> classes > cms grad workshop i, fall 2011

CMS.950: Comparative Media Studies Graduate Workshop I

Fall 2011

Instructor: Nick Montfort, nickm at nickm dotcom
Class meets 12:30pm-5:30pm Mondays in E15-335
Textbook: None. Most of this class involves understanding media through practice, but there are a small number of readings, all of which will be available online. Some readings may be added throughout the semester.

Office hours

My regular office hours are 1-2pm Tuesdays in the Trope Tank, 14N-233.

I am also glad to meet students by appointment in 14N-233, or in E15-329, or on AIM. I use the screen name "coachmontfort" for meetings with students.

Class format and participation

Our Monday meetings are mainly studio-format meetings and will typically involve doing media practice in class, even when there are also some lecture, discussion, or "screening" items.

This semester, all media practice work done for this class will be done in pairs or teams. A voluntary absence from class would make it impossible for your partner or teammates to work with you to develop a project and would be extremely unfair to them. 10% (one letter grade) per day will be deducted for such voluntary absences. A voluntary absense would include choosing to work for your research group during class time, studying or writing papers for other classes during class time, going shopping or enjoying a stroll in the park during class time, etc. Medical reasons, bereavement, or similar reasons for absence are of course not considered voluntary absences and will be excused. Please let me and your project partners know as soon as possible if you are going to be absent so we can try to arrange other ways for your partners to work.


There are six projects. Three are one-day, in-class projects; each of the other three span several weeks. The projects contribute a portion of the final grade as follows (in addition to the 1% you get for free):

Students will be on different teams (usually teams of 2) throughout the semester. The grade given to each student within a pair or group will be the same. To get the maximum amount of credit, the team must develop an excellent project and each member of the team must be able to fully describe the important decisions that were made in development and the essentials of all the technical, creative, editorial, and other work that was done.


This page was last updated on November 3, 2011. It may be updated throughout the semester. If a substantial change is made I will let the class know either during our regular class meetings, by email, or both.


Full descriptions of the six projects will be given in class (where questions can be asked) and the descriptions on the site may be elaborated during the semester.

Our class meetings will include discussions of short readings and some short in-class projects in addition to the six main projects outlined here.

The time allocated for all six projects (whether one-day or larger projects) will conclude with a session for discussion and critique. In the case of one-day projects, this may be about the last 50 minutes of class; for the larger projects, the last of the three days will be devoted to in-class discussion and critique.

The Clock (Sep 12)

Pairs of students will create working displays of the time in Processing, a free/open source programming language for creating interactive sketches. This can be done by modifying and re-using existing code - starting in this way is encouraged.

The Website (Sep 19, Sep 26, Oct 3)

We'll begin the Sep 19 class with an HTML/CSS exercise.

Each team will select a public-domain work (such as anything where the first authorized publication was before 1923) that is about the length of a short book and is not currently on the Web. Develop a valid, accessible website with several HTML files that presents this book with the document structure represented in HTML and all visual design, style, and formatting specified in CSS. This is a project to create an HTML edition, not to present a facsimile with scans of pages. HTML and CSS is to be written in a text editor. For this project, we will divide into 2-3 teams rather than the usual 5.

Readings for Sep 19: "Is Abstraction the Key to Computing?" by Jeff Kramer. [PDF]

[Note that Oct 10 is an MIT holiday; No class.]

The Photo and Caption (Oct 17)

Pairs of students will take documentary photos, write captions (of a few sentences) to accompany them, and present the results on hand-coded web pages. This will be an opportunity to discuss the relationship of word and image.

The Generated Monologue (Oct 24)

Pairs of students will write Python programs that combine fragments of language to produce some sort of non-interactive monologue, which might be a poetic text, might define the voice of some character, might make an insistent ideological statement, etc. Python comes standard on Mac and Linux and is free software that can be installed on Windows. Significant modification of example programs is acceptable and is encouraged as a starting point. Those who wish can later convert their Python programs to JavaScript so they can easily run on the Web.

The Book (Oct 31, Nov 7, Nov 14)

Pairs of students will select short texts (and optionally images) and will create material books (sets of printed sheets bound together into a volume), doing all editorial and production work. InDesign will be available on workshop computers for this project, although pages can be laid out with a word processor such as LibreOffice. For full credit, teams must fully produce at least three copies of their books to gain some perspective, however limited, on producing an edition.

Readings for Oct 31: "A Condensed History of Books" by Nancy Stock-Allen. [HTML]

Note: On Nov 7 we will meet at the Bow & Arrow Press, in the basement of Adams House (Harvard U.), at the intersection of Bow Street and Arrow Street. Meeting time is 1pm.

[On Nov 21 I'll be returning from Chicago; No class.]

The Generated Landscape (Nov 28, Dec 5, Dec 12)

Pairs of students will write programs in Processing that, simply using computation and without including any "assets" (image files, etc.), generate visuals representations that looks like landscapes. Each team's landscape is to be larger than the window used to view it, so some means of navigating also has to be implemented.


Readings for Nov 28: "What is Computation?" by Ian Horswill. [PDF]