With this media analysis we are leaving behind hypertext and multimedia fiction in order to explore the role of new media in digitizing, preserving, and presenting historical and cultural material. Are digital archives more than simply huge databases of scanned and digitized documents? What kinds of narratives or “stories” do online cultural archives tell? How do they structure, limit, or foster different types of knowledge?
For this assignment you will analyze one or more online archives, considering how they construct, represent, and manipulate cultural or historical knowledge. There are several ways to approach this project: an in-depth analysis of a particularly rich site that focuses on a specific historical or cultural subject; a comparative analysis of two or more sites that deal with the same topic or material; or a thematic analysis of a set of sites that contend with a particular epistemological problem.
The heart of this media analysis is to carefully examine how the design, structure, and content of the site or sites work together to construct a particular kind of use and user, make possible the construction of particular kinds of knowledge, and reveal the implicit (and explicit) assumptions about the nature of the knowledge being represented (as well as assumptions about the nature of new media itself).
Here are some general questions to get you started (these questions are adapted from A Lexicon of Critical Questions, by my colleague at Georgetown University, Randy Bass). We will explore each of these in more depth in class.
- What kind of digital archive is this?
- What audience does the site address?
- How does the site construct its authority and authorial presence?
- How is the site designed structurally and architecturally?
- Is the site organized around a particular metaphor or set of metaphors?
- How does the site structure and enable our orientation to the materials?
- How does the site structure our mobility and navigation?
- How are primary historical and cultural documents rendered digitally?
- In what ways does the digital text transform the original primary text?
- What are the rhetorical dimensions of the archive?
- What kind of narrative does the site seek to tell?
- How does the site construct knowledge?
- In what ways is the site collaborative and writable?
Your analysis should be about 2,000 words in length, or the equivalent of 6-7 typed pages. Of course, I expect you to break the whole of your analysis into many different lexia.
Your project must appear online and take advantage of hypertext to link your analysis to specific locations of the site you’re writing about. Also take advantage of the many rhetorical strategies that hypertext, dynamic text, and new media allow.
The analysis is due in class on Tuesday, December 6. You will be presenting your analysis to the class.