Graduate Seminar: New Media Interfaces and Infrastructures

Photo Credit: “the infrastructure” by haribote

Recently, I mentioned to some folks on twitter that I was putting together a graduate seminar for next semester, and those same folks seemed interested in a bit of crowdsourced syllabus design.

So, I’m posting a draft of a brief course description along with a list of possible readings.  If you’re interested, please drop me a comment and let me know what you think. I’m open to suggestions.

New Media Interfaces and Infrastructures

Recent New Media scholarship is pushing beyond the study of texts online and attempting to study the systems, infrastructures, codes, and platforms that produce those texts. By examining and tinkering with the interfaces and infrastructures of new media, scholars across various disciplines and subdisciplines are looking to develop new rhetorics for new media and new research methods. In this course, we will examine and enter this conversation about new media’s interfaces and infrastructures. The class will share reading notes and the results of their research in a wiki-based “Interfaces and Infrastructures” research database. Students will also write a conference paper, geared toward a particular conference.

Final projects for this course could take many forms. A few examples (this list is not exhaustive): a traditional seminar paper, a grant proposal, a dissertation prospectus draft, the design of a new media interface or infrastructure. Students will work with the professor to develop a project that can aid in the student’s career trajectory.

Possible Readings

Lanham, The Electronic Word (selections)
Manovich, The Language of New Media
Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
Ulmer, Heuretics (not sure if this fits…but would love to include it)
Ronell, Part I of the UberReader, “The Call of Technology”
Bolter and Grusin, Remediation
Hayles, My Mother Was a Computer

Rhetoric and Composition
Welch, Electric Rhetoric
Rice, The Rhetoric of Cool
Brooke, Lingua Fracta
Reid, The Two Virtuals

Platform Studies/Software Studies
Bogost and Montfort, Racing the Beam
Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms
Wardrip-Fruin, Expressive Processing
Harpold, Ex-Foliations

Other possibilities: Banks’ Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground, Matthew Fuller’s Media Ecologies, Mark Hansen’s Bodies in Code, Thierry Bardini’s Bootstrapping, Alexander Galloway’s The Exploit, Siegfried Zielinski’s Deep Time of the Media, McLuhan (and many more…)

Note: I am considering pairing each text with a primary source. For instance, Harpold discusses Ted Nelson and Vannevar Bush, and I could pair their writings with Harpold’s.


  1. Posted October 16, 2009 at 7:18 pm | #

    Looks pretty sweet, JB. Hope you don’t mind if I sit in once or twice?

  2. Posted October 16, 2009 at 9:57 pm | #

    Yep, I’d love to have you. Once the syllabus is put together, you can pick which texts you want to read/discuss with us.

  3. Posted October 17, 2009 at 11:44 am | #

    This sounds like a great seminar, Jim. I really like the idea of connecting theoretical pieces with primary sources like Nelson and Bush. Other possibilities: Tim Berners-Lee’s original draft of the HTML spec., or Apple’s early patent filings for the iPod (or the iMac). You could also look at some proposals for next-generation interfaces, like the Windows “Surface” table-top computer, or the recent video that’s been making the rounds this week. The theoretical pieces will be absolutely essential (this is a grad seminar, after all), but I think theoretical pieces can sometimes overlook or downplay the material realities of creating, patenting, marketing, and maintaining new interfaces and infrastructures. It would be great if students could spend some serious time investigating patents, W3C drafts, etc., to see what really went into creating the interfaces that we now take for granted.

    Oh, and don’t forget to spend a class period watching Minority Report. 🙂

  4. Posted October 17, 2009 at 5:09 pm | #

    Thanks for these ideas, Quinn. All of the examples you provide will be great examples for student projects. I’m hoping that many students will choose an interface (10gui, ipod, etc.) as an object of study. Though, I’m also hoping that folks will move beyond “reading” interfaces and think about how they might “design” them. Now, I recognize that these people will not be engineers, but this is why I think the grant proposal could be a great final project. I’d love to see students pair up with a designer/programmer and look into creating a new interface.

    As for materiality…my hope is that the texts I’m considering will show how important materiality is becoming in new media studies. Hayles’ work has shifted in this direction recently, and the Kirschenbaum book is a paradigmatic example of this.

    Thanks. This is great feedback.

    Oh, and I’ll do my best to work in Minority Report.

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