[Part of the Gauntlet, hence brief.]

I also, like Innis, can’t save anything to the file…

Précis: This is a borderline text that practices both proto-media-archaeology (or at least exhibits some of its concerns) and traditional media history. What’s proto-MA? Marvin’s concern with demolishing the category of the “new” and her focus on what seems the least important to a field of study (in her case, the electric light and the telephone over other inventions). There’s also, perversely, a touch of Kitterlian reduction at play when she declares the twentieth century’s electric communications network as simply “elaborations on the telegraph” (3).

In brief, this is a work of historical reconsideration, an attempt to “push back those beginnings [of electric media] to the late nineteenth-century,” where “new electric media were sources of endless fascination and fear, and provided constant fodder for social experimentation” (4). This is the social focus of her work—rather than address the instrument (here read shades of a pushback against apparatus theory in cinema rather than MA as such), Marvin asks us to interrogate how electric media became sites of play, use, and anxiety in the social sphere.

The “I argue” sentence: “The present study . . . argues that the early history of electric media is less the evolution of technical efficiencies in communication than a series of arenas for negotiating issues crucial to the conduct of social life; among them, who is inside and outside, who may speak, who may not, and who has authority and may be believed” (4). In this regard, we can link Marvin’s work to those concerned with political speech and governmentality, incl. Appadurai and Chun.

Compare w/ Gitelman. It’s a little misleading to have put this under the “media archaeology” list, as its method, while sensitive to instrumentation, more directly attends to sociological and cultural dramas.

The original stance of pre-archaeological media history: “Media are not fixed natural objects; they have no natural edges. They are constructed complexes of habits, beliefs, and procedures embedded in elaborate cultural codes of communication. The history of media is never more or less than the history of their uses, which always lead us away from them to the social practices and conflicts they illuminate” (8). Media archaeology attempts (over-corrects?) a return to the object.

Really, this book is incorrectly listed. It might fit a bit better in the “Technology, Culture, and Communications” list. Still, it’s worth including here for two reasons: 1) it points to a moment in media studies where the move from hardware to social formations needed the happen, which serves as context for our own return (and discarding) of a return to objects, and 2) how it typifies what we can call the Anglophone model of media criticism, which has its roots in a mid-century…

Three key dimensions of the “world of electrical imagination”:

  • “Electrical discourse shaped itself first to the human body”
  • “the immediate community”
  • “the unfamiliar community”