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December 11, 2012

2007: Mechanisms

Posted by: Katie Heasley

We have two reflections on Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination for the 47th post in the 50th anniversary series. The first one is from the book’s author, Matthew Kirschenbaum:

Mechanisms is a strange book. Pages and pages are given over to the inner workings of hard drives and hex editors. The Library of Congress initially assigned it a subject heading of “TK,” placing it under the rubric of “Electrical engineering, electronics, and nuclear engineering”; I subsequently petitioned to get it changed to the general “P” heading for Language and Literature, meaning (among other things) that at my own home institution it wouldn’t be relegated to a satellite library. Of course “language and literature” doesn’t tell the whole story either: despite the fact that the book has been recognized with awards from organizations ranging from the MLA to scholarly societies devoted to textual editing and the history of authorship, reading, and publishing, Mechanisms was and is intended as a contribution to the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of new media studies, which the MIT Press was instrumental in establishing. In the five years since the book appeared it has also become more commonplace to speak of something called “the digital humanities,” which, pernicious attempts to align the term with data mining and text crunching notwithstanding, I believe very much encompasses the agenda of a book so relentlessly materialist and historicist in its orientation. I also see it as participating in the conversations that have arisen around software studies and platform studies, and the even newer field of media archaeology.  

Mechanisms has enjoyed a persistent online afterlife, and the story of “Agrippa” in particular continues to unspool, even as late as last month with the announcement of the Bodleian Library’s acquisition of archival papers from publisher Kevin Begos, Jr. Above all, I am grateful to the MIT Press and my editor, Doug Sery, for their confidence in a book whose mechanisms and disciplinary machinery meshed with such cacophony—I know of no other press that would have listened.

 

The second Mechanisms reflection is from Doug Sery, senior acquisitions editor of new media, game studies, and design:

Matthew’s book proposal came to me a time when the title “Digital Humanities” wasn’t even really on my radar. This was before the Software Studies series, before the Platform Studies series, before the MIT Press had a catalog heading of Digital Humanities. But what it did have was amazing scholarship and a prescience that is still remarkable in my mind. Mechanisms is one of the best pieces of scholarship I’ve ever published and I think it finally changed the mindset of the Modern Language Association toward new media, which is no mean feat.

 

Our 50 influential journal articles are listed here. The articles are in chronological order and will be freely available through the end of 2012.

For information about the MIT Press’ history, check out our 50th anniversary page.

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