I almost didn’t ask my editor if it would be possible to have Technologies of History published under a Creative Commons license. With many academic presses struggling economically and so much disinformation equating open publishing with communism or piracy (or both), such a request seemed ridiculously unlikely to be granted. To my surprise, the response of my editor at UPNE was curious and welcoming; he had heard of Creative Commons and knew that, although this book is about media and history, I am also deeply invested in issues of copyright and fair use. I wrote up an informal proposal, explaining that Creative Commons licensing did not mean giving the book away for free to everyone with an internet connection and why I believed it would ultimately help us to craft a more effective online marketing strategy. With the help of a former student who now works at Creative Commons, I also compiled a list of other academic presses and publications that have used CC licenses recently. He promised to run it by the suits and the law-talking guys at the press and, to my surprise, with just a few additional clarifications and reassurances (e.g., that the press could still collect royalties for parts of the book that might be republished in course readers, etc.), everyone was on board. Interestingly, initiating this conversation with my editor also sparked a discussion of ways to use CC licensing to reactivate older titles in their list that have stopped selling and, perhaps most importantly, it has made me feel even more invested as a partner in the marketing of the book, since I don’t need to feel like a total sellout for allowing a standard copyright notice to go in the front.
Although the book is not due out on shelves until the spring, I recently received a proof of the cover image for my forthcoming book Technologies of History that is too good not to share. Although academic presses have been known to be less than inventive with the design of book covers, the University Press of New England totally came through on this one. The real thanks go to Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad, the creators of The Cat and the Coup, from which the cover image is drawn. The striking visual style of the game comes from the Persian miniatures that Kurosh painstakingly created as a backdrop for the game, in which you play as the cat of Mohammad Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran who was overthrown by a CIA sponsored coup. As it happened, I was just completing the final draft of the book as Peter and Kurosh were finishing the game last spring. I was amazed by how perfectly The Cat and the Coup resonated with the book’s focus on eccentric historiography and wound up using it as one of the centerpiece projects in my chapter on digital histories.
I have just completed the page proofs and indexing of my book Technologies of History, the final stages in a long and not entirely unpleasant process. Against the advice of my publisher, I created the index myself rather than hire a professional who is experienced and competent in such matters. Although this decision was initially driven by simple aversion to paying money for the service, I quickly recognized the process of indexing as coextensive with the creative and scholarly work in the digital realm that I have been focused on for most of the past decade. Specifically (obviously, now that I think about it), the process of indexing combines two of my core pleasures: interface design and remix. The index itself is, of course, an alternative interface, offering multiple points of entry and the possibility of non-linear navigation of the book’s contents. At the same time, it is a creative reinterpretation and visualization of the themes, people and works under discussion. Whereas pouring the book’s complete contents into the Wordle visualization engine brings mostly painful revelations (Am I really that obsessed with the JFK assassination? Should I try to find another word for “although”?), the distillation of the text according to concepts, sub-heads and page ranges suggests insights into my own writing patterns: seemingly fewer sustained discussions of complex ideas and primary texts than I would like; less precise parsing of terms such as “memory” than intended, etc.
On the other hand, I feel encouraged that the project has somehow never seemed boring or tedious, even as its arguments have grown overly familiar. Ironically, now that the book has finally been committed to its ultimate, linear form, I want nothing more than to subject it to the kind of dissection and recombination that is only possible via a fully digital, interactive database-driven platform (the kind of transformation to which Vectors has been devoted for the past six years). Is it any accident that the index, which is arguably the most “writerly” and hence most threatening aspect of text-based scholarship, should be politely relegated by academic convention to both the final stages of composition and the most extreme margins of the published book? For my next book, I will generate the index first and compel the written words and everything else to fall in line behind it.
Mark Williams organized this panel titled “Realizing Scalar Capacities To Transform Media Archives” with Erik Loyer, Craig Dietrich and myself, which was to be our first public debut of our work on Scalar for the Reimagining the Archive conference at UCLA on November 13, 2010. Unfortunately, Mark was unable to attend but was ably replaced by Jackson Stakeman, who stole the show with an improvised VJ set using sampled video sequences from his project about Walter White, incubated during the NEH funded Broadening the Digital Humanities seminar at USC last summer. You can download my presentation from the conference site as a PDF here; Erik’s slides are here.
Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles (1945–1980) is an extraordinarily ambitious three-day (Fri. Nov. 11-Sun. Nov. 13) symposium that focuses on the community of filmmakers, artists, curators and programmers who contributed to the creation and presentation of experimental cinema in Southern California. Co-organized and curated by Critical Studies professor David James, the event draws inspiration from his book The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles, and includes screenings of numerous rarely-seen films, videos, installations and performances right here at USC.
Of particular interest for the IMD community is the Single Wing Turquoise Bird Light Show on Saturday night (8-10PM) in Norris Theater and the Sunday afternoon (3-6PM) panel and screenings by members of the Oasis film collective that includes Morgan Fisher, Roberta Friedman, Amy Halpern, Tom Leeser, Beverly O’Neill, Pat O’Neill, Grahame Weinbren, and David Wilson; as well as the installation in the SCA Gallery of Side Phase Drift, a 1965 abstract three-screen performance projection piece by John Whitney Jr., in which each frame was composed of sets of images that were manipulated in form, color, superimposition and time.
Complete schedule is here.