Calendar of Events

Spring 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015
Matthew Kirschenbaum (English, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, University of Maryland)
Matthew Kirshenbaum
Sand Tables: A Granular History of a Speculative Form
3:30 pm Curtin 175
Recorded video (Mediasite, with slides)
Recorded video (YouTube, without slides)

This talk explores the medial history and speculative grain of the sand table, a purpose-built furnishing supporting a bounded, malleable, scalable space sculpted in sand and historically used for modeling military or civic operations in three dimensions.

Though sand tables have their origins in the ancient world, they had achieved prominence by the late seventeenth century, more or less coterminous with the rise of relief maps, the science of military fortification as pioneered by Vauban, and the close order drills of “clockwork” field formations formulated by Maurice of Nassau. Georg Leopold von Reisswitz, inventor of the modern wargame or “Kriegsspiel,” built the first implementation of his game on a sand table in Prussia in the early nineteenth century. An early twentieth century American military textbook assumes the sand table as a given in instructing cadets, and enumerates its virtues: that it affords an aerial, “birds-eye” perspective; that it is easily made from common materials; that it is malleable and reconfigurable, capable of reproducing any desired terrain at any scale with greater flexibility and fidelity than static relief maps; and that the resolution of the representations may be as coarse or as “real” as desired.

Not least from their material silicon base, sand tables emerge as a heretofore unexamined component in narratives of interactive medial spaces, with clear medial vectors to maps, modeling, miniatures, and wargaming. (Or almost heretofore unexamined: Friedrich Kittler gives them pride of place with a gnomic reference on the first page of Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.) More specifically, we can locate them in a trajectory of surfaces, screens, and projections that include the wartime plotting tables of the RAF’s Fighter Command (which tracked the incoming German raids in real-time during the Blitz), the SAGE air defense system (where controllers vectored interceptors toward threats using a light pen), and the kind of “big board” digital cartographical displays commonplace in Cold War films like War Games, as well as contemporary “War on Terror” imagery (24, Homeland, et al.)

Drawing on elements of media archaeology, military science, and object-oriented ontology, this talk works towards introducing and situating the sand table within a genealogy of such speculative, projective surfaces. Moreover, the sand table, more than merely passive reflections of an external reality, can assume its own representational primacy, as in, for example, the work of Brian Conley, whose 2008 media installation Miniature War in Iraq . . . And Now Afghanistan! uses a massive sand table for its installed base. The talk concludes that the sand table is equally relevant to both a history of projective surfaces and the origins of tactile (and tactical) touch-sensitive media whose contemporary apotheosis is the tabletop interface of augmented reality.

Hands-On Game Design Workshop
"War, What is it Good For? Playing with Conflict Simulation"
Friday, April 17
12 noon Digital Humanities Lab
2nd Floor East, Golda Meir Library

"Locating the Literary History of Word Processing: A Discussion About Media Archaeology, Computer History, and the (Digital?) Humanities"
Thursday, April 16
1:30 pm Digital Humanities Lab   Note the new time!
2nd Floor East, Golda Meir Library
Sponsored by Social Studies of Information program

Four papers will be read for, and discussed during, this symposium. For details:

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Maryland and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH, an applied thinktank for the digital humanities). He is also an affiliated faculty member with the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at Maryland, and a member of the teaching faculty at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School. Kirschenbaum served as the first director of the new Digital Cultures and Creativity living/learning program in the Honors College at Maryland. Kirschenbaum specializes in digital humanities, electronic literature and creative new media (including games), textual studies, and postmodern/experimental literature.

Photo: Anne McDonough

UWM Year of the Humanities

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