue to find ways to protect the logic of how they operate today in a changing climate or how deeply they should push their profession into where the world is headed.”

This past summer, the American Historical Association issued a statement that set off deep debate in the academic community — so much so that it produced the rare effect of being noticed — and amplified — by the general interest press. The request: that universities that automatically publish history department doctoral dissertations online should allow young scholars to embargo those tomes for up to six years.

The reasoning was built on two related premises: that university presses are less likely to publish a book if the dissertation it is based on is widely available online and, as a result, that the availabilities of these dissertations affects the ability of young scholars to seek tenure.

The AHA says their statement came in response to two contradictory impulses in academia: the desire to engage the world with new thinking and the requirements the university’s models/logics of professionalization.

But presuming that these two must necessarily be in contradiction means believing the world will always be as it is today (or that it hasn’t changed already). After all, disruption rarely comes from within an industry but rather from changes outside it. As communication studies scholar Amanda Lotz has researched, institutions often hang on to existing logic until it becomes completely untenable, rather than proactively adjusting to acclimate to the world as it changes.

The AHA’s statement has driven a wide range of responses. Many commenters from the historian world responding directly cried out that the institution was bowing to institutional pressure rather than becoming powerful advocates for how academic institutions should change tenure review. The Atlantic’s Rebecca Rosen evokes the Digital Public Library of America’s Dan Cohen and historian Adam Crymble in challenging the AHA’s presumption that, because “history has been and remains a book-based discipline,” that publishing a book will always be the primary means for promotion. Trevor Owens laments that the AHA should have put their emphasis on thanking and supporting doctoral students fighting to make their dissertations publicly accessible, rather than issuing a statement based on coping strategies with the world as it is. And, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Bell asks whether the issue is a model by which an academic spends years writing a dissertation, followed by spending several more years turning that dissertation into a book — instead of moving on to new research.

The problem, of course, is not merely a theoretical one, nor is particular to historians. Newly minted Ph.D.’s come out of roughly a decade of higher education and into an over-saturated job market in almost every discipline, with the need to earn a living. Their ability to fight for changing “the way things are” is heavily shaped by their need to feed themselves and their families, and their leverage as a new professor to challenge tenure processes or the academic publishing industry is limited. Meanwhile, the institutional demands and wear and tear of the tenure process leaves many — once they find tenure — less likely to put their energy toward changing the system that exists for those coming behind them.

To be clear, as Jacqueline Jones and others told The New York Times’ Noam Cohen, the AHA is not demanding scholars not publish their work online but rather that they have the choice of whether they want their work to be shared online at the point they have completed their dissertation.

But the question is to what degree academic associations, universities, and university presses should continue to find ways to protect the logic of how they operate today in a changing climate or how deeply they should push their profession into where the world is headed.

After all, the ability for academic research to be seen more quickly and more widely than ever before is a good problem to have. The purpose of academic institutions has traditionally been to conduct this research for improving our culture’s understanding…thus, educating students, educating the public, and furthering knowledge. Somewhere along the way, it seems academia has lost sight of that goal and instead acted in favor of preserving strategies that were built in response to realities that are no longer the case.

A professional logic built in a world of information scarcity no longer makes sense, yet tenure processes at universities — and university press business models — all still operate on it. In the process, the academy is not responding to its primary charge of engaging with and helping increase the knowledge of the world outside university campuses. In particular, far too little progress has been made in helping the rest of the world, as citizens and as professionals, understand what academic research has to teach them.

The AHA is investing in protecting scholars from the world as it is. In doing so, it seems to be admitting to having very limited purview and impact. Rather, what if institutions like the AHA — and, of course, university presses and university administrators across the U.S. — put their energy toward creating systems that teach scholars how to share their research to various publics and advocating for systems that reward young scholars for such public engagement that get ideas into circulation as broadly, efficiently, and effectively as possible?

Perhaps we’d find out what the historian of the 21st century should look like, rather than how to protect the career path of the 20th-century historian for decades to come.

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