In an essay from 1993, Brian Eno, the musician and inventor of the term ‘ambient music’, wrote, ‘Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences’. It is a sentiment that Tom Abba (University West of England), who presented his work as part of the Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research seminar series, would surely agree with. (more…)
It is these parallels, then, between the past and the present (as outlined in the first part of this piece) that help us to appreciate that there is nothing particularly ‘new’ about new media as all media were once new. As Carolyn Marvin observes:
New technologies is a historically relative term. We are not the first generation to wonder at the rapid and extraordinary shifts in the dimension of the world and the human relationships it contains as a result of new forms of communication, or to be surprised by the changes those shifts occasion in the regular pattern of our lives.
Marvin limits her study to electric communications, beginning with the invention of the telegraph, which she sees as the starting point of modern mass media and culture. But, perhaps mass media began in the Victorian period with the illustrated book and illustrated periodicals such as the ILN and the Graphic. This is the argument that Patricia Anderson puts forward in her book The Printed Image and the Transformation of Popular Culture1790–1860, where she asserts that advances in printing technology and its ‘associated imagery’ brought about the ‘beginnings of a modern mass culture’ in the Victorian era. Furthermore, she goes on to write that ‘the concept of “mass” carries with it a historical perception of unprecedentedness’ and during that period ‘there was among both the producers and consumers of the emerging culture a shared consciousness that they were participating in a fundamental and far reaching change in the structure of knowledge and communication.’ This sense of ‘unprecedentedness’ is being echoed today, throughout wider culture and, significantly, within academia as a consequence of the digital and its potential impact on research. As the authors of Digtial_Humanities observe, ‘we see this moment as marking a fundamental shift in the perception of the core creative activities of being human, in which the values and knowledge of the humanities are seen as crucial for shaping every domain of culture and society.’
Developed around the late 1780s by Thomas Bewick, wood engraving allowed artists to create images with a high level of sophistication that could be reproduced easily and cheaply. Because the wood used to engrave the images was usually boxwood it was very durable and the wood blocks could be set alongside type in the printing press which allowed for word and image to be combined on a single page. As Brian Maidment notes, ‘Wood engraving vastly extended the possibility of integrating text and image into the same printed page using cheap and technically simple methods.’ Wood engraving, combined with more efficient printing techniques, meant that the literature business was transformed into a mass-produced commercial industry and, for the first time, illustrated books became affordable to working and middle class families.
Pip at the Fingerpost: Nineteenth-Century Urban Conflict and the Regional Reception of Great Expectations
Mary Hammond, Tuesday 12 Apr 2016, CEIR Seminar Series
In The Country and the City (1973) Raymond Williams examines how rural and urban life has been depicted in English literature since the sixteenth century. Arriving at Cambridge University as an undergraduate from his hometown in the Welsh Black Mountains, Williams discovered that the way rural life (a life he knew very well) was represented in literature was nothing like the reality. In fact, Williams argued that rural life, as portrayed in the literary canon, was a construction that served the social order of the times. The country was Edenic, whilst the city was a thriving metropolis of capitalist production.
Dr Mary Hammond
It is a binary that Dr Mary Hammond (University of Southampton) unpicked (or, at least reduced), in her recent paper at the Centre. Taking a highly nuanced approach, Mary used Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861) as a lens to think about cultural change during the novel’s initial reception context. Arguing that Victorianists often only refer to London-based media to understand a text’s immediate historical significance, Mary suggested that we begin to interrogate the rural press, as well, to enhance our understanding of how the novel signified to different audiences. Great Expectations is the perfect text to explore these reactions as the pivotal moment in the novel is when Pip leaves the Kent countryside of his childhood for London in order to become a Gentleman. (more…)
In As You like It Shakespeare famously informed his audience at The Globe that ‘All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players’. Meanwhile, four hundred years later in her book My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts, N. Katherine Hayles points out that ‘computers are no longer merely tools (if they ever were) but are complex systems that increasingly produce the conditions, ideologies, assumptions and practices that help to constitute what we call reality’. If Shakespeare’s audience could understand themselves as theatrical subjects (as surely they must have done for those famous lines to resonate) it is because the Renaissance stage itself provided, like the digital today, those very ‘conditions, ideologies, assumptions and practices’ that Hayles argues help to constitute reality. In short, Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights did not just reflect the anxieties and desires of Elizabethan England, but they very actively helped to construct and shape them. In another four hundred years, what will humanists study to make sense of our present period? The digital stage of the world wide web of course, because, like Shakespeare’s stage, the web is the example par excellance of what Stephen Greenblatt (in reference to Renaissance theatre) calls the ‘cultural circulation of social energy’.(more…)