2009 Call for Papers

Historical and Cultural Explorations of Region, Identity, and Power in the Development of New Communications Technologies

In the first Frontiers of New Media Symposium, held in September 2007, a diverse group of historians and new media scholars explored the ways in which many communication technologies–including telegraph, radio, television, and the internet–have taken shape at least partly in response to the unique circumstances of the American West and have, in turn, helped to shape that region’s development. In so doing, the multiple, often contested meanings of the term “frontier” served as valuable and sometimes provocative tools with which to engage these issues.

Few students of Western history over the last thirty years can be unfamiliar with the long-running debate between those scholars who emphasize the fixed place of the American West, and those who emphasize the moving process of the frontier. In using “place” and “process” to frame this year’s symposium, we do not seek to dredge up an old quarrel, but rather to broaden the scope of our previous symposium and to continue exploring the productive tensions of the frontier metaphor.

What is the place of “place” in the study of new, and old, media? Communication technologies are often said to transcend place, shrinking or erasing distance while homogenizing or assimilating local cultures and economies. Yet geography persists. Supposedly place-transcending media can be shaped and defined by local cultures, regional advantages or disadvantages, territorial governments, and the earth’s environment itself. We encourage participating scholars to think about the role specific places have played and are playing in the history of media and communication–places in the American West like Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and indeed the University of Utah, but also places well beyond it. And we invite our participants to consider the relationship between new media and the natural environment, broadly construed.

How might we explore new media as “process”? One way is to continue our investigation of parallels and divides between new and old media, and to complicate those simple categories with consideration of the once new, the new again, or the always already old. Another is to examine our own processes as scholars. How do new media change the rules or the possibilities for humanities and social science scholarship? What promises do they hold and what practical, intellectual, or ethical challenges do they raise? We hope that participating scholars will engage with these questions as we continue our conversation about new media’s past, present, and future frontiers.