In Medias Res, Fall 2009

William Uricchio

William Uricchio

Transition. It’s a recurring word at CMS. Transition is prominent in the title of one of our core graduate courses, in our biennial conferences (the Media in Transition series), and in the media developments that we study. Transition—in our cultural practices, our media technologies, our dreams and expectations—is the dynamic that gives CMS its relevance. It sounds great, of course, but sometimes it hits close to home in unexpected ways.

This is the first issue of In Medias Res to appear without Henry Jenkins as CMS co-director—as tough a transition as there is. Our conjoined directorship of the program now broken, this page is no longer graced with Henry’s smiling face. He has made the transition to the Pacific coast, where he is now Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC—but more on that on page 8. Fortunately, consistent with the transit in the Latin root of transition, Henry will make regular trips back to CMS throughout the academic year, assuring that the change is not too traumatic.

And while change is an essential component of transition, transition implies more—a direction, becoming, a move from one thing to something else.

It’s also the first time in ten years that we will not expose a new class of first-year graduate students to the wonders of CMS and the bemused gazes of their returning second-year cohorts. The program needs time to reassess, rehire, and reboot, while at the same time maintaining the status quo in academic programs, research projects, and outreach activities for the coming year.

Although we are planning to again accept applications in fall of 2010 (for admission in fall 2011), this hiatus serves as a reminder of the nature of university programs, where the continuity of change is evident in the cycle of admissions and graduations. The class of ’09 has just about made it out the door, joining the ranks of CMS alumni who are out there making a difference in the production studio, the classroom, the field, and consulting office, whether located in the US or abroad. And the class of ’10 has returned to the Institute, armed with the experiences of the summer, many of them chronicled in this issue of In Medias Res.

These comings and goings open up numerous portals through which we can explore the transitional state so endemic to our media practices. The cover story of this issue of In Medias Res, derived from Audubon Dougherty’s fieldwork in rural Peru as that country gets connected, speaks eloquently to this situation—and the CMS role in it (thanks, Audubon!). It can be seen in the pioneering game development of GAMBIT and The Education Arcade; in the Convergence Culture Consortium’s interrogation of transmedia story telling and spreadability; in the Center for Future Civic Media’s intervention into the fast-changing civic mediascape; the HyperStudio’s continuing transformation of platforms and interfaces for research and teaching in the humanities; and in Project New Media Literacies’ bi-coastal status, as it prepares to shift operations to USC.

Heraclitus of Ephesus observed that the only constant is change. And while change is an essential component of transition, transition implies more—a direction, becoming, a move from one thing to something else. The notions of a static end point and teleological certainty don’t square well with Heraclitus’s words. Nor are they implied by the developmental logics of transition.

As CMS moves into its tenth year, change—dramatic change—is certainly ongoing. But that change has logic, and the direction of the program’s transition can be found in the new faculty who are joining our community, in the ongoing research activities of our various projects, in the ever-growing network of alumni and advocates who carry on the CMS cause, and even in the emergence of CMS-West. This issue of In Medias Res charts those activities—connect the dots, and you’ll map the contours of a CMS very much in transition.

William Uricchio

About William Uricchio

William Uricchio revisits the histories of old media when they were new; explores interactive and participatory documentary; writes about the past and future of television; thinks a lot about algorithms and archives; and researches cultural identities and the question of "Americanization" in the 20th and 21st centuries. He is Professor of Comparative Media Studies, Principal Investigator of the MIT Open Documentary Lab, and faculty director of the MISTI-Netherlands Program. He is also Professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and has held visiting professorships at the Freie Universität Berlin, Stockholm University, the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Lichtenberg-Kolleg), China University of Science and Technology, and in Denmark where he was DREAM professor. He has been awarded Guggenheim, Humboldt and Fulbright fellowships and the Berlin Prize; and was Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. His publications include Reframing Culture; We Europeans? Media, Representations, Identities; Media Cultures; Many More Lives of the Batman; and hundreds of essays and book chapters, including a visual "white paper" on the documentary impulse ( He is currently completing a book on the deep history and possible futures of documentary; and another on games and playing with history and historiography after post-structuralism.


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