New School News

Media Studies Faculty Member Shannon Mattern Releases New Book on the History of Urban Media

How was media experienced in urban spaces before the digital technological revolution? Many people assume that the advent of digital media is where the history begins. But, as Media Studies faculty member Shannon Mattern reveals in her new book, cities have been sites of mediated communication for thousands of years.

Mattern acts as media archaeologist with Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (University of Minnesota Press).

Going beyond the historical concepts of origins, development, revolutions, and the accomplishments of an elite few, Mattern leads readers through a historically and geographically broad range of stories and takes media archaeology to the city’s streets, revealing new ways to write our urban, media, and cultural histories.

“I’ve always been interested in the ways in which our intellectual architectures — our ways of thinking, or of organizing concepts and  classifying things — are made manifest in our built world: in the media objects, furniture, buildings, cities, and infrastructures we design and engineer,” Mattern says “Today, we’re hearing a lot about ‘smart’ objects, artificial intelligence, and sentient cities, but we don’t always stop to consider what epistemologies are implicit in those labels. I wanted to extend this line of questioning into other cultural contexts and time periods — to show that cities all around the world, and across history, have long embodied networked ‘smarts’ and forms of ‘ambient’ intelligence.”

Mattern is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School for Public Engagement. In addition to Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media, she is also the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities, and Deep Mapping the Media City.

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