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The University Seminar on the Theory and History of Media brings together scholars from the humanities and social sciences to examine emerging concepts in media theory. Media, in this conception, refers to material technologies that (re)produce, store, and transmit information – a conception broad enough that allows us to move from, say, the role of print technologies in early modern Europe, through spirit photography to the emergence of contemporary digital media. We are especially interested in the ways in which technologies shape and are shaped by cultural practices, and social sensibilities, and we consider a historical dimension as central to this effort. There is nothing so powerful in understanding the novelty and dynamism of contemporary media as looking at the introduction of earlier technologies whose technical and social influence was yet to be understood. At the same time, we are also committed to moving beyond the specifics of media in the U.S. to incorporate the different histories and trajectories of media in Europe and elsewhere. Finally, we intend this to be beyond any one disciplinary approach and each year is organized around a specific theme that sets the frame for questions and conversation.

Past Schedules

2009-2010: Archaeology of Media and Its Futures
2010-2011: Medium Histories
2011-2012: Aesthetics and Technology

Noam Elcott

Dennis Tenen

Cecilia Santos

Meeting Schedule

09/18/2023 934 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Literary Theory for Robots
Dennis Tenen, Columbia University

Respondent: Mara Mills, New York University

11/09/2023 612 Schermerhorn
6:15 PM
Art and AI: Past, Present, Future
Michelle Kuo, MoMA

Antonio Somaini, Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle

Kate Crawford, USC Annenberg

Moderator: Noam M. Elcott, Columbia University

11/23/2023 Schermerhorn Hall
6:00 PM


12/27/2023 Schermerhorn Hall
6:00 PM


04/19/2024 807 Schermerhorn Hall
10:00 AM
Rules/Data: A Conversation with Lorraine Daston and Matthew L. Jones