Election Reading Recommendation

musserWe often forget that previous election campaigns juggled and were shaped by new media forms just like our own, albeit with different “contraptions.” Politicking and Emergent Media, US Presidential Elections of the 1890s, by Yale American Studies/Cinema Studies professor, Charles Musser, is a fascinating read about the election campaigns of the 1890s (and I mean read–in sense that as erudite as it is it’s very readable).  In those days the Democratic party was the less adventursome one in terms of media–it was comfortably ensconced in newspaper formats.  It was the Republicans who experimented more with new media that included the steriopticon (what’s that?) and later motion pictures, telephones, and phonographs.  Writes Lisa Gitelman (New York University), “Charles Musser shows how screens first entered American politics. Whether they are true politics junkies or frothing critics of America’s quadrennial horse race, readers will be tickled by the resemblances between presidential campaigns then and now. This is media history of the finest kind, rendered by one of our most accomplished scholars of early cinema.”

I like Jeffrey Alexander’s observation, writing about the book. “It turns out that technology has been newly emerging over the past three centuries, and the performance of politics has long been deeply transformed as a result.”

If you’re multitasking as you listen to the endless election and post-election punditry, consider opting for this book in your lap rather than just another screen.


Seriously, this is the coolest website I’ve seen in a long time. Check out Griffonage-Dot-Com, which is the fabulous creation of Patrick Feaster (ethnomusicologist, media historian, and three-time Grammy nominee for voice and sound resurrection). In the driest terms the site is devoted to historical media. And if you just say Feaster explores historical media you’re still not doing justice to the site. Rather, he brings forth or, to use his term, “educes” media–makes it accessible to the senses, transformatively I’d say.

For starters, what’s griffonage?   Explains Feaster, “It’s generally defined as careless or illegible handwriting, and that’s one of the meanings I mean to invoke here.  The materials I’ll be examining are typically challenging to decipher, so “illegible handwriting” is either a good metaphor for them or, in some cases, literally true of them… I wanted to find some new domain name that would reflect my interest in deciphering, educing, and interpreting old media of various kinds.  Alas, every promising combination of “media” with other words seemed to be taken at the dot-com level, no matter how obscure.  So I turned to the auspicously-named thesaurus.com for ideas, seeking synonyms for “media,” “writing,” and so forth, which is where I ran across the word griffonage.  I’d never encountered it before, but its rich mix of denotative and connotative meanings seemed perfect for what I wanted to do—whether digging up nuggets of gold out of the dross or deciphering semi-legible traces scratched with a stylus.”

As for categories on the site, topics range from speech synthesis to tintypes, from face averaging tor image polar-to-rectangularmorphing, and from animation to waveforms. Last November he posted a fascinating piece on how to make sound out of a picture of a sound wave. Say what? It’s all rather technical…and arty, and  philosophical…and technical back again.

If you want more Patrick Feaster, his previous home on the internet was Phonozoic, dedicated to the history of the phonograph and related material.  But these days he’s broadened his interest to visual media as well.