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Title: Gadgetry: New Media and the Fictional Imagination
Authors: Wythoff, Grant
Advisors: Cadava, Eduardo
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: digital humanities
media studies
media theory
science fiction
Subjects: American literature
American studies
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Gadgets like smartphones and GPS receivers, say the pundits, are fundamentally altering the ways we read, communicate, and even think. <italic>Gadgetry: New Media and the Fictional Imagination</italic> throws such claims into relief with a cultural history of these seemingly small, everyday tools. The word "gadget" has historically referred to both concrete objects and indeterminate tools that have been forgotten, rigged up on the fly, or not yet invented. Spanning a range of literary, social, and technical histories, a genealogy of these alternately functional and fictional devices from their origins in mid-nineteenth-century nautical jargon to their current association with mobile media reveals a distinct evolution in the imaginative space between tools and their users. While other scholars have catalogued various fantasies about media technologies, these projects often resort to a binary in which works of representational modernity merely respond to technological revolutions. Focusing on the nascent tinkerer and genre fiction communities of early twentieth century America, I argue that fictions play a constitutive role in the emergence of new media as socially shared systems of communication and expression. The gadget is an object of study that, by its very nature, calls for an interdisciplinary approach able to place a range of technical, social, and literary histories into conversation. <italic>Gadgetry</italic> engages with fields like media archaeology, science fiction studies, design, and the history of science. Being interdisciplinary doesn't mean, however, that one simply maintains a diverse list of primary and secondary sources. It means holding one's methodologies up to the lens of critical inquiry. In order to construct a more comprehensive conceptual framework, part of my research has involved building a dataset on the etymology of the word "gadget." Using several text mining resources and a simple Perl script that visualizes the prevalence of categories into which I plug each instance of the word, I am able to watch as the tools, applications, cultural contexts, and social valuations of gadgetry evolve from the 1880s to the present. My work thus provides a model for how theories of technology and cultural form might engage with the explanatory power of digital resources.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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