In a world where media are omnipresent, this summer school offers a unique opportunity to explore histories of media performance. The programme will focus on the interplay between media developments and performative culture from the late eighteenth century to the present day, focusing on how cultural change, new forms of knowledge, and visual culture were turned into modern spectacles and experiences. From early modern optical tools in Wunderkammers, devices of wonder and philosophical toys to contemporary interactive digital media and VR, we will explore the world of performative media that has fascinated, informed, and shaped our perceptions. 

Throughout history, the realms of art, theatre, and media have been closely related. Artists have always embraced cutting-edge techniques and technologies to create aesthetic universes, theatrical effects and optical illusions, playfully delving into mechanics, optics, and sound to engage live audiences. This tradition endures more than ever in the present digital era, as contemporary performance and media artists are rekindling their fascination with both old and new media, using experimentation to revive media and explore the potential and limitations of scientific and technological advancements. 

Given this intricate relationship, our Summer School delves into media histories through the lens of performance. We aim not only to investigate its historical roots in terms of scientific innovation and spectacle but also, more significantly, to experimentally revive media histories through live interaction with media devices. Collaborating closely with contemporary performance and media artists, we will explore the methods of revitalizing old media within a contemporary setting in front of an audience. This involves performative re-enactments, staging within an exhibition context, film presentations, and 3D and VR experiments to breathe new life into historical media and showcase their relevance to today's audience. 

Key Questions: 
  • How can we comprehend historical media performance and the experiences they offered? 

  • How can hands-on interaction with old media technologies help us to better understand the historical context in which they were experienced? 

  • How does experimenting with media objects enhance our understanding of other media historical sources? 

  • How do contemporary media like film and VR help us reawaken and explore past media-historical experiences? 

  • What lessons can historical media teach us about the use and influence of today's media? 

We emphasize the performative, experimental and hands-on approaches, inspired by recent developments across fields in the humanities and social sciences (Fors, Principe, and Sibum 2016; Wynants 2018; Fickers and van den Oever 2022; Dupré et al. 2020). The history of science, media and technology has long been dominated by discourse-oriented analyses, mainly focused on spoken or written aspects. However, this overlooks the performative dimension and materiality of media technologies, as well as the sensory skills and bodily knowledge regarding their usage practices. Inspired by performative methods and historical re-enactment, performing media archaeology recognizes that historians and artists actively contribute to knowledge construction. It aims to produce experimental insights into how media were used, developed, and experienced in the past. 

An important dimension of this approach involves sensory exploration of the involved practices and material properties of historical media devices. This goes beyond mere observation. Engaging with material artifacts and delving into the perceptual, sensorial, and experiential aspects of these media objects contributes to a better understanding of past media experiences. Rather than attempting to authentically recreate historical experiences, re-enactments serve as intellectual and sensorial experiments that highlight the differences (and interactions) between textual, visual, and performative approaches to history. They generate historical possibilities and impossibilities but are not able to tell us what ‘really’ happened (Sibum 2000). Instead, re-enactments have the potential to shed light on the tensions and frictions in our relationship with the past (Agnew, Lamb, and Tomann 2020).  

With the term re-enactment, we include similar related concepts such as re-use, re-making, re-constructing, re-doing, and re-staging historical media experiences, activities in which artists and scholars examine and perform (past) media practices and experiences. We will also explore how we engage with historical media and objects as historical sources. Our goal is to encourage students to critically examine media and related source materials, delving into their materiality, sensory and performative properties, and the role of our senses in media research.