Media Histories 1850 - 2050

Winter 2020







Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00pm -3:15pm

Fowler A103B

Dr.Peter Lunenfeld

Design | Media Arts Department
Teaching Assistants

Alvaro Azcarraga

Alisha Cunzio

Tristan Espinoza

Zhengzhou Huang

Sam Malabre



Second Review Due on Week 8 Thursday, Feb. 27th

DESMA 8 Winter 2020 Media History LEC 1

Tuesdays and Thursday, 2:00-3:15, Fowler A103B
Instructor: Dr. Peter Lunenfeld []

Teaching Assistants:
Alvaro Azcarraga, Alisha Cunzio, Tristan Espinoza, Zhengzhou Huang, Sam Malabre

In a nutshell:

This class offers a synthetic overview of optical media and aesthetic movements covering the past two centuries: photography & industrialization/romanticism (1850-1900), cinema & modernism (1900-1950), television & postmodernism (1950-2000), and digital media & what I have termed unimodernism (2000-2050). We will conclude by discussing how such a history can inform our own, generative work and how understanding these optical media becomes essential in the emerging era of the digital humanities.

Learning Objectives:

Students are expected to be able to…

1) demonstrate familiarity with the history of photography, film, television and digital media

2) analyze individual media works using appropriate terminology, and place them in their aesthetic, historical, cultural, and critical contexts.

3) understand how issues of diversity and inclusion impact the production, consumption, and discussion of optical media.

4) critically evaluate arguments based on evidence.

5) explore and develop critical language by observing patterns in exhibitions, screening and talks on and off campus.

Required Readings:

Bill Kovarik, Revolutions in Communications: Media History from Gutenberg to the Digital Age. 2nd ed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. (Available at the Lu Valle Commons UCLA Student Book Store). Selections from the class website Reader, User is "creader" and the password is "Winter20” (case matters).

Assignments & Grading:

The photo response is due January 28th (20%), the first review is due Jan 30st (5%), the take-home midterm is February 13th (30%), the second review is due February 25th (5%). The take home final is due Thursday, March 12th (40%). In-class assignments are due before 2:05, any later and it will be marked down a half point. Hard copies MUST be turned in during class hours, and e-copies MUST be sent to your TA’s BOTH hardcopy and e-copy MUST be received to receive a grade on the assignment. The required reviews can be on any DMA sponsored public event, lecture, or show, most lectures sponsored by the departments of Art, Architecture & Urban Design, and Film/Television and selected museum shows and special screenings. Check the events section of the class website. Clear it with your TAs if you want to go outside these boundaries. The take-home mid-term and take-home final are 6-8-pages, captioned, multi-part responses.


Roll will be taken. We will be using a GPS-enable attendance app called Arkaiv. Please download it from The enrollment code for the course is: K8RR If you have any questions please contact your TA. If you do not have access to a smartphone, please contact your TA directly and we will establish an alternate system. Two unexcused absences will result in a penalty of one half point, four or more result in an F.

Technology Policy & Expectations:

Anyone planning to use their laptops or phones regularly during class time will need to self-segregate in the designated portion of the auditorium, in order to not impinge on their fellow students’ concentration. Plagiarism and other forms of dishonesty are violations of the Student Conduct Code Section 102.01 following: [UCLA Student Conduct Code]

Office Hours & TA Assignments:

Prof. Lunenfeld’s hours are Thursdays, 12:00-1:00 in his office, 4252 Broad Art Center. Locate your name in the arrays below to identify your Teaching Assistant. TAs will hold hours in the Untitled Café, 2nd Floor of Broad. Any student can meet with any TA as their schedules permit.

Abana, Juana-Chen, Kevin: Alvaro Azcarraga [] Mon 12:00-1:00

Chen, Yihan- Horrillo, Abraham: Alisha Cunzio [] Wed 12:00-1:00

Hsu, Fiona-Mccruter, Gia: Tristan Espinoza [] Tues 4:00-5:00

Mcivor, Alan-Riley, Cody: Zhengzhou Huang [] Wed 4:00-5:00

Rios, Fabian-Zhu, Yuting: Sam Malabre [] Thurs 4:00-5:00


Week 1: Jan 7 – What Are Media Anyway?

The first thing to talk about is what media are, and why it’s vital we talk about them. We will review the course mechanics; discuss what we mean by “history,” “theory,” and “criticism.”

Reading: Freidrich Kittler, selections from Optical Media (suggested)

Week 1: Jan 9 - 1000 Years of Media History

We will talk about the development of Western arts and media from the year 850 to 1850, a thousand years that takes us from the medieval to the modern, from the local to the global, and that introduces the mechanization of media and the “capture of the real.”
Sidebar: PRINTING & Gutenberg

Reading: Kovarik, 27-36 (1: “The Divine Art”-2.1 “Initial Effects of Printing”).

Week 2: Jan 14 - First Wave: Photography (1850-1900)

Following up our discussion of a thousand years of media history, we will look at the earliest era of photography, a medium that creates a radical split with the practices of the past. We will transition into talking about the truth value of photography, and what makes an image a datum of history. We will examine the Pre-History of Photography, Niépce & Daguerre, the Calotype Process (1841), the Collodion Process (1851), and look at the emergence of photography in China.
Movements: Industrialization

Reading: Kovarik, 139-161 (Part II: “The Visual Revolution”-8: “Photographic Magazines”).
John Berger, "Understanding a Photograph”, Susan Sontag, On Photography (excerpt).

Week 2: Jan 16 - The Photography Effect

It is impossible to underestimate the “photography effect.” The ability to capture and transmit images of the world and its peoples is the first wave of transformation. Photography enters as the world is coming to grips with the rise of industry in the West and the aesthetic reaction to these transformations that we call romanticism. We’ll then look at the American Civil War photography of Matthew Brady, in order to discuss photographic "truth" and the manipulations of images.
Conflict: The Civil War (1861-1865)

Reading: Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (excerpt)

Week 3: Jan 21 – THE SECOND WAVE: CINEMA (1900-1950)

The cinema takes the photographic and animates it, creating the first truly new time-based art form since the dawn of recorded history. The cinema is the second wave of optical media, and is quintessentially modern, even in its silent form. In this meeting, we’ll look at the origins of moving pictures including the Zoetrope the Phasmatrope; look at pioneers Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey; see the emergence of popular forms like the Kinetescope, Vitascope, and the Nickelodeon. Finally, we’ll look at the Lumiere Brothers’ “Actualities” (1896), and Georges Méliès, Voyage to the Moon (1902), to look at the origin of documentary and narrative cinema.

Reading: Kovarik, 181-191 (5: “Cinema: The Image Comes Alive”- “Alice Guy-Blaché”). “How to Write a Review.”

Week 3: Jan 23 – How to Talk About Movies 1

We will look at the emergence of codes & conventions of narrative cinema and discuss the importance of the Modernist movement to the origin and growth of the cinema, concentrating on Sergei Eisenstein, Battleship Potemkin (1925), Edward Curtiz, Casablanca (1941), and Maya Deren, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943).
Conflict: The First and Second World Wars (1914-18 & 1939-45)
Movement: Modernism

Reading: Kovarik, 191-206 (4: “The Silent Film Era”- 8.1: “Fighting Fascism with Film”);
Sergei Eisenstein, "A Dialectic Approach to Film Form."

Week 4: Jan 28 - How to Talk about Movies 2

By the end of the second wave, sound and color are fully integrated into the cinematic experience and we need to begin to understand how the cinema creates us as spectators. We will look at a variety of films produced in 1939-41, referred to as the greatest years the film business ever had: including Edmund Goulding, Dark Victory, Michael Curtiz, Casablanca, and John Ford, Stagecoach.

Viewing: We will have a password protected CCLE site with access to a digitized version of Billy Wilder’s famous film noir, Double Indemnity, from 1941. Please watch it in its entirety, we will discuss it over the next few classes.

Assignment: Photo Response Due (500 words min-750 words max). Pick three photographs from the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive( Discuss the images semiotically in terms of denotation and connotation, or emotionally in terms of Barthes’ ideas about the studium and the punctum. What do the pictures represent and how do they speak across time to you?

Week 4: Jan 30 How to Look At Movies 1

We will take this week to discuss a number of films in their entirety: Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie (1928), which introduced Mickey Mouse to the world, and Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece, Double Indemnity (1944).

Assignment: First Review Due (300 words min-500 words max)

Week 5: Feb 4 - How to Look At Movies 2:

We will discuss Wilder’s Double Indemnity in light of feminist theories of the cinema using Laura Mulvey’s very complex essay as our starting point.

Reading: Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure in the Narrative Cinema”

Week 5: Feb 6 - How to Look Beyond Hollywood

We will examine issues of diversity in and exclusion in cinema by looking at a range of films made in but not of “Hollywood,” from Kent McKenzie’s The Exiles (1961), to Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1978), to Gregg Araki’s Totally F***ed Up (1993).

Reading: Kovarik, 212-215 (12: “Independent and International Films”-14 “End of the Mass Audience”).
Kara Keeling, “School of Life: The L.A. Rebellion.”

Week 6: Feb 11 - THE THIRD WAVE: TELEVISION (1950-2000)

We start our discussion with the Paramount decision, which destroyed the Hollywood movie system as it had existed, and opened the way for new forms of broadcast entertainment, especially television.
Sidebar: RADIO & Orson Welles

Reading: Kovarik 287-288 (7: “The Golden Age of Radio”), 309-321 (9: Television: A New Window on the World”-6.2 “Vast Wasteland”).
Brian Winston, Media Technology and Society. A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet, 88-143.
Lynn Spigel, “Television in the Family Circle: The Popular Reception of a New Medium.”

Week 6: Feb 13 – Flow

Television, the third wave, is the optical medium that comes into the home. If cinema is the urban, modern medium, television is the suburban, postmodern medium. In its broadcast form, television in the United States created a sense of flow that carried viewers from one show to the next, ensuring that audiences stayed present for the “real” content of broadcast television – the commercials.
Sidebar: Dragnet (on-line from, I Love Lucy, CBS Evening News, All My ChildrenM
Conflict: The Cold War (1945-1991)

Reading: : Kovarik, 217-240 (6: “Advertising, Public Relations, and the Crafted Image”- 10: Broadcast Advertising”), 324-330 (8: “Vietnam: The First Living Room War”-“Television Stars Join Activists”).
Raymond Williams, “Programming: Distribution and Flow”;
Miranda J. Banks, “I Love Lucy: The Writer-Producer”

Assignment: Take-Home Midterm due (Prompt)

Week 7: Feb 18 - Television as a Ubiquitous Medium

TV undergoes a profound shift when it moves from broadcast to cable era, flow loses its centrality as the televisual spreads throughout all forms of culture. To be on TV becomes our shorthand for “to exist.”

Reading: “1. The Medium Is the Message,”
“2. “Media Hot and Cold” and “31 Television: The Timid Giant,” all from Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

Week 7: Feb 20 – TV and Postmodernism

The postmodern – with its appropriations, blurred authorship, and genre mixing – becomes the key aesthetic movement to juxtapose with the third wave.
Screenings: Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, Oprah Winfrey, Survivor, Lost, and Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Sidebar: POMO ART Cindy Sherman & Sherrie Levine
Movement: Postmodernism

Reading: Kovarik, 333-341 (10: “Public Broadcasting”-“YouTube, Music, and Cultural Creators”).

Week 8: Feb 25 - THE FOURTH WAVE: DIGITAL MEDIA (2000-2050)

The computer is the first media machine that serves as the mode of production (you can make stuff), the means of distribution (you can upload stuff to the network), the site of reception (you can download stuff and interact with it), and the locus of praise and critique (you can talk about the stuff you have downloaded or uploaded). This culture machine inaugurates the fourth wave of optical media.
Conflict: Global Jihad / The War on Terror (2001-2???)

Reading:Kovarik 349-374 (Part IV: “The Digital Revolution”-8: “Apple Dominates the Twenty-first Century”). Peter Lunenfeld, “Generations,” from The Secret War Between Downloading & Uploading

Week 8: Feb 27 - Unimodernism

In the fourth wave, rather than early, high, or post, the networked computer and its digital relations produce and consume a unimodernism. Our moment is unimodern in the sense that it makes modernism in all its variants universal via networks and broadcasts, uniform in their effect if not affect, and unitary in terms of their existing as strings of code. In the unimodern era, as bits, on-line and in databases, a photo is a painting is an opera is a pop single.
Screenings: Doug Engelbart, “The Mother of all Demos” (1967), Jeffrey Shaw, Legible City, Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Difference Engine #3(1995-8), Michael Joaquin Grey, Zoobs (1999) & Reentry (2005), Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Guadalupe Rosales, “Veteranas and Rucas”
Movement: Unimodernism

Reading:Peter Lunenfeld, “Unimoderism,” from The Secret War Between Downloading & Uploading; Safiya Umoja Noble, “Introduction: The Power of Algorithms,” from Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism.

Assignment: Second Review Due (300 words min-500 words max). This review must cover either Ja’Tovia Gary’s “The Giverny Suite,” or “Tishan Hsu: Liquid Circuit.” Both are at the Hammer.

Week 9: Mar 3 – The Social Photograph – with Nathan Jurgenson

Guest: Nathan Jurgenson, Sociologist/Researcher at Snap Nathan Jurgenson is a sociologist and social media theorist based in Los Angeles, who is the founder and editor in chief of Real Life magazine, the co-founder and chair of the Theorizing the Web conference, a contributing editor of the New Inquiry, and a researcher at Snap.

Reading:: Nathan Jurgenson, excerpt from Social Photography, “The IRL Fetish,” “The Facebook Eye.”

Week 9: Mar 5 - Meetings with TAs

In groups of 25, you’ll meet with your assigned TAs to ask any questions you might have to prepare for the upcoming final.

Week 10: Mar 10 - Digital Humanities

The digital humanities is still being developed, but right now the following key words would be a good place to start: collaborative, networked, interactive, rhizomatic, locative, productive, active, intertextual, hybridizing, generative.

Reading:: Digital_Humanities (MIT, 2012) excerpts

Week 10: Mar 12 - DH 2 + Wrap Up

The digital humanities is still being developed, but right now the following key words would be a good place to start and to conclude: collaborative, networked, interactive, rhizomatic, locative, productive, active, intertextual, hybridizing, generative.

Take-Home Final Assignment:Due by 2:05 PM