This is the course website for History and Theory of Communication Technology, a graduate seminar in the Communication, Rhetoric, & Digital Media PhD Program at North Carolina State University, taught by Professor Andrew Johnston in Fall 2015.

Course Description

How have scholars grappled with the ways different technologies shape structures of knowledge, cultural practices, and aesthetic experiences? What theoretical and conceptual frameworks have been employed to write the histories of those mediations? How are technological landscapes shaped by social and cultural influences or by contemporaneous ideas about media? Furthermore, how do communication technologies from the past continue to exist and inform the ways we develop and use new ones?

This seminar will explore historical and theoretical approaches to these questions that have shaped research into media and communication technologies. We will move through different historical periods, from early writing practices to 19th century optical devices and communication networks, to recording and storage technologies like film and the phonograph, as well as more contemporary media like the floppy disk and IP network. This episodic and archaeological approach will allow us to examine the constellation of political, social, and technological operations that influence one another at those junctures. It will also allow us to critically examine theoretical perspectives on those formations that have influenced historiographical perspectives, from hermeneutics and marxism to the public sphere and materialism. Throughout the seminar we will explore these engagements with media landscapes of the past in order to better understand contemporary engagements with technologies as well as the aesthetic and cultural practices tied to them.

By the end of this course, students will have a thorough understanding of key developments in the history of communication technologies and the mutually constitutive social formations that take shape alongside them. They will also be versed in foundational theoretical approaches to the fields of media and communication studies and critical skills that can evaluate new approaches and paradigms for use in their scholarship. These analytic tools will be utilized in class discussions and responses as well as a research project completed by the end of the semester.


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