Brief lectures in Media History

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Introduction . Media history and technology . Topics . About history . Historians and their motives . Social histories and critiques of media . About media technology . Four revolutions in mass media . ID: 653890 Download Presentation

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Brief lectures in Media History

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Brief lectures in Media History


Media history and technology



About history Historians and their motives Social histories and critiques of media

About media technology Four revolutions in mass media Harold Innis

– empire and communication Marshall McLuhan – theories of media change and influence


What is history?

Collective memory Allows broad questions – when and who, but also why and how … Not a search for exact answers

Not science, not social science Duty to accuracy and truth Same facts / different interpretations

Historians often have different motivations


Why do historians write history?

Herodotus (484–420 BCE) preserve the memory of great heroes Often in conflict with the next idea:

Thucydides (460–400 BCE) learn the lessons of the past as a guide to the future George Santayana (1863–1952), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Is history objective?

Leopold Von Ranke (1795–1886) said that historians should take a “scientific” approach and report “the way things really were.Moral and progressive historians – Charles Beard, Lord Acton

Acton said – Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. )Is objectivity a “noble dream” as Peter Novick



Is objectivity the problem?

Herbert Butterfield (1900–1979) objected to “whig” history Whig history honors the heroes, emphasizes progress, ignores the roads not taken, de-emphasizes minorities, and generally glorifies the inevitable present.

Whig history is what happens when the winners get to write history.


End of history

Francis Fukuyama (1952–present) and Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007)

End of the idea of progress Abandonment of utopian visions shared by both the right- and left-wing political ideologies


Social history – Lippmann

Walter Lippmann 1922 book, Public Opinion

Press should be part of a system of checks and balancesThis is “the original dogma of democracy” Not working – press is too weak

Media and historical change Authoritative (censored) Partisan (political parties) Commercial (often sensationalistic) Organized intelligence (future development)


Other social historians

Upton Sinclair -- The Jungle, The Brass Check, Muckraker, press critic 1900s – 1930s

A. J. Liebling -- New Yorker media critic 1940s

I. F. Stone, also George Seldes Independent editors and press critics 1950s – 70s Ben


1970s – 90s

Media Monopoly, press concentration

Neil Postman -- 1980s - 90s

Amusing Ourselves to Death


Critical media theory

Sociologists -- Max Weber and Michael Schudson

Ideational model helps observe the clash of ideas around social reform Communications theorists -- Michel Foucault Discourse analysis to understand the information content and structure of mainstream cultural products and “subjugated

knowledges.”Critical theorists Frankfurt School -- Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin and



Conflict of classes / Marxist analysis

Mass media is structured to subvert identity and assimilate individuality into the dominant culture

Noam Chomsky “libertarian socialist

propaganda model – media supports ruling elites.


Four media revolutions

Printing Moveable type – 1455 Associated with religious revolution 1500s – 1700s

Industrial scale printing Associated with political revolutions 1700s – now Imaging

Engraving, photography and cinema Ads and PR as image making Both associated with popularization of media Electronic – radio, TV, satellites

Associated with nationalization of media

Digital – computers, networks

Associated with emerging global culture


Media technology & history

To what extent is media technology at

the center of human history? Two theorists – Innis & McLuhan

Harold Innis (1894 – 1952) Empire and Communications Stressed balance between: Durable, time – binding media (including oral culture)

Flexible, space – binding media

Both needed for “empire building” but lack of balance led to loss of empires


Media technology & history

Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980)Technical change in media (the Tetrad)

What does a new media enhance, obsolete, retrieve, and reverse? Medium is the message

Deterministic view of media type as shaping the content of a message Hot and cool media “Hot” media immerses audience and allows less participation – cinema “Cool” media requires involvement and thought

-- printed media, possibly radio


Useful basic concepts

Determinism versus social construction Does the technology advance due to its own properties or do social, political and economic forces shape the technology?

Utopians versus Luddites Will a new technology improve things or make them worse? Technological fallacies

Predictions about future uses for technology that turn out to be off base


Next: the printing revolution


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