Memory Bytes

History, Technology, and Digital Culture

Memory Bytes

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 7 b&w photos Published: January 2004

Media Studies > Communication, Digital Media, Science and Technology Studies > History of Technology

Digital culture is often characterized as radically breaking with past technologies, practices, and ideologies rather than as reflecting or incorporating them. Memory Bytes seeks to counter such ahistoricism, arguing for the need to understand digital culture—and its social, political, and ethical ramifications—in historical and philosophical context. Looking at a broad range of technologies, including photography, print and digital media, heat engines, stereographs, and medical imaging, the contributors present a number of different perspectives from which to reflect on the nature of media change. While foregrounding the challenges of drawing comparisons across varied media and eras, Memory Bytes explores how technologies have been integrated into society at different moments in time.

These essays from scholars in the social sciences and humanities cover topics related to science and medicine, politics and war, mass communication, philosophy, film, photography, and art. Whether describing how the cultural and legal conflicts over player piano rolls prefigured controversies over the intellectual property status of digital technologies such as mp3 files; comparing the experiences of watching QuickTime movies to Joseph Cornell’s “boxed relic” sculptures of the 1930s and 1940s; or calling for a critical history of electricity from the Enlightenment to the present, Memory Bytes investigates the interplay of technology and culture. It relates the Information Age to larger and older political and cultural phenomena, analyzes how sensory effects have been technologically produced over time, considers how human subjectivity has been shaped by machines, and emphasizes the dependence of particular technologies on the material circumstances within which they were developed and used.

Contributors. Judith Babbitts, Scott Curtis, Ronald E. Day, David Depew, Abraham Geil, Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, Lisa Gitelman, N. Katherine Hayles, John Durham Peters, Lauren Rabinovitz, Laura Rigal, Vivian Sobchack, Thomas Swiss


"[A] significant resource for classroom instruction. . . . It is . . . an important resource for assisting students in understanding where technology comes from and what this heritage might mean for the present." — David J. Gunkel, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator

"[A] welcome addition to the literature on the study of technology and digital culture. It covers a wide range of disciplines; there is probably something for everyone in this collection. . . . [E]xcellent and insightful. . . . [T]he book is extremely well written and edited, with an easy-to-read style. . . . It does not make the same assumptions of many other books, namely it does not assume that everything new in our digital world really is new. The book grounds technology in historical and social circumstances, and it uses unique case studies that are intriguing and insightful." — Duncan Koerber, H-Net Reviews

"[A]n excellent book. . . . In their reflections on the past, these scholars bring a clearer sense to the present, and provide a needed cure to the technological amnesia that persists in studies about cyberculture." — Steven D. Krause, Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies

"[T]he contributions are intriguing and well researched. . . . [A] thoroughly satisfying read. . . . [S]timulating." — Ingrid Mason, Ariadne

“Anyone who teaches courses in digital culture or media studies knows how difficult it is to find scholarly essays on new media that consider these developments in relation to social and technological precedents. Memory Bytes fills this gap.” — Brian Goldfarb, author of Visual Pedagogy: Media Cultures in and beyond the Classroom

“Memory Bytes is an important contribution to the growing body of scholarship taking the current moment of media change as an incitement to re-examine earlier moments in media history. The range of media, historical periods, and disciplinary perspectives is spectacular, representing interdisciplinary collaboration and conversation at its very best.” — Henry Jenkins, coeditor of Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lauren Rabinovitz is Professor of American Studies and Cinema at the University of Iowa. She is the author of For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies, and Culture in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago and Points of Resistance: Women, Power, and Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema, 1943–1971 and coeditor of Television, History, and American Culture: Feminist Critical Essays, also published by Duke University Press.

Abraham Geil is an instructor in media history at the New School University in New York City.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Lauren Rabinovitz and Abraham Geil 1

Part I. Intellectual Histories of the Information Age

Imperial Attractions: Benjamin Franklin's New Experiments of 1751 / Laura Rigal 23

From Heat Engines to Digital Printouts: Machine Models of the Body from the Victorian Era to the Human Genome Project / David DePew 47

The Erasure and Construction of History for the Information Age: Positivism and Its Critics / Ronald E. Day 76

Part II. Visual Culture, Subjectivity, and the Education of the Senses

More than the Movies: A History of Somatic Visual Culture through Hale's Tours, IMAX, and Motion Simulation Rides / Lauren Rabinovitz 99

Stereographs and the Construction of a Visual Culture in the United States / Judith Babbitts 126

The Convergence of the Pentagon and Hollywood: The Next Generation of Military Training Simulations / Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi 150

Part III. Materiality, Time, and the Reproduction of Sound and Motion

Helmholtz, Edison, and Sound History / John Durham Peters 177

Media, Materiality, and the Measure of the Digital; or, The Case of Sheet Music and the Problem of Piano Rolls / Lisa Gitelman 199

Still/Moving: Digital Imaging and Medical Hermeneutics / Scott Curtis 218

Part IV. Digital Aesthetics, Social Texts, and Art Objects

Bodies of Texts, Bodies of Subjects: Metaphoric Networks in New Media / N. Katherine Hayles 257

Electronic Literature: Discourses, Communities, Traditions / Thomas Swiss 283

Nostalgia for a Digital Object: Regrets on the Quickening of QuickTime / Vivian Sobchack 305

Selected Bibliography 331

Contributors 335

Index 339
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3241-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3228-2
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