Abstract- Erkki Huhtamo

http://hdl.handle.net/10002/441 (FULL PAPER)

Intercultural Interfaces: Correcting the pro-Western Bias of Media History

Most media histories have been written from a Euro-American perspective: when considered at all, other parts of the world are usually pictured as passive recipients of innovations that have originated in the West, reflecting ideas of ideological and economic domination. In a media culture that is increasingly ‘global’ when it comes to the transmission of information and even access to tools and gadgets, we have particularly strong reasons to question such a dangerously simplistic notion about the media’s past(s). A new kind of media-historical scholarship is needed, one that takes into account the extent and complexity of inter-cultural exchanges.
There are difficult problems to solve, even on very basic levels. These include problems of cross-cultural understanding, issues of access and language, as well as huge gaps in knowledge, sometimes deliberately caused by political or religious actions. There is no universal agreement about the meaning of notions like “media” and “art”, especially when approached from a historical perspective. Much relevant material is difficult to locate and access, and it may be written in a language that few specialists master. Much evidence has been lost, because it was considered frivolous, superfluous or ideologically suspect (a case in point: China during the cultural revolution!). As these issues indicate, the new media-historical scholarship needs to be inter-personal, inter-cultural and inter-disciplinary. What is needed are not just new theories and methods, but new institutional structures and scholarly networks.
This paper identifies and discusses the premises for an approach that would satisfy these needs. It shows that media-historical scholarship can profit from work already done on fields like visual anthropology, post-colonial studies and comparative cultural analysis. The pioneering works by scholars like Eric Michaels, Victor Mair, Wu Hung and Timon Screech will be discussed and their relevance for the present task assessed. Finally, case studies will be introduced to highlight the problems and promises of the ‘extended’ media-historical approach. These include ‘peep media’, the persistent presence of devices and practices for peeping at images in various cultural contexts, including Japan, China, India and Europe. At present the cultural trajectories of ‘peeping’, as well as its interpretations and discursive manifestations in different cultural contexts, are insufficiently understood.