Thursday, January 31, 2008

Vague History

Historian Elizabeth Einstein states "The exact nature of the impact which the invention and spread of printing had on western civilization remains subject to interpretation even today." This supports the idea that the study of media seems to be one of the more vague studies. For the most part the readings of very successful historians of media Paul Star and Elizabeth Einstein gives a sense of the history of media having an injflux of confusing causes and effects as well as an influx of blank statements with no further understanding. Einstein and Starr are similar in that they are not technological determinist and by no means would they declare that Gutenberg's printing press completely changed the landscape of media in its early stages but would rather attribute the shaping of media usage to the protestant restoration or the fall of feudalism. Still what can be drawn from the two is that the history of anything is based upon any number of choices as well as the circumstances that exist. For example would Eli Whitney's cotton gin been a big deal if it were not for slavery? As one enters deeper into the history of media he or she will realize that understanding it is no easy task. Generalizations or blank statements will not get one far.


At 10:42 PM, Blogger A. Mattson said...

A interesting discussion.

Generalizations are necessary but limiting as well. I don't know what you mean by "blank statements."

We often generalize when we are trying to describe the big picture in broad strokes, but a complex history will require multiple causes and sometimes apparently contradictory explanations of causation. Multiple forces are at work here: Politics, Economics, Culture, Technology, etc.
Which kind of explanation should receive the greatest emphasis? Which form of analysis will you choose? Clearly Starr beleives that a political narrative is key to understanding the development of the modern media. That does not mean he ignores the other forces at work.


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