Courses I have taught over the past decade include...
"Digital Life" (Bennington College)
Digital technology is changing our understanding of what it means to be human, and rewriting our definitions of life, the body, love, death, and other concepts and embodied experiences. Through engaging contemporary narratives like The Circle and Black Mirror, we will explore the theory of technogenesis—the idea that humans have always coevolved with their tools. We will read key works in media studies to historically contextualize contemporary changes within a longer range of technological shifts, from the emergence of written alphabets to the invention of moveable type, from cave paintings to moving images. What effect have these media technologies had on human consciousness, cognition, sensation, and experience? How does digitization preserve or change the meaning of analog archives and objects? Now that scientists have managed to store digital images in strands of synthetic DNA, what is happening to the boundary between digital technology and what we might have previously called “life itself”?
“Race and Memory in American Literature and Film” (graduate course at "L'Orientale" in Naples, Italy)
In this course, we will analyze works of literature, film, and criticism that illuminate the ways that violence shapes the experience of race in the United States. Specifically, we will seek to understand how violence shapes individual and collective memories. On the one hand, violence produces memories that demand recollection, that cannot be forgotten. On the other hand, it can produce memories that are buried through repression, that are too painful to recall. According to James Baldwin, “the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” In this course, we will test Baldwin’s claim by analyzing how literary and cinematic works mediate this overlapping of past and present, of indelible trauma and collective forgetting.
"Hip Hop Archaeology"(Bennington College)
Hip hop music producers have long practiced “diggin’ in the crates”—a phrase that denotes searching through record collections to find material to sample. In this course, we will examine the material and technological history of hip hop culture, with particular attention to hip hop’s tendency to sample, remix, mash-up, and repurpose existing media artifacts to create new works or art. We will use a media archaeological approach to examine the precise material conditions that first gave rise to graffiti art, deejaying, rapping, and breakdancing, and to analyze hip hop songs, videos, and films. Hip hop archaeology is a critical and artistic practice that seeks to interpret the layers of significance embedded in the artifacts of hip hop culture. How does hip hop archaeology remix the past, the present, and the future? How do the historical, political, and cultural coding of hip hop artifacts change as they increasingly become part of institutional collections, from newly established hip hop archives at Cornell and Harvard to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture?
"American Icons" (The Ohio State University)
This course is an undergraduate introduction to the field of Comparative Ethnic and American Studies. We will focus our attention on selected key figures from the past and present of the United States. In this course, we will focus on how these figures function as icons—that is, as objects of identification, admiration, skepticism, and analysis. The significance of American icons derives not solely from their own internal qualities, but often from the qualities and ambitions that they have come to represent for others. Through a critical examination of their legacies, we will try to understand some of the variety of meanings that each of these figures has come to represent. In the process, we will ask questions about the relevance of the past for the present, the varieties of cultural representation, the impact that different forms of representation have on their content, and the coherence of American culture. Some guiding questions for the course include: What does it mean to call someone an icon? Why do we need icons? What do they do for us? How do icons produce meaning? How do systems of meaning produce icons? Why is it important to consider the function of icons with respect to American ideas about race, class, gender, age, and sexuality? Why is it important to investigate the intersections between various types of media, such as literature, film, music, and popular culture in the production of iconic figures?
"The Politics of Soul: Music, Emotion, Embodiment" (co-taught with Joe Alpar at Bennington College)
How do various musical traditions seek to carry listeners toward a realm of emotional feeling and even to mystical experience? From soul in American rhythm and blues, to tarab in Arab music, hüzün in Turkish music, saudade in Brazilian music, and duende in Spanish Flamenco, there are numerous concepts that describe transcendent musical performance. This course will examine various theories of affect, emotion, ritual, and embodiment to explore the ways that music can transport performers and listeners alike to altered states of consciousness. We will also study the role of media technology in these global practices, as sound recordings are employed in sample-based music to conjure collective memory and commodify nostalgia as well as produce specific emotional and political effects in their audiences.
"Digital Materiality" (Bennington College)
“The cloud” is not in the sky, but is comprised of thousands of securitized data centers and fiber optic networks that span continents. Undersea cables still carry nearly all internet traffic that travels across oceans. How can we critically analyze these massive systems that are often either invisible or too large to see all at once? This course will explore the materiality of digital media and their infrastructures. We will read key works in media history, media archaeology, and related fields to trace the life cycle of digital devices, from mineral extraction and industrial production to the carbon footprint of consumer usage and digital technology’s afterlife as e-waste. As we delve into the prehistories and possible futures of digital technology, we will also consider the work of designers, engineers, and artists who help us think creatively about digital media, whether from the perspective of deep-time, or in speculations on post-digital media and data.
"Race and Mediation" (Bennington College)
Media technologies, such as photography, were instrumental in establishing modern conceptions of race. But the reverse is also true—racial ideas deeply shaped our belief that media technologies have the ability to faithfully represent reality. In this advanced course, we will engage an exciting area of scholarship and artistic practice, located at the intersection of media archaeology, race theory, material culture, and visuality. We will pay particular attention to the co-emergence of modern conceptions of race and contemporary media technology. We will expand the category of “media” to include not only print, photography, and sound recording, but also taxidermy, arterial embalming, refrigeration, and digitization. How did race shape popular understandings of media technologies, and even substances, such as coal, gold, and cotton, in the 19th century? How does race continue to influence our conceptions of time-based media in the era of live-streamed violence and political protest? What role do racialized bodies now play in establishing the truth-value of digital media?
"Immortal Media" (Bennington College)
In this introductory course, we will analyze media preservation projects that attempt to create immortal media—artifacts that last beyond the end of the world. From the Depression to the digital age, preservationists have responded to the social, cultural, technological, and ecological crises of their moment by projecting fears about their own mortality onto media artifacts, then immortalizing them. The first permanent time capsules embodied the racial anxieties of the influential eugenics movement, aimed at preserving the purity of the white race. In this era of climate change, preservationists are turning to ancient technologies like etching to create permanent archives, launching small discs of analog images into outer space, including one attached to a telecommunications satellite, and another deposited on a comet that orbits between Mars and Jupiter. At the same time, artists such as Bill Morrison and Hiroshi Sugimoto use deteriorated and damaged materials to invite us to contemplate the beauty of decay, and question the perennial impulse to create media that never die.
"Inventing the Average American" (Miami University)
The concept of the “average American”--a single figure representing the entire nation--reflects many of the paradoxes at the heart of a diverse democracy. On the one hand, an American is anyone who is a citizen of the United States, regardless of their racial, gender, class, or religious identity. On the other hand, representations of the average American consistently take the form of a white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual male. In the early twentieth century, the concept of the average American emerged out of social scientific studies, statistical surveys, popular entertainment, and advertising imagery to become a powerful means of imagining a unified nation of diverse citizens with common interests, concerns, hopes, fears, and dreams. In this course, we will investigate the invention and persistence of the average American in national life. We will examine cultural histories, photography, documentaries, fiction and other American artifacts to engage with several questions: Why did the concept of the average American emerge so powerfully in the early 20th century? Why did Americans find him to be such an appealing and effective means through which to imagine themselves as a collective? How has the racial, gender, class, sexual, and religious identity of the average American changed over time, if at all? How did scholars, scientists, advertisers, and artists extend this concept to articulate their versions of the average or “typical” American woman, or even the average American city or town? How does the notion of the average American continue to shape how Americans see themselves and each other?