"Serial Figures and Media Change" (Research Project, Mayer/Denson, funded by the German Research Association DFG, 2010-2013)
This project looks at some of the stock figures that have established a firm place in the popular-cultural imagination of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (e.g. Frankenstein, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Fu-Manchu, James Bond, Superman, Batman). It investigates the complex reciprocities between principles of seriality and mediality in the course of their historical development. At the heart of the project are figures whose popular-cultural careers have been shaped by multiple media, who have thus undergone one or more media shifts. In this context, we are particularly interested to study the impact of various medial forms on serial narrative contents. In terms of serialization processes, therefore – and analogously to the general orientation of the larger research group – the project is less interested in characteristics of repetition or recognizability than in the figures' explicit or subtle revisions as they are linked especially to media transformations and breaks between representational forms. The basic thesis is that the enactments of serial figures are not only conducted through various media, but that mediality and media are themselves thematized in these enactments, that the enactment of serial figures therefore displays a moment of medial self-reflexivity (with significant formal and narrative consequences). In terms of methodology, the research project is informed by approaches developed in the fields of media studies, reader response theory, and the history of technology and science. The project is part of a research unit funded by the German Research Association (DFG) on "Aesthetics and Practice of Popular Seriality" and located at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.
"Figuring Serial Trajectories" (Post-Doc/Habilitation, Shane Denson)
The post-doctoral research project "Figuring Serial Trajectories" (working title) will use approaches from the philosophy of technology (such as Don Ihde's materialistic phenomenology and Andrew Pickering's "mangle theory"), science studies (above all, Bruno Latour and N. Katherine Hayles), and media theory (for example, Mark Hansen and the systems-theoretical media theory of Niklas Luhmann) to investigate the historical relations between serial figures and the media in which they have been staged. Mediality and media are conceived here as non-neutral, but also non-deterministic, "mediators" between the producers and recipients (viewers, readers, etc.) of serial narratives. Popular serial figures, according to the book project's central thesis, present an exemplary view of the processes of media transformation - processes that are generally visible only indirectly and in retrospect. A central focus of the study is on the material formats of the negotiations and interactions between production and reception, i.e. publication technologies and techniques, mediating apparatuses, spatially manifest institutions, and the somatic-emotive perception of these framing conditions. The project aims to articulate a systematic theoretical framework for a plurimedial and historically sensitive comparison between long established and recurring figures in popular culture, e.g. Frankenstein, Dracula, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and Superman. This comparison suggests that interactions between instances of production and reception, orbiting around serial figures as a gravitational point of attraction, are in fact part of a self-propelling or eigendynamischen process of serial development, not subject to the control of either side.
"Serial Fu Manchu. The Chinese Super-Villain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology" (booklength study, Ruth Mayer)
This study explores Fu Manchu as a serial figure whose career spans the width of the 20th century and its yellow peril imagination. It starts from the observation that the principle of seriality does not only capture the workings of large parts of popular cultural meaning making in the 19th and 20th century, but also lends itself to the description of processes of ideological dissemination. Fu Manchu's popular seriality resonates with and reinforces the seriality of the yellow peril myth. With this, Serial Fu Manchu takes up political and social theories of seriality (among them Jean-Paul Sartre's, Benedict Anderson's and Iris Marion Young's theories of collectivity and community), correlating them with cultural theories of mediality and popular aesthetic expression. The study's focal point of reference will be the transnational serial unfolding and increasing iconization of Fu Manchu between 1913 (when he first saw the light of day in serial narratives published almost simultaneously in the UK and in the US) and the 1970s (when he retreated from the transatlantic cultural scene). Serial Fu Manchu starts from the assumption that Fu Manchu's seriality is no mere concomitant effect of the figure's popular and ideological appeal, but constitutes a core feature of the yellow peril's success story. The study's scope is transmedial - it examines serial novels, films and film serials, comics and graphic novels - and it pays particular attention to the impact of media changes on the serial flow of Fu Manchu's transnational career. Its contention is that seriality is a principle rather than a technique and that this principle cannot be deduced to one author, author collective, or instigator. It gains a 'machinic' momentum of its own in the course of its unfolding, propelled along by the varying media and medial formats of choice, by the technological, political, and cultural contours of these media environments, and by the complex and uneven interactions of authors, audiences, and larger institutional configurations. In consequence, the medially diverse Fu Manchu narratives have to be seen as serial performances or enactments, rather than representations, of the yellow peril theme. They work as engines in a serial machinery which generates and spreads ideological certainties.
(Das Buch erscheint 2013 bei Temple University Press.)
Initiative für interdisziplinäre Medienforschung
The significance of media increases continuously, both in our daily lives and in the academic world as well. The effects and consequences of media and related techniques and technologies are multifaceted and far-reaching, so much so that practically no academic discipline is immune to medially conditioned changes in methods, contents, and even disciplinary self-understandings. Simultaneously, though, and for the very same reason, practically every discipline can contribute something to our understanding of media and their effects, while no individual (traditionally understood) discipline can claim a monopoly on media knowledge. The relatively young discipline of media studies (of the type that’s called Medienwissenschaften here in Germany) rightly positions itself in a central role here, but it’s important to keep in mind that media studies operates with methodological and theoretical principles and processes that it has inherited, borrowed, or adapted from the more established “classical” disciplines. Highlighting the positive, productive side of these dependencies, media and television scholar Jason Mittell has described media studies itself as an “inter-discipline” and argued that media research is best conducted as an interdisciplinary undertaking.
In this spirit, the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research at the Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany, aims to provide a forum for a mutually beneficial, supra-disciplinary exchange of ideas on the topic of media. Through sponsored lectures, workshops, reading groups, and film screenings, among other activities, we hope to stimulate this exchange and thus contribute to the interdisciplinary understanding of a wide range of media and media-related phenomena. This blog serves as a platform for this exchange and provides information about our activities. You can find the blog here.
"Series of Multimodal Forms of Narration: The Yellow Kid Newspaper Comics of the Nineteenth Century" (Post-Doc, Dr. Christina Meyer)
The project explores the first serialized, mass-produced, and colored "Yellow Kid" comics which appeared in two competing New York newspapers in the late nineteenth century. The colorful Sunday supplements that held the comics pages rapidly attracted new audiences and enticed the contest for sales figures. Their appearance marks the peak of sensational journalism and the American newspaper wars. The advent of the so-called Yellow Kid comic character in the Sunday supplement sections is a historical and cultural phenomenon that has, despite its regular mentioning in scholarly debates about comics, not yet been contextualized, nor thoroughly analyzed. The basic premise of the project is that the serialized newspaper comics are both commercial product and expressive forms of representation; they are a central cultural field of American modernity and offer insights into the popular imagination of the late nineteenth century. The project aims to investigate the contexts of the origin of the Yellow Kid newspaper comics and to examine the multimodal techniques of (re)-presentation in order to make a contribution to the debate about mechanisms and effects of American popular culture. The Yellow Kid comics are historically situated and are analyzed as manifestations of a new cultural and culture-political practice of the Progressive Era. By looking at the Yellow Kid pages, which offer new perspectives on the social and cultural changes and developments of the Progressive Era, the project will offer an analysis of the cultural work of comics at the end of the nineteenth century. The key concerns of the project are on the one hand to critically engage with the question of how the Yellow Kid pages visually and verbally negotiate social and cultural processes of modernization and on the other to explicate the (creative) modes and means of representation and the platforms of identification that the pages offer to their diverse readerships. The objective is to unfold the (popular) cultural self-representation of the U.S. in the late nineteenth century.
"Imagining the Nation. Constructions of Community after the American Civil War" (Habilitation, Dr. Kirsten Twelbeck)
This book project investigates how Americans imagined their future society during the American Civil War and Reconstruction. With the abolition of slavery and the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, a new, democratic era seemed to be under way. Yet Reconstruction soon became a time of racial segregation and anti-feminist backlash, and many historians have in fact defined it as an overall political and social failure. My research project is more interested in the multifaceted nature of the era than in its political assessment. In keeping with recent research I no longer refer to it as a historical period that started with the end of the war (1865) and lasted until 1877 (when Northern troops were officially withdrawn from the Southern states) but as a far longer phase of national consolidation during which Americans fought over the meaning of their nation. By analyzing literary and non-literary texts written between 1861 and 1882, I examine the changing rhetoric, discourses, and cultural strategies that were established to either defend or attack democratic renewal. By trying to identify the hopes and fears of this era, the book takes a closer look at cultural negotiations during Reconstruction than at their political outcome.
Chapters analyze texts from a range of genres, including journal writing and correspondence, sensational, religious, and utopian literature, and poetry. With this mixture of "private" and public texts and of popular and established writings, the project seeks to show how strongly and profoundly Civil War and Reconstruction culture actually shaped late-nineteenth-century America. By examining the cultural transformations that took place during an era generally perceived as "minor" with regard to its cultural output, the project thus seeks to shed new light on the last decades of the nineteenth century. While I do not deny the immense impact of industrial modernization, scientific innovation, and mass migration on late-nineteenth-century America, I argue that the roots of the era's thought must also be traced to the war and to Reconstruction. The book project is funded by the "German Research Foundation," DFG and will be finished in 2013.
Schwerpunktprogramm "Ästhetische Eigenzeiten. Zeit und Darstellung in der polychronen Moderne" (SPP 1688) (Leitung Gamper/Wegner, 2013-2016)
Das DFG-Schwerpunktprogramm will in zwei Perioden von drei Jahren die Phänomene 'Zeit' und 'Zeitlichkeit' an ausgesuchten Kunstwerken, Artefakten und Objekten der Moderne analysieren, wobei sich der Untersuchungszeitraum von der Gegenwart bin in die Frühe Neuzeit erstreckt. Dieser Ansatz geht davon aus, dass 'Zeit' sich als grundlegendes Phänomen von Sukzessivität nicht allgemein fassen lässt und dass ihr Erscheinen als geschwindigkeitsbezogene räumliche Bewegung, Distanzüberwindung, Veränderung des Entwicklungszustands von Materie und Lebewesen, Ausdehnung und Kontraktion oder (un)regelmäßige Wiederholung an die merkmalsevidente Verbindung mit konkreten Gegenständen gebunden ist. Den integrativen Bezugspunkt der Forschungen bildet das Konzept der 'ästhetischen Eigenzeiten'. 'Ästhetische Eigenzeiten' bezeichnen die wahrnehmbar gemachten, irreduzibel idiosynkratischen Temporalitätsregime einzelner Objekte oder Subjekt-Objekt-Konstellationen. Sie realisieren sich durch 'ästhetische Form' in der doppelten Semantik des Worts, also durch sinnlich-materielle Erscheinung und aisthetische Darstellung oder, spezifischer, durch künstliche oder künstlerische Gestaltungspraktiken. Das Konzept der 'ästhetischen Eigenzeit' bezieht sich zum einen auf die in Artefakten selbst gesetzte, (per)formierte Zeit im Vollzug, zum anderen artikuliert es ein auf die allgemeineren gesellschaftlichen, technischen, kunsttheoretischen und wissenschaftlichen Zeitkonzepte reagierendes, sie kommentierendes, reflektierendes und mitgestaltendes historisches Zeitbewusstsein. Dieser methodische Zugang verspricht einen neuen Blick nicht nur auf das Wissen von der Zeit, sondern auch auf die Zeitlichkeit allen Wissens.
Ruth Mayer fungiert als eine der Initiatorinnen des Programms.
"Diasporische Selbstinszenierungen. Chinesisch-amerikanische und amerikanisch-chinesische Identitäten im Austausch" (Research Project, Mayer/Künnemann, funded by the German Research Association DFG, 2006-2010)
Das Forschungsprojekt untersuchte aus kultur- und literaturwissenschaftlicher Perspektive transnationale Austauschbeziehungen zwischen China und den USA mit besonderem Fokus auf die Erfahrungen und Repräsentationen von chinesischen Amerikanern. Das Projekt zielte primär darauf, den sehr stark gegenwartsorientierten Überlegungen zum Konzept der Diaspora (Stichwort 'Globalisierung') eine historische Dimension zu verleihen. Im Rahmen des Projekts wurden zwei Sammelbände (beide herausgegeben von Vanessa Künnemann und Ruth Mayer) publiziert: Trans-Pacific Interactions. The United States and China, 1880-1950 (Palgrave Macmillan 2009) und Chinatowns in a Transnational World. Myths and Realities of an Urban Phenomenon (Routledge 2011).