Library of Congress

International Conference
April 24-26, 2009 MIT

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about media in transition
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In his seminal essay “The Bias of Communication” Harold Innis distinguishes between time-based and space-based media.Time-based media such as stone or clay, Innis agues, can be seen as durable, while space-based media such as paper or papyrus can be understood as portable, more fragile than stone but more powerful because capable of transmission, diffusion, connections across space. 

Speculating on this distinction, Innis develops an account of civilization grounded in the ways in which media forms shape trade, religion, government, economic and social structures, and the arts. Our current era of prolonged and profound transition is surely as media-driven as the historical cultures Innis describes. 

His division between the durable and the portable is perhaps problematic in the age of the computer, but similar tensions define our contemporary situation. Digital communications have increased exponentially the speed with which information circulates. Moore's Law continues to hold, and with it a doubling of memory capacity every two years; we are poised to reach transmission speeds of 100 terabits per second, or something akin to transmitting the entire printed contents of the Library of Congress in under five seconds.
Such developments are simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. They profoundly challenge efforts to maintain access to the vast printed and audio-visual inheritance of analog culture as well as efforts to understand and preserve the immense, enlarging universe of text, image and sound available in cyberspace. What are the implications of these trends for historians who seek to understand the place of media in our own culture? 

What challenges confront librarians and archivists who must supervise the migration of print culture to digital formats and who must also find ways to preserve and catalogue the vast and increasing range of words and images generated by new technologies? How are shifts in distribution and circulation affecting the stories we tell, the art we produce, the social structures and policies we construct?

What are the implications of this tension between storage and transmission for education, for individual and national identities, for notions of what is public and what is private? We invite papers from scholars, journalists, media creators, teachers, writers and visual artists on these broad themes.  Potential topics include:
  • The digital archive
  • The future of libraries and museums
  • The past and future of the book
  • Mobile media
  • Historical systems of communication
  • Media in the developing world
  • Social networks
  • Mapping media flows
  • Approaches to media history
  • Education and the changing media environment
  • New forms of storytelling and expression
  • Location-based entertainment
  • Hyperlocal media and civic engagement
  • New modes of circulation and distribution
  • The transformation of television -- from broadcast to download
  • Cosmopolitanism backlashes against media change
  • Virtual worlds and digital tourism
  • The continuity principle: what endures or resists digital   transformation?
  • The fate of reading