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Conference highlights year-long project on media in transition

An international conference on the ways in which digital technologies are transforming the culture of the book is one of the fall highlights of an ambitious collaboration between MIT humanities faculty members and the Markle Foundation of New York.

The conference, to be held Friday and Saturday, October 24-25 at MIT, is titled "Transformations of the Book" and will feature lectures and demonstrations by scholars and designers who have created Web-based and hypertext projects involving some of the landmark texts and materials of humanistic culture. Topics will range from classical literature, Chaucer and Shakespeare to Hitchcock's films and the visual arts.

The conference is one of a series of activities organized by the Media in Transition Project, a joint venture of the MIT Communications Forum (directed by Professor David Thorburn), the MIT Film and Media Studies Program (directed by Professor Henry Jenkins) and the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation. Professors Thorburn and Jenkins of the literature section are the project's director and co-director, respectively. The project will run through next fall and will involve a range of lectures, forums, conferences and on-line events.

"MIT is an ideal setting for this project," Professor Thorburn said. "We hope to encourage a conversation among engineers, policy-makers, social scientists and humanists about our contemporary experience of change and transformation by new media. But we aim to do this in part by insisting on a sense of the past, by comparing older periods of media transition with today's media environment."

A Web site at <> has this week's conference schedule and registration information. It will also serve as an archive of highlights of the forums and conferences and as a forum for on-line discussion of media-in-transition issues and opinions.

Another part of Media in Transition is a science fiction reading series with authors including Orson Scott Card, Gregory Benford, Joe Haldeman and Octavia Butler. Titled "Media and Imagination," the series will focus on writers and texts that dramatize the relations between new media forms and society. "Science fiction has been the literary genre which has worked through the possibilities of emerging media most thoroughly," Professor Jenkins said.

The next reading is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 20 in Rm 26-100, when Orson Scott Card and Allen Steele will read and discuss their fiction. Previous speakers were Frederick Pohl and James Patrick Kelly (September 18), and Gregory Benford and Joe Haldeman (October 15).

Other Media in Transition events will include a forum titled "Virtual Communities: Questions, Theories and Opportunities," scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 6. Among the speakers are Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier.

Spring-term events will include a series of panel discussions, performances and lectures devoted to "The Aesthetics of Transition." This sequence on the artistic implications of emerging media will culminate in a lecture series by the distinguished media historian Tom Gunning. A major conference on democracy and digital technologies is planned for early May.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 22, 1997.

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