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Media Change in an Ever-Evolving Institution

Angelica Vergel, Author

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Digital Archives & Institutional Memory Exhibition

Since its inception in 1919 The New School has sought to shift the platforms and modify the protocols of higher education. Founded amid controversy over freedom of speech in the academy and in political discourse at large, The New School fashioned itself into a place where students and faculty could work together, inside the classroom and out, to address contemporary problems and cultivate a world committed to democratic ideals. With its informal administration; its rejection of entrance requirements, exams, degrees, and traditional academic departments; its commitment to adult learners; its championing of civic engagement; and its embrace of scholars ostracized by their own institutions, the early New School was designed as a new kind of intellectual and creative platform — one that we might today call, in the language of Silicon Valley, “disruptive.” In fact, Alvin Johnson, the university’s first president, argued that, rather than providing “acceptable conclusions” for students, The New School would offer “a series of opening vistas” through “instruction that is unsettling, rather than authoritarian and quieting.”*

This new pedagogical platform also embraced the arts as an integral component of social research. Media was taken seriously as a social force — and media making as a social practice. The New School has been a pioneer in both the study and making of media, offering among the first film studies classes in the 20s and integrating the country’s, if not the world’s, first media studies program in the 70s. The MA Program in Media Studies, born out of the Center for Understanding Media (founded in 1969), has always embraced contemporary theoretical frameworks and methodologies for studying media; and experimented with a variety of media technologies, from 16mm film to interactive technologies.

This progressive media history is documented, in part, in The New School’s archives, particularly through recently acquired collections. This project reflects the work of graduate students in the Masters Program in Media Studies to trace these institutional, technological, pedagogical, and cultural platform shifts, and to place them into context. In our first section, we map out The New School’s evolving institutional structure. This constant change reflects the institution’s drive to continually adapt in order to best support its mission. In the second section, three students explore the birth and growth of the Media Studies program, particularly how its course offerings and approaches to teaching and learning evolved in tandem with changes in the media landscape. Finally, in keeping with The New School’s commitment to creative critical practice, we propose our own experimental technological tools that might help us to engage the archive in new ways. Thus the platform in which this exhibition is presented proposes its own shifts — planting seeds for the development of new media, new archival interfaces, and new approaches to archival study, that will continue to make even The New School’s archives ever new.

*quoted in Alvin Johnson, Deliver Us From Dogma, (New York: American Association for Adult Education, 1934): 39.
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