A “Spectral Turn”?

From Cambridge’s Department of Geography’s page on Ghost Species: Geographies of Absence and Extinction:

This project explores the idea that there is a spectre haunting conservation policies in the twenty-first century: the spectre of absence. Drawing on the recent ‘spectral turn’ in the humanities and social sciences, this project brings something new to debates about extinction, de-extinction, and restoration. When viewed through the lens of spectral geography, absence is not a lack of something – the opposite of presence. Rather, absence is powerful – it reverberates through landscapes and memories (‘gone but not forgotten’) and disturbs the ‘when’ of spatiotemporal experience and the ‘how’ of perception. This animation of absence has implications for conservation policy in two distinct ways.

Since I’m not exactly plugged into cutting edge research I was not particularly aware there was a “spectral turn” taking place in the humanities and social sciences, but I’m not surprised. Looking around for more, I found a number of recent scholarly journal articles (most behind paywalls) about hauntological subjects—the atemporality that I discuss in The Chaos Conundrum and that others have seen at work on the fringiest of popular culture.

At the very least, this Ghost Species project looks fascinating. The next decade or so should see some exciting scholarly works.

Suburbia and Saucers

Salon has a reasonably good piece up entitled Weird suburbia: How atomic bombs and UFOs created modern America, which is an excerpt from Welcome to Mars: Politics, Pop Culture, and Weird Science in 1950s America by Ken Hollings. It’s a nice introduction to the relationship between suburban growth, the military-industrial complex, and the RAND-style thinktank culture that dominated the postwar west. A snippet:

The Atomic energy Commission and Project RAND are soon studying the flying saucers, AeC chairman David Lilienthal going so far as to make a public statement discounting any direct relationship between such sightings and the effects of atomic radiation. However, the main connection between the saucers and the emergent military-industrial complex will inevitably be supplied by the United States Air Force: an organization that has had to wait until now for an Act of Congress to bring it into being. The 1947 National Security Act does as much to recalibrate the American war machine as von Neumann and Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. 

I will be interested to read Hollings’s book, not least because there might be (should be?) some overlap with my Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist: Alien Contact Tales Since the 1950s. The 50s seem like they’ve been done to death by historians and pop culture scholars, but the overwhelming view of the era as Leave it to Beaver seems to persist for the general public.   

In any case, Hollings’s book is now on my to-read list. I hope I remember to look at my to-read list at some point…

Hat-tip to The Anomalist for pointing me to the Salon article.

End of Semester Updates

Fall 2013 is in the books, with grades all submitted.  It was a good one, with a lot of great students, few headaches, and more ideas that worked than didn’t.

This next semester, I’ll be on sabbatical, working on a fairly massive project.  I’ll be creating a set of learning and assessment tools for our four survey classes (US History to 1877/1877 to the Present; World History to 1500/1500 to the present) and setting up an online home for them.  If you’re interested (and I can’t imagine you would be, but still) here is the application document that I submitted almost a year ago.

Talking to people, they seem to think that the hard part will be the website bit.  Actually, I’m pretty convinced that coming up with the actual materials is going to be the hard part!  I’m also not entirely sure that not being in the classroom is going to be that great–I’ll probably be missing it by the end of January.  I’ve also transitioned out of my part time professional development gig to dedicate as much time as possible to the sabbatical project, so that will be a change as well.

Additionally, I’ve got the next book project going, having signed a contract with Rowman & Littlefield to deliver a book for their series on science fiction television.  My volume will examine 1990s paranormal and conspiracy theory-themed television series as well as the ways in which these things appeared in other shows and–in general–seemed to permeate the SFTV world at the time.  Surprisingly, there are a lot of shows out there that have not been examined to any great degree.  This all extended far beyond The X-Files.

In any case, I negotiated a year to finish and deliver the book, due to the sabbatical project being priority one.  There are some other small things cooking as well and the random project name generator has been getting a workout for both announced and un-announced things.  Thus, I’ll be working on and referring to BLACK SCREWDRIVER (the book project), ENDLESS WEATHER (the sabbatical project), SLEDGEHAMMER GOLDEN (secret), EIGHTH WRENCH (secret), and SIENNA SMOKE (secret).

Have a good  Christmas, Yule, Solstice, etc.  Signing off until 2014, except for random photos and automagically generated stuff…

Books to read, things to do…

Due

So, yesterday, my copy of Posthuman Blues, Vol. II (the collected 2005-2006 writings of the late Mac Tonnies) arrived in the mail.  I’ve devoured it over the past 12 hours and enjoyed it greatly  Expect a full write-up by the end of the week.  Offhand, it filled me with a bit of nostalgia  I’d have written something by now, but it’s the end of the semester and between grading, meetings, and gearing up for my upcoming sabbatical (and its attendant project), my time is limited.

Full disclosure, PHBv2 is published by Redstar, who published my recent The Chaos Conundrum (on sale for $6.99!).  20131217 014822869 iOS I paid my own money for the book though, so no bias or bribery here!  Also, I’m kind of geeked to be featured on the back cover blurbs (pulled from my introduction to Volume 1), possibly the only time I’ll be in the same group as Cliff Pickover and John Shirley.

Speaking of the sabbatical, I’ll be writing a bit about that and what I’ll be working on over the next few months.  It certainly won’t be a vacation!

Now, back to grading and drinking too much coffee.

Archaeoacoustics: Some Background

In The Chaos Conundrum I wrote a bit about archaeoacousitcs, the emerging science (or pseudoscience) of flooding ancient sites with wide-spectrum noise in an attempt to gauge how it was used (aurally, anyway) centuries or millennia ago.

Paul Devereux and Jon Wozencroft have done a lot of work on this, and there’s some interesting information about the procedure here. I first heard of this from a post on writer Warren Ellis’s website a few years ago (this one here, I believe).

Saturday Night

The Mott Foundation Building- Flint, Michigan

The Mott Foundation Building- Flint, Michigan

It’s a Saturday night and this post is mostly to test out some automation stuff at a time when few(er) people are probably paying attention…

The picture to the right is of the Mott Foundation Building in Flint, Michigan.   I took the photo last night, around 11:00 PM, and cranked it about in Instagram to make it look a bit more faux-vintage.  I talk about some of the implications of this sort of atemporal treatment in The Chaos Conundrum of course, but I remain amazed at how easy it is to make these sorts of changes to photos.

As an historian, I find this a bit disconcerting–If new things can be made to so easily resemble old things, the old stuff may lose a bit of its cool-ness.  I don’t have any worries that it will lead to historical hoaxing (at least not any successful hoaxes) but…

Shocking slide of a Transformers cartoon DVD!

Shocking slide of a Transformers cartoon DVD!

The discussion, of late, about alleged slides of the Roswell aliens lead me to consider the uses of modern technology to create a new, previously-nonexistent past.  Now, slides are a physical thing and (the coolness of 3-D printing aside) there’s little danger that the physical slides could be successfully recreated.  But–and I’m really cynical here–the need to produce slides would come after a lot of the actual money and publicity had been garnered by…whoever.  Put some suitably manipulated pics online, drum up some interest, gain some notoriety, and then cash in.  Now, it’s UFOlogy, so the cash in question is pretty limited, but it’d be fun to pull a hoax like this, if I had nothing else to do.

Note: I’m not saying the current Roswell slide thing is a hoax–I’m just using it as an example of how modern digital photo trends could lend themselves to this sort of thing.  

Anyway, some things I’m thinking about tonight, between watching old Transformers cartoons and trying to decide whether I should grade papers tonight or tomorrow.