Research, Return, Revival

Well, a lot has certainly happened in the world since my last post! I’ve been delaying writing this while waiting for my own situation to settle down, although I’ve decided I might as well briefly record what I’ve been up to, since it’s been long enough. I’ll be focusing on what I’ve specifically been up to, rather than an outline of the oftentimes horrid social and political circumstances we’ve all been through.

2020 started off much as I expected it to: after a brief visit back home to see my family, I went back to Japan, observed the beginning of the New Year, and continued attending seminars at Waseda University and other kinds of events, including fun ones like the Death Note musical, of all things (and the best thing is doing these with friends, like Kimberlee Sanders, who was also organizing an incredible series of media studies events at Waseda).

I was also continuing my research, diving more and more into specialized archives and focusing primarily on newspaper articles throughout the 20th century. I spent much of my time meticulously reading through the whole catalogue of the Japan News for the Deaf (日本聴覚障害新聞). I ended up finding amazing sources on everything from hearing aid history to pedagogical practices at deaf schools to historically situated philosophical ruminations on the connections between music, sound, and language. Around this time I also was generously allowed access to the offices of Rion, Japan’s largest hearing aid manufacturer, and was able to meet with some representatives and check out what they had around – including historical hearing aids that still worked! Although it’ll be a while before I can reach the caliber of Dr. Jaipreet Virdi’s historical hearing aid collection…

Research activities weren’t all with a focus on the past, though! I was also invited to the offices of Pixie Dust Technologies to check out the SoundHug, a glowing sphere that uses vibrations to communicate sound information. As my work with the archives showed, there is a clear history of devices that try to mediate sound in different ways made under different circumstances and for different purposes, and it especially fun to see what was happening with vibrating devices in this day and age. By this time, I was also starting to track down audio-visual representations of deafness, like the movie Happiness of Us Alone.

Nonetheless, in Japan, news about COVID-19 hit earlier than some other places in the world, so by late February some stores were beginning to run out of masks and other supplies.

While I continued doing research and meeting with friends and contacts, I gradually began tapering down my journeys out – by this point I had gathered plenty of sources, anyway! Nonetheless, the Fulbright program that was sponsoring me ending up being suspended, and I ultimately had to return back to the United States. At the very least, I was able to be in Japan long enough to see the much-heralded return of spring with my spouse Riana Shah, albeit under rapidly changing global circumstances.

Once in the US, it took some time to get settled again, although luckily I was able to end up together with Riana to quarantine, which was a major silver lining to not being in Japan. I continued working on the English translation for the movie Emu, and took some time to precisely map out how I would be able to continue working on my dissertation under archival restrictions and other limitations. I think I’ve figured out a way, but under a world where unpredictability has become the one thing easy to predict, I’m letting myself be alright that plans in general may rapidly shift. For the time being, I decided to write a piece on COVID-19 and assistive technology for the Society of Cinema and Media Studies, and I’m working on a longer academic journal article based on my archival research to submit within the next month. After that, I’ll return back to the dissertation work, and we’ll just have to see where things go!

In other news, a panel I spearheaded on hearing aid histories was accepted to the Annual Meeting Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) 2020, which I’m excited about, and hopefully its virtual meeting will be a good way to get back to the conference presenting scene, which I was looking forward to over the spring for multiple conferences which all ended up being cancelled. I’ve also got some online guest lectures lined up, although after writing this post I should go continuing actually writing the class…

On a lighter note, I’m enjoying frequently interacting with waterfowl – birds! – that I don’t see as much in Japan: geese, swans, and turkeys! And being in Cambridge, MA, has been exceptionally nice in terms of the welcoming culture and clear emphasis on LGBTQ+ rights and Black Lives Matter. I’m looking forward to doing what I can to contribute to this new community I’ve found myself in.

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