Deep Media

Kevin Hamilton and I presented a paper at the University of Durham’s Business of War Photography conference this past summer (2014) on the work of Harold Edgerton and his collaborators in  the development of both flash photography and atomic bomb firing during World War II. The abstract reads as follows:

This paper considers the history of EG&G, Inc. in America’s nuclear weapons program. EG&G was co-founded by M.I.T.’s Harold Edgerton, Kenneth J. Germeshausen, and Herbert E. Grier after World War II in order to serve the nuclear weapons timing and firing needs of the U.S. Department of Defense and Atomic Energy Commission. Eventually, EG&G would be responsible for some of the most spectacular images of nuclear fireballs in the U.S. nuclear testing era. Indeed, the partnership of Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier began in high-speed “stroboscopic” photography in the 1930s, became focused on nuclear weapon timing and firing in 1945-1950, and eventually re-focused on high-speed photography in the 1950s. The story of EG&G, therefore, is a story of photography and what we call the “deep media” of timing, firing, and exposure. From the stroboscopic illumination of factory motors through the aerial flashing of enemy troops and the ignition of an atomic bomb, the “deep media” of timing, firing and exposure had rendered the technologies of cameras and nuclear bombs interchangeable.

“Deep media,” at least as we understand it, seems to be uncharted territory in media and technology studies, and offers a distinct means by which to look beyond ‘object’ and ‘artifact’ to the underlying technical processes upon which technological innovation seems to depend. Over the next several years I will be working with Kevin and Chad Wellmon to develop the notion of “deep media” and consider its usefulness for technology and media studies. (For all those worried about by ‘rhetoric’ creds in this, I very much envision deep media as the technical analogs to rhetorical topoi.) If the notion of the “deep media of timing, firing, and exposure” intrigues you and you want to learn more about what we are up to, drop me a note. Our hope is to convene a conference in 2015-16 around the still developing notion.

Cold War Camera

Kevin Hamilton and I spent recently attended what, for me, is the most weighty academic conference I’ve had the privilege to attend. The Cold War Camera Conference was held in Guatemala the next-to-last week of February 2014. Convened by the University of Durham’s Andrea Noble,  the University of Toronto’s Thy Phu, and the Guatemalan photographer, journalist, and activist Daniel Hernandez-Salazar, the gathering began, remarkably, with a day-long “tour” (an inappropriate word for what took place) of several sites in Guatemala City that have been central in the forensic reconstruction of the history of massacres and “dissapearances” that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans during a 36-year conflict spanning the decades of the cold war.medium_Cold_War_Camera_Press_Invitation We spent time with the people of The Museum of Martyrs from the Popular, Student and Union Movement, The DNA Laboratoty of the Guatemalan Forensic Foundation, The Bone Laboratory of the FAFG, The Guatemala National Police Historical Archive, and The Catholic Church Human Rights Bureau, talking with them about their faithful forensic work. The people of these places have worked, some for nearly two decades, under less than hospitable conditions to piece together–through forensic archival work, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis, legal documentation, or memorialization–the killing history that many in Guatemala do not want to remember, and that the rest of world, especially Americans, has never known to remember. The conference then moved to Antigua, where we heard two days worth of outstanding papers. Each paper was rich in its own terms, but each gained a more saturated hue against the backdrop of our time in the places of forensic recuperation and memory production. Kudos to Andrea, Thy,  and Daniel for such an outstanding event.

INTERSECT Initiative

For the next two years I will be working with a great group of faculty and graduate students at the University of Illinois on the “Learning to See Systems” initiative, sponsored by the Graduate College here under their INTERSECT program.

Our goal is address in an interdisciplinary, collaborative manner the problem of “seeing” systems — especially socio-technical systems. Our collaboration includes graduate seminars, colloquia, and a laboratory centered on exploring and developing digital tools for inquiry into systems. For more on the initiative, see the Learning to See Systems site.

Interview on the Cuban Missile Crisis

October 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I recently did “A minute with . . .” interview with Illinois media regarding the anniversary  It was a good opportunity to condense some thoughts I’ve had about nuclear deterrence (kudos here to Ledbow and Stein’s We All Lost the Cold War). Here’s the interview. It’s short: http://illinois.edu/lb/article/72/67657/page=1/list=list?skinId=1643 

Center for Advanced Study Award

Kevin Hamilton and I recently were together awarded Center for Advanced Study positions for 2012-13 as an Associate and Fellow respectively. Our proposed joint project, “The Bomb Studio: Science, America, and Hollywood in the Films of the Air Force’s Lookout Mountain Laboratory,” examines a historic set of motion pictures produced by a Hollywood-based United States Air Force film studio in the 1950s and 60s that documented and helped legitimate the massive Cold War expansion of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

Lookout Mountain Laboratory was a secret Air Force film studio based in Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s. Their main responsibility was to document on film America’s nuclear testing ventures, which meant that LML ended up contributing in major ways to the formation of nuclear iconography in America. We have been able to acquire substantial archival material on the facility and its activities, and hope to pursue other research avenues further in the near future, with the aim of writing a book on the facility and its historic work.

The New Republic Review

Spirits of the Cold War got both pegged and plugged in a review in The New Republic by the New York Times’s Barry Gewen. Here’s the review: Isms

Gewen’s reading of my book is curious, if not unexpected. He’s most critical of the “German” influences on its theory and method (e.g. Herder, Weber, Gadamer), which is to say that he’s skeptical of “worldview” as a critical concept. He thinks, with some justification, that it allows me to draw connections where there are, in his view, none. “In his enthusiasm for loose parallels and vague affinities, O’Gorman sometimes seems to be sending us dispatches from another planet.” (What a great line!) Yet, what he takes as wild affinities, I take as rhetorical connections. And this is where Gewen’s review is most strained: nowhere does he acknowledge, let alone engage, that mine is a study of rhetoric. Rhetoric writ large, to be sure. But still rhetoric.

Rather, he reads it a study in “personality” and “psychology.”

Thus, I detect a kind of circularity in the review: Gewen reads my study as one focused on “personality” and “psychology,”  ignoring the ad naseum attention I give to language and rhetoric.  And he’s especially critical of the chapters on Jackson and Eisenhower, the two most rhetorically effusive figures that I consider. Both Jackson and Eisenhower are preoccupied with the vitality of the symbolic in strategy.

At the same time, he’s most complimentary of the chapter on Kennan and stoicism.

It just so happens (as I discuss in my book) that  two key words of (modern) stoicism are “personality” and “psychology.” Indeed, I don’t use those concepts in the book except to characterize the language of stoicism. Rather, I present my book as a study in “language,” “rhetoric,” and “worldview.”

Stoics and their close kin have made a long habit of distrusting the rhetorical (see the Advances issue) and transforming issues of language and sociality into personality and psychology. Gewen, consistent with this, offers a stoic reading of my non-stoical book. He seems to be glad to find, at last, a fellow stoic in Kennan. Reading my book may have been for him a kind of exercise in self-recognition, and indeed the relative strength of the chapters of my book seem to have been gauged by him according to the strength of such self-recognition. The language of his review curiously mirrors that of Kennan (albeit Gewen is far more witty and fun to read).

Am in danger here of letting my “system” dominate the conversation in such a way that I can’t listen to what he has to say? Yes. I am quite aware of this, and am trying to guard against it. My framework is not meant to peg, but to provide a range of coordinates from which to think about foreign policy discourse.  As a rhetorical study, it is bound to generalities, though in situ. And this inability to get too precise is only compounded by the “ideal type” form of analysis. I can, therefore, only go so far in making claims about Gewen’s rhetoric . . . or Kennan’s for that matter.

And that was the point of the rhetorical, “German”-inspired approach, one Gewen seems to have missed.