In Medias Res, Fall 2015

Greetings, and welcome back to another academic year! As summer gives way to fall and our campus oaks turn from green to gold, we get another chance to tally the changes around here.

We are thrilled to highlight the latest crop of Comparative Media Studies and Science Writing graduate students (p. 4) and marvel at the backgrounds they bring to our community — veterans of public television, a strong set of coders, and even a mini-cohort of environmental scientists. Paired in their classrooms and labs with the extraordinary ’16’ers heavily represented in this issue, they make for a powerful bunch.

It’s worth mentioning too how impressive our body of undergraduate students have become over the years. They are one of the many reasons (and evidence) that MIT was recently named by Times Higher Education as America’s #3 school for the humanities. By way of example, we invite you to read some of their prize-winning academic and creative writing in our sister online publication, Angles, at cmsw.mit.edu/publications/angles as well as by checking out the work of the 2015 Ilona Karmel Writing Prizes recipients (cmsw.mit.edu/publications/ilona-karmel-writing-prizes).

The prizes are a great example of MIT resources that support the ambitions of its students. Another is the travel funding provided by the MIT Public Service Center, which this summer helped send graduate student Lily Bui, ’16, to New Zealand to study the creation of a “smart city.” Her dispatches from Christchurch (p. 7) document the opportunities and challenges of using sensors to support new infrastructure for cycling, in a city that never had it. Her lessons have wide application for cities starting with a clean slate, such as many in Asia, but also show how difficult it may be for older cities to incorporate technology otherwise heralded as the solution to all their ills.

Meanwhile, from our Open Documentary Lab research group, we get to spotlight analysis by Deniz Tortum, ’16, on the interactive web documentary Do Not Track (p. 14). It’s one of the Open Doc Lab’s first forays into case studies. Tortum describes how Do Not Track used project management techniques borrowed from software development and how it managed collaboration among team members who were geographically and disciplinarily distant. If you are interested in the future of documentaries, this is a piece you will refer back to for a long time.

In a bit of an experiment for In Medias Res, we are featuring pieces written for the classroom. We think it’s an excellent chance to illustrate the content and style you’ll see at the graduate level in Comparative Media Studies. The first paper (p. 22) was for Major Media Texts, one of the foundational classes for the CMS degree. Many prospective students read this magazine, so if you are one, enjoy how the piece pulls together an item from popular culture — the film Brokeback Mountain — with one of the key issues of our time — surveillance — by applying, adapting, and expanding on the thinking of seminal theorists. The second (p. 27) is about chat rooms, specifically designs and practices that could make them better. And while it wasn’t for a class, our piece on “hacking the future of publishing” (p. 20) is another fine intro into how seemingly old media like books can find their way into the world of hackathons, APIs, and dating apps.

As always, we close the issue with research and personal updates from our community, including our alums. A theme has begun to emerge in this and recent In Medias Res issues: our alumni are now far enough into their careers that they are really starting to churn out major publications. It is a point of pride, then, to be able now to educate our current students in part with work produced by their predecessors.

Speaking of alumni, several of them will be back on campus to discuss their careers at a special colloquium on November 19 at 5pm, just after a CMS graduate program information session. We hope you will join us. See our calendar of our Thursday talks (p. 42) as well as others added throughout the semester, available on cmsw.mit.edu/events.

Edward Schiappa

About Edward Schiappa

Edward Schiappa conducts research in argumentation, classical rhetoric, media influence, and contemporary rhetorical theory. His current research explores the scope and function of rhetorical studies, including the relationship between rhetorical theory and critical media studies. He has published ten books and his research has appeared in such journals as Philosophy & Rhetoric, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Rhetoric Review, Argumentation, Communication Monographs, and Communication Theory. He has served as editor of Argumentation and Advocacy and received NCA's Douglas W. Ehninger Distinguished Rhetorical Scholar Award in 2000 and the Rhetorical and Communication Theory Distinguished Scholar Award in 2006. He was named a National Communication Association Distinguished Scholar in 2009. Schiappa is Head of CMS/W and John E. Burchard Professor of the Humanities.