Critical Making: Telegraph + Twitter

Swarthmore College, Spring 2015
Faculty of record: Rachel Sagner Buurma (English Literature)
Consulting faculty and staff: Andrew Ruether (ITS), Kevin Webb (Computer Science)

This half-credit group independent study in media archeology offers a practice-based inquiry into short forms of communication in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. We will think about the materialities of communication technology and message encoding – past and present – through a combination of collective building exercises and discussions of critical readings. We will draw on the work of John McVey, Richard Menke, and Beth Seltzer on the practices and cultures of telegraphic communication, Johanna Drucker and Lisa Gitelman on interface and media archeology, Lara Cohen and Laura Heffernan on amateur and professional print cultures, and Mark Sample and Matt Ratto on critical making and breaking  as we build a simple telegraph set and use Tworsekey to connect our telegraph key to Twitter.

In the process, we will study telegraphic languages and codes, engage with telegraph hobbyist communities, consider the cultural and social meanings of the telegraph and Twitter in their respective historical moments, and unearth connections between telegraphy, Twitter, and literature in the nineteenth- and twenty-first centuries. Drawing on the Spring 2015 TricoDH faculty-staff Critical Making seminar, we will also offer a brief conceptual overview of “critical making,” the idea that the hands-on creation of an object of study offers one path towards thinking about and theorizing it. We will be especially interested in constructing and thinking across the analog-digital divide. No experience required.


Dates (tentative): Friday 1-3 pm, Jan 23, Feb 6, 20, March 6, 20, April 3, 17
Available as a .5 credit or non-credit group independent study
contact rbuurma 1 at swarthmore dot edu to express interest

This group independent study has no requirements and is open to all interested students. An afterstudy of the Fall 2014 ENGL040: Victorian Literature and Victorian Informatics, it may be particularly useful for students who have recently taken or will be enrolled in classes related to media studies, digital culture, materiality, communication, literacy, history of technology, natural language processing, digital humanities, and nineteenth-century literature, culture, and history. For 2014-15 such courses may include but are not limited to ENGL050: Nineteenth-Century American Novels, ENGL111: Victorian Literature and Culture, HIST082: Networks, Simulations, Information: Cultural Histories of Digital Media, GMST111: German Media Culture, HIST005A: The United States to 1877, HIST007B: African American History, 1865 to Present, MUSI 022: 19th-Century European Music, PHIL 114: Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, RUSS 021: Dostoevsky (in Translation), CS21: Introduction to Computer Science, CS065: Natural Language Processing, EDUC 151: Literacy Research.

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