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Collecting Media

ENGL 2954.401
also offered as: CIMS 2954 / ARTH 2954 / CIMS 6954
MW 3:30-4:59pm

There are tens of billions of videos on YouTube; a similar number of photos on Instagram; seven million items in the Penn Libraries; remains from more than 12,000 people stored in the Physical Anthropology Section of the Penn Museum; roughly 250 surveillance cameras capturing footage across our campus; over one million seed varieties stored in the Svalbard Seed Vault; tens of thousands of meters of frozen samples in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Ice Core Facility — and, most likely, one huge, messy folder into which you dump all of your email. For thousands of years, cultural critics have lamented the onslaught of “information overload,” and for just as long, people have derived systems for collecting, organizing, storing, and facilitating access (or not) to media — whether Spotify playlists or cuneiform tablets or massive image files from NASA’s space telescopes. In this course we’ll consider the past, present, and future — as well as the pragmatics, politics, and aesthetics — of organizing media and information in archives, libraries, and other media assemblages. Through readings, listening and screening exercises, occasional field trips and guest lectures, a few low-stakes student presentations and group collaborations, fun design exercises, art explorations, and potential collaborations with external cultural heritage organizations, we’ll study why and how we collect media; why it matters for myriad scholarly fields, industries, creative practitioners, and communities; and how we might do it better. Because this new course is still in development, the assignments haven’t yet been finalized — but students can tentatively expect to write one or two short papers; share one low-pressure in-class presentation; participate in a few small (and ideally enjoyable) design workshops and group exercises; and, in lieu of a final exam, complete a written or creative final project.

English Major Requirements
  • Sector 6 20th & 21st Centuries (AE20)
English Concentration Attributes
  • 20th-21st Century Concentration (AE21)
  • Literature, Journalism, & Print Culture Concentration (AELJ)
College Attributes