Published: June 24, 2015

Lori EmersonDoes new media correlate with technological progress?  That's what students investigate in Assistant Professor of English Lori Emerson's Introduction to Media Studies course.  To understand the extent to which technological media has progressed over the past century, Emerson asks her students to handle old computers, typewriters, record players, etc. at the  Media Archaeology Lab on Grandview Avenue in Boulder.  There, students, "Take things apart, and see what's going on underneath the hood ... I really believe that you can't understand how media work without using it.  You can't understand without hands on access," says Emerson.  She created the Media Archaeology Lab in 2009 and continues to direct it.  The lab collects older word processors, sound equipment, and recording devices.  Emerson cites that one such recent addition to the lab is a 1920s era Edison phonograph.  "It works with a crank," she says.

In Introduction to Media Studies, Emerson teaches students about the history of computing and about the progression of media from past to present.  She says that she helps students "... think about how things could work otherwise and could be otherwise--how to reimagine possibilities for computing."  Emerson encouraged her students to bring their own media devices into the lab during their monthly visits there to compare the artifacts in the lab "... up against new media."   Emerson says that spending time with older machines allows students to consider "... how long their computers and old cell phones could last ... Some old machines can do things better than our machines today."  She says that she tries to challenge students to reconsider the value of older technologies and:

... think critically about old and new media of all kinds ... I get [students] to see that every new technology that comes out isn't necessarily better.  One of the ways that I do that is bringing them into the Media Archaeology Lab.

Students in the Spring 2015 semester of the class enjoyed their time in the lab so much that they nominated Emerson for an ASSETT Excellence in Teaching with Technology Award.  One student wrote that Emerson “... [centered] the class around forms of technology–new and old, visiting the multi-media archaeology lab, and using technology to teach.”

Emerson's students wrote blog posts to reflect on their time in the Media Archaeology Lab.  Then, they wrote research papers and collaborated for final group creative projects.  Groups' projects responded to topics that they talked about in class.  One group created a sound art project about the sounds that old machines made in the lab.  Another group created a typewriter art exhibit.