- Introduction from the Editor
Welcome to “Beyond Words,” a new section of Technology and Culture. This section explores audiovisual media related to the historical and cultural study of technology. Such materials include those that might be classified as academic scholarship, as well as those of a more popular, artistic, or pedagogical nature. “Beyond Words” proposes that feature documentaries, television programs, archival film collections, and interactive (webbased) media have the potential for particular kinds of innovation in the study of technology. This section examines media that is made explicitly as historical work, as well as contemporary and archival materials that are, as it were, fertile ground for future analysis.
New tools (rapidly evolving cameras, interfaces, applications, to name a few) become increasingly pervasive. A question is how best to put them to constructive scholarly use. We can all agree that there is no clear answer as of yet, but heated discussions about such topics as the meaning of “digital humanities,” and the likely fate of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) make clear that there is much to discuss and debate. With rapidly expanding sets of archival footage and other multimedia research material available online, it becomes possible for us to ask new kinds of questions as well as old questions in different ways. “Beyond Words” provides a forum for analysis of these new approaches, to determine when and why some forms work effectively for some materials, and when and why they do not.
The fields of the history of technology and of media studies are converging as scholars increasingly examine the representation of technology [End Page 477] in audiovisual media (fiction and nonfiction, industrial and pedagogical) as well as the nature of the technologies themselves. Meanwhile, scholars from many domains within the history of technology are themselves choosing to work “beyond words,” creatively fabricating new modes of historical storytelling in the process. As archival and contemporary media become more and more accessible online, and as production costs decline, audiovisual media can function not only as a subject of critical historical reflection but also as a language through which to communicate. Approached thoughtfully, then, archival media materials can play a key role in undergraduate and graduate teaching as well as popular and scholarly publication. There is an unprecedented opportunity to make new discoveries and connections, and to address familiar themes in novel ways.
“Beyond Words” launches with two thoughtful reviews about different media genres: a popular cable TV show in one case, an experimental art house documentary in the other. Dave Unger writes about the show MythBusters, continuously produced for the Discovery Channel since 2003 and broadcast internationally. Matthew Battles, meanwhile, analyzes Leviathan, an innovative documentary made by two visual anthropologists, about a commercial fishing ship off the coast of New England. Each production under review deploys a set of technologies specific to its own context of production and intended audience. Both reviewers examine their subject with a critical eye that discerns something about how we come to know technology, what it is, and how its forms evolve. For all their obvious and not so obvious differences, MythBusters and Leviathan simultaneously participate in and explore the nature of technology itself.
“Beyond Words” is a forum for the exchange of ideas and information, a place for reviews, reflection, and interdisciplinary conversation. Future issues will feature a range of work: interviews, memoir, and critical reflection as well as more traditionally conceived reviews. Reviews may be from a scholarly or a pedagogical perspective, a combination of the two, or another perspective entirely. I welcome your suggestions. With comments, proposals, or ideas, please email email@example.com, using the subject heading “Beyond Words.” [End Page 478]
Hanna Rose Shell is a historian of science and technology, a documentary filmmaker, and the Leo Marx Career Development Associate Professor of STS at MIT. Recent publications include Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography and the Media of Reconnaissance (2012), and “Cinéhistory and Experiments on Film” in the Journal of Visual Culture (2013). Her films include Locomotion in Water (2005), Secondhand Pepe (2007), Blind (2011), and Shoddy Aliens (2014). She is the editor of “Beyond Words,” and would like to thank Suzanne Moon...