One Book, One School, Or This is Henry’s Brain at Annenberg

When I left MIT three years ago, after having spent the whole of my professional career at one institution, I left with a sense that what I had produced so far represented who Henry was at MIT. I had been impacted by everything about that school — starting with the fact that I arrived there just in time to watch most of the progress of the “digital revolution” move outward from leading technical research institutions and hit the general population, and continuing through everything that had been involved in creating and sustaining the Comparative Media Studies Program for more than a decade. Add to this my experiences as a housemaster for Senior Haus for sixteen years, and you have a picture of someone who was deeply shaped by where they were and how they worked. As I reflect back, I keep discovering ways that I absorbed ideas from colleagues, even people I never really got to know, but whose ideas permeated the environment of the Institute.

I have now been at USC for the better part of three years, long enough for us to start to discover who I am in this new institutional environment. And the Annenberg School provided me with a great chance a week or so ago to reflect on the nature of the changes. The School has initiated what it is calling the “One School, One Book” program, where each year, they will showcase a book by a member of the faculty which they try to get the students, faculty, and staff to read and discuss. This first year, they chose my book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. I was deeply honored and even more so, when they asked that I bring together some of the students I have worked with most closely in the school to share their insights into how the book had impacted their own research.

My joke these days has been that I have reached an age where I know longer want to be disciplined and I am not yet ready to be institutionalized, but it is only partially true in both cases.

If our institutions help to define what we know and what we think and what kinds of work we can do, a lot of that influence is through the students we have a chance to work with, and I have been profoundly lucky to have a chance to work with some extraordinary students in Annenberg, the Cinema School, and beyond. This occasion came at an interesting moment, having sent in the finished manuscript for my next book, Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Society, which I co-authored with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. Due out in January 2013, this book represents in some ways the culmination of all of the work we did through the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT. In my remarks here, I describe it as my transition book, one which is still strongly influenced by contacts and conversations at MIT, but still heavily influenced by my encounters and experiences at my new academic home.

After some opening remarks by our Dean Ernest Wilson and by myself about the experience of writing these two books, we turn the floor over to Francesca Marie Smith, Laurel Felt, Kevin Driscoll, and Meryl Alper, who describe how they relate to different aspects of the work I have begun in Los Angeles on fan studies, new media literacies, civic engagement, and transmedia play, respectively.

By the time this was over, I was bursting with pride over how articulate and thoughtful these students were. I had to share this experience with the loyal readers of this blog, so that you have a stronger sense of what my day to day experiences are like here in Southern California.

Do keep in mind that I also have several other intellectual families here through my work in the Cinema School and the School of Education.