when it’s about all the stuff for which I got into this business: reading, writing, talking about ideas. Highlights of the week included teaching (which is always a highlight), meeting with students about their work. the meeting of an augmented reality working group yesterday (which basically functions like a reading group for the moment), and yesterday I headed over to Concordia to attend a symposium on the history of communication studies in Canada. Now, I confess that I mostly went to learn about the history the field in Canada, something I don’t know that much about. Highlights in this respect included Kim Sawchuck’s historical survey of feminist work and work by women in the Canadian Journal of Communication which was a real eye-opener. At dinner later, I also learned from organizer Charles Acland that the Canadian Journal of Communication was originally called — in inimitable 1970s McLuhanite fashion — Media Probe. MEDIA PROBE! I am so going to the library next week to see if they have any copies with intact covers. I would love a picture of the cover. Yes. “Communication Studies. We’re a serious field. Just check out our journal. It’s called Media Probe.” Too bad they had to change the name.
Another highlight was learning that there’s a letter out there somewhere from Marx to Engels that says “you know, Engels, we got our idea of class struggle from some French historians idea of ‘race struggle'”. I’ll have to track that one down, too. I’m told Bill Buxton gave a great talk on decoupling McLuhan from Innis (a great idea!) but alas, I wasn’t going to make a 9am panel across town after this week.
I cared less for the debate about disciplinarity and centers and margins at the conference. My opinions on these subjects are well-formed and in print here and there. I am coming around to the idea that this is the kind of thing that one speaks about to the dean, the curriculum committee, and on blue-ribbon panels on the “future of the field” at professional associations.
That said, another highlight of the conference for me was hanging out with retired faculty. Charles did a good job of making the conference a bona fide multigenerational event. One of the speakers knew C. Wright Mills as a grad student and prof and offered good stories on that. I also met Thelma McCormack, who was the keynote. She was one of the few feminists who publicly opposed Canada’s experimental Dworkin-MacKinnon-based obscenity laws in the 1980s. At the time, she caught a lot of crap for it, but I think history shows that she was on the right side of that debate. At 80, she’s still got a sharp wit and a clear critical sense. Of course, there are some serious generational differences in scholarship. But it’s also interesting and kind of inspiring to see how politicized scholars tell similar stories across generations. That kind of history of the field, though perhaps more “war story”ish, is what really intrigues me. That and in the case of Canada, institutional histories of the field, since I’m still learning that. I think I may have mentioned it before, but Gertrude Robinson’s history of the field in Canada is still one of my main resources for the time being.