On Media History
All historians are doing a form of media history. History only survives by being represented in media (writing, photos, tablets etc.) therefore media are the instruments of history. Historians are generally blind to the media themselves and only focus on the content of media. Media historians use media as both the instruments and subjects of history. This creates an extra issue for media historians – media shape, restrict and affect how history can be told.
Gitelman suggests the case study approach is the most effective and that we should study media when they are just new – before protocols and cultural constructs have formed around them. As we forget the technical protocols that underlie media, (they just become assumed) that media gains authority and legitimacy.
Gitelman focuses on the relationships between technology and society: while new technologies had to adapt to fit into existing social and cultural traditions, at the same time they also birthed entirely new sociocultural practices. New technology in the late nineteenth century and in the 1990s had to negotiate their place in relation to the existing structures of society while at the same time, shaping and changing the very society they were adapting to.
Audiences have agency and do not blindly follow technologically determined media uses. For example, the phonograph was meant to be used for business dictation but housewives began using it in the home for entertainment. Today we hack, remix and otherwise subvert the intended purposes of new media.
How are new technologies understood by contemporaries? How do they affect consciousness? How they reconstruct public and private life and create new forms of presence? What effect do they have on social order and practice?