Frontiers of New Media 2009

Not 24 hours after I dissed the networking/self-promotion side of blogging, here’s me doing some networking and promotion!

I’m spending this semester as the Simmons Visiting Professor in Communication and History the University of Utah. My family and I just recently arrived in Salt Lake City and once again, I’m bowled over by both the beauty of the place and the friendliness of the inhabitants. One thing I’m doing here is helping to organize the 2009 Frontiers of New Media Symposium. Longtime readers may recall me gushing about the 2007 Frontiers of New Media Symposium, which was one of the smartest, friendliest, most fun academic conferences I’ve ever been to. Now I and the Departments of History and Communication have the modest task of recapturing that lightning in a bottle.

The symposium is just two weeks away, on September 18 and 19. If you’re in the SLC area you should absolutely come out. The keynote speaker is AnnaLee Saxenian, Dean of UC-Berkeley’s School of Information, and we have a great lineup of panelists on the second day. If you’re not near Utah, please visit the website, follow the blog or Twitter feeds, and spread the word to any who might be interested, even via social media platforms I might have disparaged last night. I’ll be blogging at the FoNM site from now until the conference–there’s a neat video there now of UC-Riverside’s Toby Miller on the history and future of television–and doing my best to make our conversations there accessible to people who can only join us virtually.

My inspiration here is THATCamp 2009, which was held back in June and exploded over Twitter and the internet–at least the parts of it I frequent–with such force that I kind of thought I was there. Frontiers of New Media isn’t nearly as big or Tweety an operation, but we will do our best. I even considered disguising the symposium as “THATCamp Rocky Mountains” in order to ride the coattails of the regional THATCamps popping up everywhere. We have a great panel planned on New Media and the Practice of Scholarship, featuring CHNM’s Sharon Leon and my favorite mad scientist historian, Bill Turkel–so that’s plenty THATCampy.

So, yeah. Ignore what I said yesterday about the Hobbesian waltz of the A-list and the long tail. Network! Tweet! Work the room!



This news has already gone out on other faster, more annoying social networking platforms, but it needs a mention here as well: this is my son Eli, born on Wednesday.

He is beautiful and awesome. His mother is a rock star. His big sister is giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Cigars all round.

[Edit: Comments page fixed. Not that I’m fishing–we’ve already been inundated by good words and well wishes. Thanks, all!]


How I’ll Spend My Summer Vacation

OR, why one ought not expect the frequency of posts around here to increase.

I’ve dropped cryptic hints here and there, but I can now announce three happy chunks of news, each one about a fun and challenging project that will be occupying me for the next few months, possibly years, and in one case probably decades.

First: Bill Turkel and I, along with Brock University’s Kevin Kee and some great collaborators, have been awarded a generous grant for a project entitled “History at Play: Augmented Reality Gaming and the Ubiquitous Past.” The grant comes from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as part of their Image, Text, Sound, and Technology (ITST) initiative. Basically, we will be using games and gaming models to teach some Canadian and American history and to promote public heritage sites. I’d love to say more about the cool stuff we are planning, but I am mindful of Bill’s injunction to at least cut a demo before posing with a guitar. So this summer we’ll be cutting our demo. I’ve sometimes been reluctant to cross the streams of my history day job and my gaming hobby, but I feel like this is a project I was built to do.

Second: In the fall, my family and I will be heading to Salt Lake City, where I’ll be a visiting professor for one semester at the University of Utah. I’m going to be cross-appointed in the History and Communication Departments. (We’ll be back in London come January.) I’ll be teaching one graduate seminar in Media History, but mostly I’ll be there to build on and extend the conversations that began at the terrific Frontiers of New Media Symposium in September 2007. I just got back from another visit there, and every time I am bowled over by the gracious hospitality of the folks at the U and the stunning natural beauty of the place.

But our biggest, best, and scariest news is this: a new baby! And soon, too. The due date is in early to mid May. Lisa is looking and doing great; the Arrival is kicking up a storm; the Ukelele is cautiously pessimistic about becoming a big sister. Cramming all this good news into one post, I feel I should touch wood or throw salt over my shoulder or something. Not because I expect something bad to happen, just so that the universe knows that I know what a lucky guy I am. And I do.

p.s. Speaking of gratitude, Happy Passover.


Christmas on the Road

On Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, that is:

The orange light of the fire. The boy’s hollowed out face—by hunger and fear. The man handed him something, wrapped in an old shred of newspaper he’d found in what had once been a basement and was now a tomb. He closed his eyes against the rat eaten bodies and worse of his imagination. What is it, the boy asked, looking at the words, trying to decipher an existence he had never known. Take off the paper, the man said. The boy removed the paper carefully, his look more concerned than excited. What is it, Papa? An iPhone, the man said. Oh no shit, the boy said.

Hee. Read the whole thing. It’s too bad Bob Hope and Bing Crosby aren’t around to make The Road into a movie.

I too am having Christmas/Hannukah on the road: we set out this weekend for points South. (I know, Hannukah’s been over for a week, but my daughter doesn’t know that.) Posting here will either be less frequent or more, depending on internet connectivity and post-egg nog energy levels.

The first week of the new year will find me at the American Historical Association’s annual conference in Washington. Drop me an email or a comment if you’re going to be there. I’m posing as a Canadianist on a roundtable about “Writing the Transnational Political History of North America,” though somehow that buzzword “transnational” got left out of the official program. I will try to post a teaser for the session over the next week or so; my contribution will certainly draw on the fine conversations about transnational history we’ve had at Cliopatria and Mode for Caleb over the years.

Edit: Excitement, she wrote! A panel at the AHA sponsored by the Historians of Film Committee features a paper by Cynthia Miller called “Defending the Heartland: Technology and the Future in The Phantom Empire.” What is The Phantom Empire, you ask? Oh, it’s just the insane science fiction singing cowboy serial from 1935 in which (this phrase has delighted me for years, you understand) “robots prepare to torch Gene Autry.”

Robots prepare to torch Gene Autry.

Robots! Gene Autry! Preparation for torching!

Happy holidays.


Maybe Utah

If not Arizona, then a land not too far away. Where all parents are strong and wise and capable, and all children are happy and beloved. I don’t know. Maybe it was Utah.
–H.I. McDunnough, Raising Arizona

So this is flattering: My article, “The Wire Devils: Pulp Thrillers, the Telephone, and Action at a Distance in the Wiring of a Nation,” American Quarterly, September 2006 (that link works for AQ subscribers only, but if you really want a copy I can hook you up) has been shortlisted for the Constance Rourke Prize, for the Best Essay Published in American Quarterly last year. Much of the credit for that should go to the issue’s editor, Carolyn de la Pena. She worked so patiently and enthusiastically with me–it was a crash course in what having a good editor is all about. (If only she’d made me do something about my title. What a mouthful!)

Also, the issue of American Quarterly my article appeared in, a theme issue on technology and American studies, has been republished as a book: Carolyn de la Pena and Siva Vaidhyanathan, eds, Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). And another article of mine, on technology and Canadian nationalism, has also finally been published in a book: Norman Hillmer and Adam Chapnick, eds., Canadas of the Mind: The Making and Unmaking of Canadian Nationalisms in the Twentieth Century (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007). So I can erase that “forthcoming” that’s been on my CV for something like five years now.

Cooler still, I’m off to Salt Lake City this week for Frontiers of New Media, a symposium on media and the West at the University of Utah. I’m quite excited. I love little conferences like this where you actually get to meet people, and the list of speakers and presenters is like reading the spines on my favorite bookshelf. Henry “Convergence Culture” Jenkins, MIT’s reigning academic fan geek media studies guru, is the keynote speaker. There’s also Philip Deloria, whose Playing Indian is a high point in my American Studies class every year; Greg Downey, whose book on the telegraph dropped an intellectual bomb on me at exactly the right moment in writing my dissertation; and Lisa Gitelman, media history guru in her own right, who probably doesn’t even remember the crucial advice she gave me on my early pseudoscience research, back when she was at the Thomas Edison Papers and I hadn’t even started work on the telephone. Plus the proverbial many more.

Coolest of all, my daughter is walking now. And by “walking,” I mean “tearing everywhere at top speed, climbing chairs and tables and bookshelves and walls, stopping, spinning, and starting like a radio-controlled nitro funny car.”