Browse Exhibits (30 total)

Transparent Walls: The Technology of Dissemination in Art Museum Collections

Clarence Kennedy photographed by friend and fellow photographer Ansel Adams

The still image has been paramount to human documentation since our earliest history. We have always relied on captures of the present to preserve it for posterity, and never more so than in the arena of art museums. Whether a physical painting hanging in a gallery or an extremely high definition image of Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Cypresses available online, still images allow for reflection, comparison, and dissemination. While these three concepts are vital to the mission of museums, it has only been through embracing new technologies that museums have been able to truly adhere to their goals of global access to collections. 

Still imagery has allowed museums around the world to slowly eliminate the barriers between their galleries and a global audience. From simple reproductions in the 19th and 20th centuries to virtual gallery tours in the 21st century, museums are now able to share information about the physical collection and scholastic content of their institutions to an ever-growing audience. Through still imagery, the art historical discipline even gained a legitimate foundation on which to ground continued scholarship and general education. The key stages of both specialist and leisurely consumption of art-related still imagery involves projection, print, color, and digitization—all of which have helped museums disseminate their collections farther, cheaper, and faster with a quality respectable to the fine art being shared. 

The System of Telling the Visual Story in Wartime America

Traditionally, the camera has been seen as a medium for capturing truth (Snyder 2014). There is merit to the saying, “The camera doesn’t lie,” as it records the scene in front of it. However, the truth of the photograph is complicated in a system that includes factors such as censorship and Photoshop. Since the American Civil War, photography has played a role in the war story by creating a visual narrative. These war pictures are presented to or hidden from an audience through modes of dissemination.

According to Melanie Mitchell, Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University, the study of complex systems is as follows:

…an interdisciplinary field of research that seeks to explain how large numbers of relatively simple entities organize themselves, without the benefit of any central controller, into a collective whole that creates patterns, uses information, and, in some cases, evolves and learns. The word complex comes from the Latin root plectere: to weave, entwine. In complex systems, many simple parts are irreducibly entwined, and the field of complexity is itself an entwining of many different fields. (Mitchell 2009)

The creation of the visual narrative of war is a complex system. As Raymond Williams writes in "From Medium to Social Practice," the medium, although important, is not autonomous (Williams 1977). The medium, in our case photography, depends on other components within a system to create a mediated representation of reality. The interplay between photographic technologies, modes of dissemination, and censorship from the Civil War to the current War on Terror shape the story presented to the American public. These components, and even smaller components within them, are inextricably linked and dependent on one another in the creation of the visual narrative of armed conflicts.

The following three entwined essays deal with the complexity of the visual war narrative through an intensive study of types of cameras, specific war photographs, and the means in which these photographs are presented to American civilians. Each essay stands alone, but can also be read in conjunction with each other as well as other modules within this website such as technologies, events, and visualization

Try Not to Smile and Say Cheese

These three interconnected essays, "Public Gaze," "Typification and Surveillance," and "Recognition," deal with the relationship between the image and the marginalized other. All three essays also evalute the roll that the image has had in constituting and perpetuating the notion of the Other. "Public Gaze" focuses on themes of spectatorship, space, and popularized images. "Typification and Surveillance" deals with the role images have in typifying, surveying, and, in turn, documenting marginalized individuals. "Recognition" deals with misrepresentation, lack of representation, and proper recognition of marginalized individuals in images.

The Historical-Mechanical Origins of Audio Fidelity

Since the explosion of recording technologies in the 19th and 20th century, the question of audio fidelity has been understood primarily as how closely a record reproduces its source. This is often framed in degrees, for example, “hi-fi” vs “lo-fi” stereos (fi = fidelity), or as a recent ad for JBL headphones puts it, in the ability to render ‘pure’ over ‘impure’ sound.

This experiential or “acousmatic” approach to understanding sound is highly problematic and ultimately untenable. The hierarchy that is in implicit in qualifiers like ‘pure’ or ‘true’ relies on a false dichotomy in which interpersonal “authentic” sound, is placed over and above decontextualized, supposedly inauthentic sound. Although highly profitable as a marketing strategy, it is a gross essentialism that is ultimately not born out by a close analysis of the material of sound itself (Sterne 2003)

The approach to audio fidelity for this project will focus on the historical-mechanical nature of sound reproduction, specifically as it is related to the recording process. By making fidelity a function of recording technologies, rather than of subjective user experience, we avoid the fruitless argument over ‘authenticity,’ as well as the controversy around the phenomenology of sound. That being said, there are some important caveats that deserve clarification before we move on. 

The Influence of the Technologies that Make Political Pamphlets

The purpose of the political pamphlet throughout United States' history has been in many ways dependent on the technologies that produced it. 

Citizen Journalism and Challenges in China

The cover story “Professor's Power" of the popular magazine Lifeweekin China

Citizen journalism, or participatory journalism, is the product of the digital age. The affordable and approachable internet and telecommunication technologies have turned the audience, passive recipients of information and news into publishers as the costs of communication and being a speaker were practically eliminated (Benkler 2006). These amateur producers play the roles of professional reporters, journalists, and columnists, create their own original contents, discuss social and political issues, forming a discourse that may differ from the mainstream news outlets. Citizen journalism is changing our understanding of who can produce news and the definition of news; on the other hand, it inherits many norms of traditional journalism like news freedom, truth, accuracy, and immediacy. Citizen journalism is not a utopia for participatory democracy; at least it faces many obstacles approaching the idealized world, especially in China where mass media is held by the government under surveillance of the state.

This project is designed to illustrate the development of citizen journalism and challenges it confronts in China, which include doubts on its professionalism, internet censorship and the commercialization and fragmentation of social media platforms. These challenges are interlaced with human forces, as well as material and technological factors that might be ignored. And we should also bear in mind that the organization of citizen journalism is of dynamics that deserves our continuous reflections on its outside environment and internal compositions.

Moving Images in American K-12 Education

A 1925 poem by schoolteacher Virginia Church titled “Antiquated” reads,

Mr. Edison says
That the radio will supplant the teacher.
Already one may learn languages by
            means of Victrola records.
The moving picture will visualize
What the radio fails to get across.
Teachers will be relegated to the backwoods,
With fire-horses,
And long-haired women;
Or, perhaps shown in museums.
Education will become a matter
Of pressing the button.
Perhaps I can get a position at the
            switchboard. (Cuban 5)

Despite the recent scholarly recognition of educational films as an important force in 20th-century film culture, the educational technology market remains historically under-researched. From magic lantern and stereopticon projections to the introduction of moving image film and analog video, up to contemporary classroom applications of streaming video, virtual reality, and other complex interactive computer software, audiovisual aids have played and continue to play an important role in the education of children in the United States.

The changing nature of screens and audiovisual materials in classrooms since 1859 has been complicated by conflicting interests—fears and concerns regarding the effect of screens on child development, the role of corporate interests, as well as teacher and student reaction to their use within the classroom. This project examines these forces, as well as the immense ability that moving images possess to convey ideological concerns, and how that has been wielded by various bodies in the United States over the years. By tracing the evolution of educational technology from the handheld wooden stereoscope to present-day VR education, this project asserts that despite technological changes, reactions to and practical use of audiovisual materials in schools has remained relatively constant in the United States for over a century.

A recent resurgence in archival interest surrounding educational film—both its production history and content—has led to increased scholarship surrounding this valuable material, including the 2012 book Learning With the Lights Off, as well as digitization and widespread access to materials from the Rick Prelinger Collection on the Internet Archive. Beyond strictly film, the Internet Archive has expanded its online access to the realms of digitized VHS collections and educational software, ensuring that these resources remain freely available to interested viewers.

Visualizing China - Telling the Visual Stories in the Age of Modern China

Famous Chinese Journalist with Leica Camera

People cannot go without photography when talking about Modern China. The photography, a visual technology invented merely a few years before in Europe, arrived in China together with colonial expansion (Wu 2016).

In Chinese Modern history, the development of photography always reflects the fate of the state. In each period, the photograph, the camera, the expression of people's face and the event behind the photo, is part of Chinese history. Meanwhile, the machine makes the photograph, camera, has a deep relationship with many Chinese celebrities, such as Empress Cixi, and the Madam of Mao.

The history of Chinese photography was also a history of Chinese modernization process. Each period in the history of Chinese photography makes the process of modernization. At first, people in China were not familiar with photography at all. Then, they studied photography skills and tried to produce their own camera. As a result, the success of the Chinese photography is also the success of Chinese modernization process. 

The following three articles deal with the complexity of the visual history narrative through an intensive study of types of cameras, specific events and the message in which these photographs are presented to Chinese people.

Evolution of Television Technology and Its Impact on Chinese Audiences


Television is one of those few inventions that have huge impacts on human society and it has changed people’s life profoundly. Television viewing has played an important role in transmitting information, shaping social environment, and changing human relationship. Since 1920s the development of television has evolved fast with various new technologies emerging and changing people’s experience in viewing television. The development of television has always been driven by both social and technical factors and will in return influence the society both culturally and technically. Therefore, when analyzing the development of television, technical, social, cultural factors should be taken into consideration.

This project is going to explore the television development in China by diving it into three phases. The first phase will focus on the experimenting phase when both technology and popularity of television was far behind compared with other countries. The second part will explore the blooming period of television development in China, during this phase, new technology continuously to emerge and great accessibility of television has been realized. The last part will discuss the latest individual-oriented development era when television viewing become more personalized. Since the development of television in China is greatly influenced by its political, economic, technical and cultural conditions, the analysis of it will be incorporated into the large narrative of China’s development story. Therefore, the three period is not only divided by technology development but also by socioeconomic conditions in China. In this way, this project will combine the physical development of technology with the soft power of cultural and social factors to illustrate how these two arena can influence each other in multiple ways.

How Technology and Social Events Innovate Advertising in China

Commercial advertisement, as an intermedium between commercial products and consumers, is a product of commodity trading. According to the American Heritage Dictionary (2000), advertising is "the activity of attracting public attention to a product or business, as by paid announcements in the print, broadcast, or electronic media." (Jef I, Curran, 2002) This definition indicates that advertising needs some medium to reach out to the audience and complete its mission of promotion. The way a medium interacts with the audience influences the way advertising functions. In addition to print, broadcast, and electronic media, business people around the world have applied many other creative mediums for advertising. The invention of new mediums innovated the way people approach advertising.


As a social activity, advertising is also influenced by certain social status quo. Different advertisements in different ages have been the mirrors of different social phenomena. People can always find some traces of a certain age from the cultural products produced at that time. In the case of China’s advertising development, political factors and social development phases are as significant as the development of technology.


This essay focuses on the Chinese commercial advertising produced in the mainland of People’s Republic of China since 1870. I will choose several technologies which changed the way people advertised and some dates which are important to the development of Chinese commercial advertising to reflect on how technology innovates advertising in China from 1870 to present. While discussing advertising at different ages, I discuss corresponding social phenomenon as important influencing factors. At last, I will argue that the introduction of new inventions and technologies such as printing, radio, transportation, and world wide web to China changed the way Chinese advertisers sold their products. Meanwhile, particular political movements and social ideologies influenced the way advertising functions.

The Media Track of Japanese Animated Films, 1907-Present

As a big fan of Japanese animated film director Hayao Miyazaki, this media track was originally like paying homage to one of the greatest artists in the world. Yet as my project has been progressing week by week, I see a bigger picture of anime. In addition to Miyazaki, contemporary directors such as Mamoru Oshii, Satoshi Kon have profound worldwide impact on both animation and live-action films; in addition to Ghibli, production companies such as Production I.G. and CoMix Wave Films provide us with excellent works of visual fantasy...And it's also worth emphasizing that animation filmmaking is definitely demanding teamwork to which numerous people varying from the screenplay writers to sound editors dedicate themselves. The world of anime is dazzling and keeping pace with technology development, cultural trends, social change...In my project I attempts to track the history of Japanese animated films from its humble start in 1907 till the current time (2018). I’ve been interested in Japanese culture since childhood and the book The Chrysanthemum and the sword (1946) by Ruth Benedict is one of my favorites in social science. The double-facet and contradictions of Japanese are puzzling and fascinating, as “the Japanese are, to the highest degree, both aggressive and unaggressive, both militaristic and aesthetic, both insolent and polite, rigid and adaptable, submissive and resentful of being pushed around, loyal and treacherous, brave and timid, conservative and hospitable to new ways” (Benedict 1946, 2). The myths of their personality and behavior allure me to further exploring through the possibly most powerful media -- films. By doing so we can get a glimpse of the mingling of anime technology, Japanese aesthetics and social norms from a vantage point, for film is a language “in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts” (Marie 2003, 31) in the narrative influenced or shaped by their cultural customs and institutions. 

Gitelman defines “media as socially realized structures of communication, where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practice, a ritualized collocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation” (Gitelamn 2006, 7). The history of Japanese animated films is not merely a trajectory of moving image media, but a dynamic map that embraces the breakthrough of technologies, change of world politics, social and cultural patterns. And if we compare what we see through this array of artworks and the credo revealed by Benedict seven decades ago, we could discover some ideas and customs passed from generation to generation and some already abandoned in today’s Japan. For example, Japanese, according to Benedict, always remember the “on”(恩)--the favor others do for them, and thus will try to “pay” it back. The movie The Cat Returns (2002) is about how a magic cat helps a girl who used to save his life. On the other hand, the faith and pursuit for order and hierarchy, the strong feelings for “shame”, argued by Benedict as the fundamental of Japanese culture, may look seriously outdated for the young Japanese. In popular anime the audience often see the protagonists strive for freedom and equality, the values rooted in Western societies and regarded as almost the opposite to oriental traditions.

The History of Mass Surveillance in the United States

In the process of mass surveillance, the state collects information on a subversive individual or group in order to protect itself from threat. The raw data of communications, biodata, locations, etc that the government intercepts is useless without robust systems of organization and analysis. Intelligence agencies must be able to determine what information is relevant, use data to generate profiles, and create archives that can be easily searched. Like a panopticon, the operative function of a mass surveillance network is the centralization of information. The greatest innovations in surveillance have been organizational systems and information technologies which index data across different agencies and different mediums.

The other major feature of surveillance is its purpose, namely the repression and control of an alien threat.  Intelligence collection is not a passive process, it is intertwined with espionage, or the infiltration and sabotage of enemies. The modern concept of mass surveillance was bred from British and American methods of controlling insurrections among colonized native populations. Imperial exercises which reinforced frameworks of racial hierarchy impacted the development of domestic policy. The permanent flow of military veterans into domestic law enforcement ensures the influence of military tactics and ideologies, which separate combat from civilian, safe from hostile, and friend from enemy.

Surveillance shares a history with the debunked racist science of eugenics. Whereas eugenics applies statistics to the question of racial difference, surveillance applies library science. Surveillance flattens suspicious people to an index of searchable profiles, making it easier to identify and control problem populations. Just as important as a surveillance system’s ability to cast a wide net is its ability to target individuals, groups, key words, behaviors, etc. Surveillance functions to demarcate one group from the rest of the population, labeling one to be protected, and one to be controlled. Whose homeland and whose security is being protected?

Plays Well With Others: Sharing Music 1840 - Present

What does it mean to share music? In the present day, music sharing has a very specific connotation: the wireless transfer of digital files that transport music to and from one computer to the next, connected by the Internet. However, human beings have been “sharing” music since music began. Music exists in a physical space—even an imaginary space, such as the Internet—and to hear music you are affected by the technology through which it is recorded, the media through which it is conveyed, and the architecture of where one listens. (Blesser and Salter, 133)

These spaces, physical or digital, and the technologies that bring music into them necessitate an audience, whether that audience is composed of thousands of strangers, a nuclear family, or a lone individual in front of a screen or walking through the street wearing headphones. Because we are always listening somewhere, we must consider music sharing not only as a digital medium but also as a fundamentally human experience, evolving slowly over time from inside cathedrals to bedrooms and everywhere in between. Music requires a performer and an audience, regardless of whether or not those entities exist in the same space at the same time. (Blesser and Salter, 130)

“From one perspective, musical space is a physical environment—a concrete reality, a place where listeners and performers congregate, such as a concert hall. From another perspective, space is an ill-defined abstraction that relates only to our perception of spaciality, which also exists in the imaginary spaces created by computers,” and so, to assess the history of how we share music, we must look to the public, private, and individual spaces and technologies in which and through which we share music. (Blesser and Salter, 129) To exist in space, physical or digital, listening to music, we implicitly share the experience of that music. We can retroactively fit the 21st century term “music sharing” to the history of musical spaciality to begin to understand the evolution of this collective experience.

The Still Image's Effect on Collective Conscience

In its infancy, photography, like any new technology, was rudimentary, misunderstood, and somewhat of an elitist pursuit. The first photographs didn’t have widespread, rhetorical power because it was a new tool and not easily accessible. Over time, the world learned to trust the new phenomenon as undeniable truth and a means to capture what words or art endeavors could not. Once people began to understand it and use it as a tool against deceit, it did have powerful impacts on positive sociocultural and political realities. Nevertheless, culture eventually became oversaturated with photographs due to ever-advancing technology that stripped it of its “authoritarian” position, and nowadays photography can no longer be considered a dependable tool for change the way it has been used in the past. With that being said, I can visualize an “arc” of sorts over the history of cameras and photography—a rising action of establishment in cultural climate; a climax of profoundness; and, ultimately, a rapid period during which photographs dwindled into overly common, politically non-influential, ordinary part of culture. In other words, photographs have been stripped of their rhetorical power and hold no more sway than any other form of communciation.

The Materiality of Information

Library of Congress Card Division 1919 LoC-Chroncicle Books.jpg

In this project, I explore how innovations in paper, electricity and automation, and digital technologies spurred moments of information overload, forcing public libraries to reshape their physical space and librarians to redefine their roles. Coined by social scientist Bertram Gross in 1964, information overload “occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity” (Gross). In the context of this paper, “input” can be defined as information and/or data collected and processed by the “system” of a public library. For example, the “input” into the “system” of a Western medieval library would have been limited to a handful of hand-copied religious texts. After the invention of the printing press and movable type in the 16th century however, the exponential “input” of printed material into the burgeoning “systems” of public libraries sparked the need for new methods of classification, storage, and retrieval of resources. 

With each technological turn, both the growth in quantity and shifting formats of information “inputs” -- from printed books discovered through a card catalog, to downloading a dataset discovered through a Google search -- changed the public library “system” physically as well as changed the function of librarians. Paper tools like index cards and the card catalog drove the standardization of physical spaces in public libraries, and defined the role of librarians as architects of information. Innovations in electricity and automation liberated space in the library, as computer terminals replaced the behemoth card catalogs. New methods of searching and storing information changed the role of the librarian from information architect to information wayfinder, as librarians trained users to search in a new way for the first time in a century. 

Digital technologies and the birth of the internet gave rise to powerful search engines, more users accessing that information on their own devices, and more public spaces providing access with free Wifi. Once again, public libraries have altered their physical spaces to accommodate the changing relationship between patron and structure, as more seating and study spaces replace the computer labs of yore. In addition to wayfinding support, public librarians are now faced with the challenge of training users in information literacy. Because of an overload of information available online, librarians are now being called upon to educate searchers in the difference between “fake news” and real journalism, aggregated content sites and scholarly work, and the difference between a top search result from Google and a top search result from an academic database. 

The technological reactions to information overload have led to a crisis of identity in public libraries. In today’s information society, there is a pervasive and dangerous misconception that in a world with seemingly unfettered access to seemingly infinite information, where nearly  4.5 million Google searches are conducted every minute (DOMO), there is no longer a need for the physical space of public libraries or the information expertise of librarians. In a now infamous 2018 Forbes op-ed (since deleted thanks to outrage from librarians and public library users alike, but still available here via the American Library Association (ALA)), writer Panos Mourdoukoutas argues that “Amazon...can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock” (Mourdoukoutas 1). Mourdoukoutas argues that the historic value of a public library, which he defines narrowly as physical book lending, a “comfortable” place to read, and a place to hold community events, are now defunct as other entities can fulfill these needs without costing taxpayers anything. He suggests Amazon bookstores can provide the physical and e-books any reader could want, the internet and search engines can field any queries, that Starbucks can provide a comfortable place to read and work with free wifi, and that “there’s no shortage of places to hold community events.” (Mourdoukoutas 1). 

Though it makes a library student roll their eyes and feel queasy at the same time, Mourdoukatas’ piece starkly illustrates one of the greatest challenges facing public libraries today: the misconception between what people believe to be the function of a public library, and the reality of what a vital role public libraries, theoretically and in practice, play in a democratic society. In this paper, I argue that librarians and public libraries have had to redefine themselves as physical spaces and information experts with each new technological era. Information overload is at the heart of this disconnect between the reality and perception of public libraries. 

Destination Freedom: A History of Radio from Minstrelsy to Podcasting


The hum of the radio is an invisible undercurrent of the last century, wielded by systems of power and factions of resistance alike. It is equal parts technological innovation, monopoly capitalism, ideological mouthpiece, leisure entertainment, revolution and status quo. Though the technology has significantly shifted over a century of wireless broadcasting, the radio and its digital brethren can be interpreted as an invisible index for racial identity throughout the modern and postmodern eras, from the refrain of the minstrel tradition in shows like Amos n’ Andy to the deconstruction of racial ideology on shows like Code Switch.

In the following project, I will outline a historical narrative tracking the technological development of radio broadcasting alongside the history of public images of Blackness in American society. The narrative will be broken up into three parts: (1) beginning with a century of minstrelsy that starts with T.D. Rice’s “Jump Jim Crow” in 1828 and is bookended with the 1928 debut of the most popular radio show of all time, Amos n’ Andy; (2) then tracing the technological development of radio, the colorblind liberalism of network broadcasting and the significance of Black-oriented radio in relation to the Civil Rights Movement; (3) and finally ending with a look at the impacts of digital technology on radio and its political implications. The timeline and visualization below serve as a visual key to the following narrative. Though the technology has significantly shifted over a century of wireless broadcasting, the radio and its digital brethren can be interpreted as an invisible index for racial identity throughout the modern and postmodern eras, from the refrain of the minstrel tradition in shows like Amos n’ Andy to the deconstruction of racial ideology on shows like Code Switch.