The 1992 Harold E. Edgerton Award has been given to a member of the Humanities faculty, Henry Jenkins, assistant professor of literature.
Professor Jenkins is widely regarded as a leader and founder of a new area of scholarship centered on the relation between the narrative arts of the mass media and their audiences. He accords audiences a more active role in the creative process than previous researchers, for example showing how Star Trek fans have appropriated the program materials to create their own underground literature surrounding the series.
He also is a film scholar specializing in movie comedy in the early sound era.
His selection was announced at the April meeting of the MIT faculty by Dr. Irwin Oppenheim, professor of chemistry and chairman of the selection committee. The other committee members were Dr. Jeffrey H. Lang, professor of electrical engineering; Dr. Ruth Perry, professor of literature and women's studies; and Dr. Warren P. Seering, professor of mechanical engineering.
The award, which carries an honorarium of $5,000, was established in 1983 with contributions made by the faculty in honor of Professor Harold E. (Doc) Edgerton, who died in 1990. It recognizes distinction in teaching, research and service to the MIT community by a junior faculty member.
Professor Jenkins joined the literature section in 1989, the year he received his PhD in communications arts from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He received his BA in political science and journalism from Georgia State University in 1980, and an MA in communications studies from the University of Iowa in 1985.
In its citation, the selection committee said that in his first three years on the faculty "he has pioneered a new area of media studies in the classroom and on paper." It noted that he is the author of two books and a dozen articles.
"As our media themselves change-as we enter the era of optical fiber cable, interactive video, and other advanced image technologies-Jenkins' work on audience influence will become increasingly significant," the committee said, adding:
"Jenkins is teaching us to re-think the study of media culture with new respect for its collaborative nature, with attention to what a text means to people who function as a community, and for the effects of the huge audiences academics have often ignored or condescended to. As we increasingly become a society organized around image control, this work on the relationship between images and the communities that appropriate, re-edit and personalize them will become increasingly important in sociological and political analyses."
The committee said Professor Jenkins also "has put film and media studies on the map for undergraduates" as the only full-time film scholar in the literature faculty.
The committee said his work on early sound comedies "challenges reigning conceptions of the evolution of American film by recovering and analyzing films that have rarely been discussed, or even acknowledged, in the standard accounts of Hollywood."
The committee continued, "Jenkins insists on the importance of vaudeville's influence in this history as a model of comedy less interested in narrative continuity than in vivid, often morally or ideologically subversive, moments of performance." It added, "One reason for the failure of standard histories to recognize such movies is that the films often gave a central place to women comedians and to anarchic skits that mocked or challenged traditional ideas of gender relations."
The citation concluded: "We live in an age when telecommunications and media and image technologies are altering more than our entertainment and cultural options. Some social philosophers. . . have written of a fundamental shift toward information and communication as principles of social organization. Jenkins' work is a pioneering effort to study how communities are constructed and sustained in relation to their appropriation and interpretation of filmed and electronic images. He is one of the few well-trained humanist interpreters to enter this area and is helping to establish MIT as a leader in this new and exciting area."
A version of this article appeared in the April 29, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 28).