Mitchell Stephens

New York University, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication

Spring 2000

Man is a tool-using Animal. Weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half-square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; he kneads glowing iron, as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all.

-- Thomas Carlyle, 1831


I. Misuses and uses of new media, new tools

II. Fears of and hopes for new media

III. The effects of new media

a. On thought

b. On social patterns

c. On politics

d. On news

IV. The limitations of forms of communication

"The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet....A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky....His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber...."

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1839

1. LANGUAGE. The beginning, the history of language, oral culture, spoken news.

Readings: Jan. 25, Plato's Gorgias: pp. 19-48 [theme II]. Jan. 27, Ong, Orality and Literacy: 3 [IIIa, IV]; The Iliad: 19 & 20 [IIIa, IV-example]. Feb. 1, Stephens: Part I [IIId].

Possible in-class essay: Feb. 1.

2. IMAGES. Cave paintings, Biblical injunctions, "the murderous capacity of images," a picture's worth.

Readings: Feb. 3, Exodus: 19, 20, 32 [II, IIIa]; Plato's Republic: X, pp 459-67 [II]. Feb. 8, Baudrillard, "The Precession of Simulacra: pp. 254-7 [II, IIIa].

Possible in-class essay: Feb. 10.

3. WRITING. Logographic writing, the alphabet, the effects of literacy, lists and abstract thought, news and empire, the absence of presence.

Readings: Feb. 15, Plato's Phaedrus: 67-71 [II, IV]. Oct. 6, Aristotle's Rhetoric, Book I, chapter 5 [IIIa-example]; Innis, "Media in Ancient Empires" [IIIa,c]. Feb. 22, Stephens: part II.

Possible in-class essay: Feb. 22.

4. PRINT. China, movable type, the Reformation, imitation, science, newsbooks, broadsides and ballads, faits divers, crime, sensationalism, moralizing, news and reality, early books, Cicero, Pope, the logic of print, linearity, novels, newspapers, periodicity, revolutions.

Readings: Feb. 29, George Colman, Polly Honeycombe: Prologue [II]; Addison, The Spectator: No. 582 [II]; "Newspaperism," Lippincott's Monthly Magazine [II]. March 2, McLuhan, Understanding Media: 18/The Printed Word [I, IIIa,b,c, IV]; Henry James, Brooksmith [IIIa,b, IV-example]. March 7, Stephens: part III; Beattie, A Very Short Story [IIIa,d, IV]. March 9, Stephens: part IV [IIIa,c,d, IV].

Possible in-class essay: March 9.

5. PHOTOGRAPHY and FILM. Niepce, Daguerre, the pencil of nature,

Muybridge, the instant, dignity, integrity and character, grace and beauty, "canned theater," what moves in moving pictures, Griffith, the close-up, parallel editing, montage, Eisenstein, Hollywood, moving images and novels.

Readings: March 23, Sontag, On Photography: pp. 3-17 [IIIa, IV]. March 21, Bazin, "The Evolution of the Language of Cinema": pp. 155-61 [I]; Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Alexandrov, "A Statement (on Sound)" [I, IIIa].

Possible in-class essay: March 28.

6. TELEGRAPH and RADIO. Morse, reporting, the speed of news, the Civil War, the speed of life, Marconi, Edison, the age of invention, misunderstanding radio.

Readings: April 4, Czitrom, Media and the American Mind: 1 & 3 [I, II]; Stephens: part V, 267-75 [II, IIIc,d].

Possible in-class essay: April 4.

7. TELEVISION. Farnsworth, the first era of video, the "golden age," the 1960s, Vietnam, couch potatoes, the limitations of broadcast television, the second television revolution, satellites, cable, the remote, the suburbs, violence, pornography, homogenization, the death of reading, civic life, social life, MTV, commercials and the "new video."

Readings: April 11, Kosinski [II, IIIa,c]; Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: 17-31 [II, IIIa, IV]. April 13, Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" [II, IIIa,b]. April 20, Kundera [IIIa-example, IV]. April 20, Stephens: 275-89 [IIIb,c,d].

Possible in-class essay: April 20.

8. COMPUTERS. The Internet, the Web, "Data Smog," the age of sufficient information.

Readings: April 27, Shenk, Data Smog: 1 & 3 [II, IIIa,b, IV]; Stephens: chap. 16 [IIIa,b,c,d]



Stephens, A History of News.

Kosinski, Being There.

Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

OTHER READINGS: Will be placed on reserve in Bobst Library.

FACT SEARCH: Each student will be expected to answer one obscure question raised during class. Grade: check or zero. No late assignments will be accepted. A few alternatives to this fact assignment MAY be offered in class.

IN-CLASS ESSAYS: On some, but not all, of the seven dates listed in the schedule, a very short writing assignment will be given at the beginning of class. This assignment will be closed book and closed notes and will be designed to determine who has thought about recent readings and class discussions. No make-ups will be allowed.

FINAL: Essay, closed book and closed notes.

GRADES: Based on final, in-class essays and class participation -- in that order.



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EMAIL: mitch.stephens@nyu.edu

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