Graduate Seminars

MSCH-C 793 & CULS-C 701: Storage Media & Packaging: Boxes, Buildings, Cartons, Cases, and Sleeves


“The history of human technology shows, step by step, that through the invention of new devices proceeds relatively fast and with apparent ease, men have always found it very hard to arrive at the definitive form for these new creations. Dilemma and perplexity constantly arise.”

– Hermann Muthesius, The Problem of Form in Engineering (1913)

“Packages are an inescapable part of modern life. They are omnipresent and invisible, deplored and ignored. During most of your waking moments, there are one or more packages within your field of vision. Packages are so ubiquitous that they slip beneath conscious notice, though many packages are designed so that people will respond to them even if they’re not paying attention.”

-Thomas Hine, The Total Package (1995)

It’s what’s inside that counts…right? Not always… This course dives headfirst into the ubiquity described by Thomas Hine to account for the many surfaces and structures that mediate and shape our social relationships to environments and products. In doing so, we will seek not so much to explore the relationship between media “content” and its “container” but, rather, to treat the “container” as “content” for critical study. That is, we will turn our attention to a multitude of “vessels” that evocatively envelope media for purposes of storage, protection, promotion, distribution, communication, branding, advertising, convenience, and use. The LP sleeve, DVD case, videocassette carton, computer and game casing, are a few surfaces and structures we will pursue while also stretching our notion of “media storage” to consider buildings (e.g. cinemas, record shops) as a form of environmental packaging. The term packaging is used loosely here!  This seminar will think “along the box” to study the material and visual forms that enclose, contain, and express our media. To do so, we will think deeply about package design, industrial design, graphic design, media format histories, materials, and cultural practices of use.  The goal is to gain appreciation and critical insights into the industries, infrastructures, professional practices, and consumer activities that all contribute to placing, for instance, a DVD into a storage unit, a book on a shelf, or LP into a record crate

MSCH-C 792/CULS-C 701 Doing Game History: Archives, Museums, Materials

IMG_8163-1Doing Game History is a graduate seminar/workshop designed to immerse students in historiographic methods and archival research practices devoted to the critical historical study of electronic games. We will read a combination of historiographic texts from general historical studies, history of science and technology, cultural history, material culture, and design history while also reading the few game histories beginning to be produced that are not only rich in terms of their content but also prioritize method in the execution of their historical studies. We will read for content but also endeavor to make a writer’s method transparent in our reading protocols. To complement such textual components, we will also direct our attention to working directly with historical materials that take the form of artifacts, oral histories, company documents, trade publications, technical drawings and schematics, promotional materials, fiction, documentaries, and software. The course’s overall goal is to train students to “do” historical research on games at archives, museums, and where ever else their research interests may take them.

As a result of participating in Doing Game History students will be able to: understand and utilize historiographic methods for analysis and critique of games; gain experience of working with archival materials; build up analytical competencies to evaluate theories of history and games; interpret various artifacts, materials, documents, practices, and relationships constitutive of the history of games; and generate more thoughtful participation in the writing of game history and game historical research.

MSCH-C793 Epistemologies of Media

Screen Shot 2019-07-24 at 3.44.15 PMEpistemologies of Media surveys a selection of key concepts pertinent to the study of media across multiple disciplines and fields of study. Individual seminars are led by various Media School faculty based upon their area of expertise pertinent to a particular key concept.

The idea behind the Media School’s core graduate course is simple: to provide incoming graduate students with a range of “big ideas” or “key concepts” that have and continue to shape our understanding of media. These ideas are not, in any way, meant to be exhaustive. They are offered by members of faculty as a “starter’s guide” or “primer” to help foster a diverse understanding of media. Think of each week as a different vantage from which to observe and experience the phenomena of media.

Weekly seminars will be led by different Media School faculty. Their participation not only shares the knowledge of an expert in a field but also exposes first year students to a healthy range of faculty–making the Media School a less daunting place in one’s first semester.

MSCH-C793/CULS-C701: Life History of Objects

Screen Shot 2020-04-01 at 3.07.24 PMObjects experience a complex, relational, fluidic, unstable, or even multistable lifecycle across their history.  To gain an understanding of any object’s social and cultural life history requires that we map its biography or career “before the cradle and beyond the grave”. After all, objects are conceptualized, designed and developed, born, manufactured, commodified, marketed, advertised, distributed, consumed, used, neglected, stored, forgotten, rendered obsolete, trashed, retired, recycled, lost, disposed of, and destroyed. They enter into a variety of afterlife situations, where they live in museums, lay in ruin, or haunt our memories. Moreover, their life cycles are neither tidy nor linear. A trashed object can “spring” back into a market economy when sold and reused, or even reemerge from “rubbish” to “museum object”. To study the life history of an object, type of object, or series of objects is an ambitious affair when the “total trajectory of a thing” may be beyond our reach, proving elusive if not impossible to capture. In identifying specific formative situations within which to engage with objects, we edit/script their life histories to help reveal a particular experience and relationship within a much larger life span. In this course, we will study the transformative shifts and phases in value (understood as a “fluid aggregate relation”), uses, meanings, identities and taxonomies of material objects across their existence via multi-disciplinary works from design studies, anthropology, science and technology studies, philosophy, conservation practice, museum studies, material cultural studies and cultural studies.

Our goal is not to ask: “what is an object” but “how”, “where”, and “when” is an object.

MSCH C-792 McLuhan in the Rear-View Mirror

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“The pretense that McLuhan is incomprehensible is surely a way of protecting peopleʼs laziness and impercipience.”

– Marshall McLuhan

In rear-viewing Marshall McLuhanʼs thought we will strive towards diligence and perceptive explorations across the enigmatic contours of his many percepts, puns, and probes. Our reading-intense study of McLuhanʼs galaxy will explore across four navigational charts: 1) the work of thinkers who McLuhan has freely drawn from to expand his thought [F.R. Leavis, I.A. Richards, Siegfried Giedion, Wyndham Lewis, Harold Innis, Jacques Ellul, and Lewis Mumford]; 2) selections and complete works by McLuhan [The Mechanical Bride (1951), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967), War and Peace in the Global Village (1968), From Cliché to Archetype (1970), and The Laws of Media (1988)]; 3) letters and off-prints of original essays that predate the subsequent books, or respond to the published work, or present ideas developed during the process of writing his books [some of these are collected in Gingo Pressʼs 2005 publication, McLuhan Unbound]; and 4) theorists who have studied his work thoroughly [W. Terrence Gordon, Paul Levinson, Elena Lamberti, Richard Cavell, Jeffrey Schnapp] and those who have greatly critiqued and/or extended it [e.g. Jean Baudrillard, Raymond Williams, Friedrich Kittler]. In addition to these four units, special emphasis will also be placed on McLuhan’s stylistic method and we will also “try-on” the idea of approaching his work on media as a type of “design thinking” about the function of media as “shaping” and “transforming” environments.

MSCH-C793/CULS-C701: History of British Cultural Studies

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Course Description

“There aren’t any good, brave causes left.”

– Jimmy Porter from John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956)

Let me begin by asserting that the history of Cultural Studies is not commensurate with its historiography. Said history is and is more than what has been written about Cultural Studies for the history of cultural studies is as much the ideas that have animated it, the practices that have shaped it, and the hopes that have sustained it. In this class, we will examine each of these. Our intention is not so much to define Cultural Studies as to study the polemics that sparked its delineations within the U.K. during the post-war period: specifically we will begin with the Worker’s Education Movement/Adult Education and the emergence of the “New Left” in the late 1950s and proceed to work our way through to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at Birmingham University. One aim is to familiarize students with thinkers, primary texts, and problems within the field. It is an attempt to foster an awareness of Cultural Studies’ history, key debates, projects, practices, and the formations of thought that helped establish the project and politics of Cultural Studies. A second aim is to enable students to negotiate their own intellectual responsibility to a tradition to ensure that work produced by the next generation of scholars is aware of the interventions that have impacted what Cultural Studies was/is and what it was/is meant to do. With these aims in mind, we will: read in their entirety (or near entirety) Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy (1957), Raymond Williams’ Culture and Society: 1780 – 1950 (1958) along with articles from key journals such as the New Left Review and Universities and Left Review; pair writing by cultural critics like Arnold, Eliot, and Leavis with our reading of Williams’ Culture and Society; examine selections from CCCS Working Papers/Research Groups, articles articulating the project of Cultural Studies at Birmingham [ex: CCCS First Report from 1964] and CCCS’s theories and methods under the directorship of Stuart Hall; and lastly we conclude by reading three examples of CCCS methodologies expressed in the work of Paul Willis’s Learning to Labour (1977), Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979), and Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (1987). It’s fair to say that this will be a “reading intensive” course!

Undergraduate Courses 

MSCH-D 337 New Media: Game Preservation

MSCH-C 215 History of Video Games

MSCH-A 315 Advertising and Consumer Culture

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