Opening Chapter One: Libraries, Archives, and Conferences

Wow, time sure flies when you’re having fun – I’m long overdue for a blog post, so let’s just get right to it!

Writing and Research: I’ve been spending much of my time, unsurprisingly, on gathering my source materials together for my research. I’ve been particularly focusing on what I’m conceptualizing as Chapter 1 at the moment, which deals with the history and culture of hearing-related assistive technology in the 20th century, particularly on post-war electronics and medical/cultural practices related to those technologies. I’m coming across some surprising findings, such as various cultural and technical connections between the hearing aid electronics industry and music production in the 1960s, which would go on to change the sonic landscape and cultural practices of music worldwide to this day.

Doing research on the ground allows so many questions to come to the forefront. What kinds of regimes of sound are linked to technological, industry, and consumer practices of deaf-related assistive technologies? How do the broader repercussions of these practices link back to the experiences of the people for whom these technologies were ostensibly meant for? How do people portray their own experiences, and who gets to tell what kinds of stories? (One of my favorite stories is that of a hearing impaired man who more or less complains he’d rather listen to music rather talk with people, but his hearing aids prioritize human voices at the expense the music he loves, and he writes about a thought-experiment of using old tape recorders to build a “music-appreciation hearing aid,” but ultimately can’t actually make it himself.) There’s much to be done on this front.

I’ve been doing much of this work using the good old National Diet Library, long-time stomping grounds of researchers both domestic and international (I’ve run into colleagues without intending to several times). At the Diet, I’m looking at everything from 1880s children’s storybooks to 1980s medical journals, and much of what I’m uncovering I’m setting aside for future chapters, particularly for the second half of my dissertation where I’ll move to more explicit cultural representations. (Want to know how in the Jōmon period the rabbit got its long ears, thus granting it some of the best hearing in the animal kingdom, apparently? Stayed tuned!) I’ve also turned to newspaper archives to get some contemporary, mass-broadcasted commentary, which is helping me with better understanding cultural and social attitudes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I’ve also started a personal goal to write just a little bit every day, even if I’ll end up not using much of it. It’s been helpful in situating my thoughts, and also helpful in writing about some juicy anecdotes from the archives that I know I’ll want somewhere in the dissertation – I just don’t know where yet. As a final note here – research is never just about being by oneself staring at books or a computer screen, and I’ve been fortunate to have a number of meetings with colleagues and mentors talking about our projects and more generally our roles as academics in a changing world.

As a preview of things to come, a few days ago I had the chance to introduce myself to people at the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, and aside from being a fantastic meeting all around, it looks like I’ll be able to check out a number of materials that one can’t see anywhere else. Ah, the joys of being on the ground!

An image of me standing in front of a classroom leaning over and speaking.

Professional Events: I’ve also had some chances to more formally present my work or do some general public speaking. Last month I gave a guest lecture for a class at Hosei University, and it was great fun to be teaching again, even if only for an hour and a half. I also presented the general outline of my research to a number of media studies scholars, many of whom belong to the Mono-Media Research Network, a coalition of researchers who work in science and technology studies (STS), media studies, and other related fields, with a focus on examining how material objects relate to cultural practices.

I’ve also attended a number of other events related to literary studies, cultural studies, media theory, and assistive technology. Some highlights include touring the latest corporate offerings of assistive tech at the 46th International Home Care & Rehabilitation Exhibition, spending time with colleagues at the autumn conference of the Japan Society for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication, and catching Marc Steinberg’s keynote at the Theorizing Anime: Invention of Concepts and Conditions of Their Possibility conference at Waseda University.

Finally, I learned that a panel I’m co-chairing has been accepted at next year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference, and I have a presentation coming up next week at the fall meeting of the Anthropology of Japan in Japan (AJJ) research group. Lots to prepare for!

Misc: As my academic work has me thinking about the electronic manipulation of sound, so too am I working on sound in a more creative context. While continuing my jazz piano lessons, I’ve begun thinking more about sound and music recording, designing my own sounds on software that attempts to mimic analog synthesizer hardware from decades ago so I can play it on my keytar MIDI controller when I want to avoid actual piano practice. I think I’ve got a pretty gnarly rock organ sound cooking up…

And that’s all for this post! I’ll work to get these up more frequently – but for now, back to the grind!

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