CMS.801 | Fall 2012 | Graduate

Media in Transition


Final Paper Assignment

You have several possibilities for your final project. The end product should be a double-spaced paper, ca. fifteen pages in length, on one of the topics listed below. In some cases, with my consent, it may be possible to substitute a substantial, well-defined project prepared in a different genre or medium. Some of you may choose to work with materials we see during our visits to the MIT Rare Books collection or the MFA. Others may choose to use the final project for this class as a way to draft a chapter of their master’s thesis.

Later in the term, each of you will sign up to present your project orally during one of our last two class meetings. Instructions for these oral presentations will be distributed several weeks before the presentations.


  1. Compare a material object in the MIT Rare Books Collection with an analogous digital object today. How do the two compare in content, in access, and in meaning? What are the advantages of the material object over the digital (if any), and vice versa? For example, one might compare the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle or the eighteenth-century French Encyclopédie, and Wikipedia.
  2. Study the nineteenth-century image reproduction technologies in the MFA Prints Department in greater depth. What were the strengths and weaknesses of two or three of the techniques in the collection? Does technological determinism alone account for the modification or disappearance of these techniques, or were cultural and economic factors also in play? You may also choose to compare one or two of these reproduction techniques with digital analogues available today.
  3. Drawing on examples from our readings and discussions, evaluate the concept of “revolution” as an organizing principle for media transition. You must consider the “print revolution” of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and you must compare it either to the changes brought on by the introduction of electricity in the nineteenth century, or to the “digital revolution” today. In other words, does “revolution” adequately explain changes in media in Europe 500 years ago, and throughout the world in the nineteenth century or today? If not, what alternative model of media change would you propose?
  4. Write an essay in which you consider the readings for one class session in depth. In addition to the common readings, you must also read and consider at least three relevant, supplemental readings, which I will provide. How do the readings frame the main issues? Is there consensus or disagreement among the authors? What are the future avenues of research? (N.B.: You may not write on the readings from the week of your class presentation.)
  5. Propose a topic of your own devising, based on our joint work this semester. Your topic may be one that relates to your Master’s thesis, and affords you a chance to draft a portion of that project.

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As Taught In
Fall 2012
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Written Assignments