Media History of New York

MCC-UE 1151.001

Moacir P. de Sá Pereira -

Spring 2018. SILV 407 TuTh 12:30–13:45
Office hours: 244 Greene, 506, W 15:00–16:30

Course description

New York has played a crucial role in the history of media, and media have placed a crucial role in the history of New York. New York has been represented by media since Henry Hudson wrote his reports to the Dutch. Media institutions have contributed centrally to its economy and social fabric, while media geographies have shaped the experiences of city living. This course explores media representations, institutions, and geographies across time and is organized around the collaborative production of an online guidebook to the media history of the East Village.

Concretely, we will be looking at media as networks with archæologies, sacrificing coverage for the opportunities to get dirty and trace spatiohistories from multiple vantage points. Our media history of New York, then, is an archæology of Downtown (south of 14th Street). We will first look to both the Astor Place Riot of 1849 and the Village Vanguard of the 1950s and 1960s before switching gears for the second half of the course to study the mediascape of the East Village and environs from the 1960s to today. The course culminates with producing a web-based exploration of that mediascape, “Downtown Archæologies,” through artifacts found and studied by students within either the Downtown Collection at the Fales Library or the Loisaida-specific collections at Centro, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.

Goals of the course


Course requirements and policies



10% The success of any course is directly related to the levels of engagement brought both by the instructor and the students. As such, class participation is vitally important. Similarly, though attendance is logically required for class participation, it is not sufficient. This class requires active participation both inside the classroom and outside.

You can miss up to three meetings without penalty, and you can use these opportunities tactically, to provide space and time to either fulfill other obligations or recuperate from the previous night. I don’t care why you didn’t come. I start to care with the fourth absence, and I start to require documentation. Repeated absence—including excused—quickly gobbles up the class participation component of the grade and begins to threaten your ability to even pass the course.

In a discussion-oriented class, “active participation” involves the following components. All of these are necessary to receive maximum points for participation:

Reading journal and dust collection

20% For one class meeting a week (groups will be determined on the first day), you will be required to post your latest entry in your reading journal three hours ahead of time (at the latest) to our class blog. A reading journal provides you with the opportunity to jot down both your thoughts regarding that meeting’s reading/viewing and provides points of entry to the text that will help kickstart class participation with questions about specific passages/scenes. The journals should be around 500 words in length. These are experimental moments for you, so do not hesitate to take risks in your readings. That said, they should be written clearly. A tip for viewing: watch the films with a notebook in front of you and jot down things you notice instead of trying to summarize it all in your head afterward.

After spring break, when we begin to focus on the East Village, you will further supplement your reading journals with “dust collection,” wherein you add your own interactions with the mediascape by walking around the East Village, mediated by your telephone or other recording device, to your post. The goal here is to help build the foundations that will eventually go into the final project.


25% You will undertake two dérives during the semester. In both, you will get lost in Downtown, while also documenting and tracking yourself. In order to direct your dérive, you will use either the Derive App for your smartphone or a set of cards printed out ahead of time. In order to track the dérive, you are required to trace your path and take notes on a Field Papers atlas and, if possible, track yourself using GPS (the Derive App, if you let it, will save your route).

During the course of the dérive, which can last hours, you should reflect on the work we have already done for the class, both in what you observe while getting lost, but also in the process of getting lost itself. This is a time for psychogeography, not wandering listlessly about while checking the ’Gram. Stroll without headphones; look around and feel the environment around you.

At the end, you will write up a short (1,000–1,250 words) report for each dérive, including textual references from our readings. The report will be be posted to the Dérive Archive, with a Leaflet map detailing the path you took. You can and are encouraged to use other forms of media to supplement the report, of course. You will, however, also turn in your physical Field Papers atlas and notes.

Artifact post

25% During the second half of the semester, you will craft a report/post (1,000 – 1,500 words) about a single artifact you have found in either the Downtown Collection at the Fales Library or the Centro Collection. The artifact cannot be in a digital collection; you have to physically visit either archive. Furthermore, if you choose to go to Centro, be certain that your archive pertains to Puerto Rican culture south of 14th St.

Early in the semester, you will be slotted into a specific week during which you must make your appointment to visit the archive. You should make the appointment as soon as you are slotted into a specific week, as the archives’ schedules fill up quickly.

After visiting the artifact, you can begin writing about it. In describing it, you should position it within the media spatiohistory of Downtown by investigating the various networks and archæologies criss-crossing within the artifact. That is, additional research beyond just inspecting the artifact itself will be necessary.

You will also improve upon this post over the course of our collaboration on the final project. The post should follow basic rules of academic citation.

Final project — “Downtown Archæologies”

20% In the last few weeks of the course, we will combine the artifact posts with other, shorter works to create “Downtown Archæologies,” a website about Downtown. Working collaboratively, we will draw connections between our various artifacts and determine which nodes are missing between them, subsequently filling in those edges with new nodes that take the form of shorter posts involving further research either at Fales, the Centro, or elsewhere. We will try to tailor the tasks to the strengths of the students. Additional writing, of course, should follow basic rules of academic citation.



The assignment instructions, though detailed in the syllabus, may be enhanced or supplemented during the course. If you have any questions about an assignment, you should ask for clarification early. The assignments are due on the dates noted in the syllabus.

All writing will be done in Markdown and saved, staged, committed, and pushed, either to our class blog (, the Dérive Archive (, or to the “Downtown Archæologies” repository (, depending on the assignment.

Late assignments jeopardize both your and my rhythms in the class, so they will be penalized. I will give you feedback and will happily discuss any work with you, but grades should be considered final.


As indicated above, attendance is required. Three absences will be excused without supplemental documentation, and I encourage you to use these tactically. Catching up is your responsibility.

Subsequent absence requires formal documentation. Otherwise it begins to harm your final grade. Though class participation is only part of the final grade, extreme absenteeism (more than six meetings missed) will put your ability to pass the course at risk, even if the absences are excused.

Please show up on time to class, as well.


Our time in class is meant as a sanctuary from the distractions of the rest of the world. Additionally, our class relies on discussion and engagement, and the front of a laptop screen is a brilliant shield behind which a student can hide, even unintentionally. During our meetings, then, there can be no use of electronic devices. Please also set whatever devices you have but aren’t using to silent mode.


Communication is vitally important to the pedagogical process, and this course depends on clear communication in both directions. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, the best course of action is to come visit me during my office hours as noted at the top of this document. If your questions, etc., cannot wait until then, then clearly you can also email me. I should respond within 48 hours, but please write again if I do not.

This is a new course, meaning that there will be even more unfinished edges ready to scratch someone than in a typical course. We have a collective goal of learning, however, so if the unfinished edges get to be overwhelming, I’ll adjust the parameters of the course appropriately. I’m not out to catch you, nor is this course a process of grotesque punishment. Please don’t treat it as such.

Once more, with feeling: communication is vitally important to the pedagogical process. If you have concerns or worries, please let me know about them sooner rather than later.


If you have a disability, you should register with the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities (; 726 Broadway, 2nd Floor, 212.998.4980), which can arrange for things like extra time for assignments. Please inform me at the beginning of the semester if you need any special accommodations regarding the assignments.

Academic integrity

Please look at NYU’s full statement on academic integrity. Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an F and will be reported to the relevant dean for disciplinary action. Remember that plagiarism is a matter of fact, not intention. Know what it is, and don’t do it.


This syllabus is available at the course webpage. A pdf version is also available. The source code and documentation for this document is available at its Github repository. The syllabus is © 2018, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira. It is licensed as Creative Commons 4.0 by-nc-sa, giving you permission to share and alter it in any way, as long as it is for non-commercial purposes, maintains the license, and gives proper attribution. Further information regarding the license, the history of the document, and influences can be viewed at the Github repository.


Required readings indicated with an @ will be available as pdfs. They should be printed out for use in class.

The list of references at the end of the syllabus provides bibliographic details for all the texts for the course.

Texts from The Downtown Book (Gumpert, “Foreword”@; Taylor, “Playing the Field: The Downtown Scene and Cultural Production, an Introduction”@; Alteveer, “Chronology”@) are included but are optional. They provide a good reference, however, for planning out your work in the second half of the semester.

1. Media Archæologies, Sociologies of Culture

2. The Overdetermined Astor Place Riot

3. Transgressing and the Village Vanguard

4. The Community of the East Village

(Readings not yet fixed)


Account of the Terrific and Fatal Riot at the New-York Astor Place Opera House, on the Night of May 10th, 1849; with the Quarrels of Forrest and Macready, Including All the Causes Which Led to That Awful Tragedy! Wherein an Infuriated Mob Was Quelled by the Public Authorities and Military, with Its Mournful Termination in the Sudden Death or Mutilation of More Than Fifty Citizens, with Full and Authentic Particulars. New York: H. M. Ranney, 1849.

Algarín, Miguel, and Bob Holman, eds. Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. New York: H. Holt, 1994.

Alteveer, Ian. “Chronology.” In The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, edited by Marvin J. Taylor, 176–91. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Baker, Benjamin Archibald. “Glance at New York.” In On Stage, America!: A Selection of Distinctly American Plays, edited by Walter J. Meserve, 162–96. New York: Feedback Theatrebooks & Prospero Press, 1996.

Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” Partisan Review 24, no. 3 (1957): 327–58.

Blank City, 2010.

Born in Flames, 1983.

Cliff, Nigel. The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama, and Death in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Random House, 2007.

Debord, Guy. “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.” Translated by Ken Knabb. Les Lèvres Nues 6 (1955).

———. “Theory of the Dérive.” Translated by Ken Knabb. Les Lèvres Nues, 1956.

DeMicheal, Don. “John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Answer the Jazz Critics.” DownBeat, April 12, 1962, 20–23.

Downtown 81, 2000.

Esteves, Sandra María. Yerba buena: dibujos y poemas. Greenfield Center, NY: Greenfield Review Press, 1980.

Feather, Leonard. “Feather’s Nest.” DownBeat, February 15, 1962, 40.

Foster, George G. New York by Gas-Light and Other Urban Sketches. Edited by Stuart M. Blumin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Gitler, Ira. “’Trane on the Track.” DownBeat, October 16, 1958, 16–17.

Gordon, Max. Live at the Village Vanguard. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980.

Gumpert, Lynn. “Foreword.” In The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, edited by Marvin J. Taylor, 9–16. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Hentoff, Nat. “Sonny Rollins.” DownBeat, November 28, 1956, 15–16.

Kittler, Friedrich A. “The City Is a Medium.” Translated by Matthew Griffin. New Literary History 27, no. 4 (1996): 717–29.

Mattern, Shannon Christine. “Conclusion: Coding Urban Pasts and Futures.” In Code + Clay... Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media, 147–56. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

———. Deep Mapping the Media City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

McIntyre, Ian, ed. Up Against the Wall Motherfucker: Posters, Rants, Manifestos and Blasts. Parkville, Australia: Homebrew Publications, 2007.

McNeil, Legs, and Gillian McCain, eds. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. New York: Grove Press, 1996.

Nisenson, Eric. Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.

Noel, Urayoán. In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014.

Pietri, Pedro. “El Puerto Rican Embassy / Manifesto.” In Pedro Pietri: Selected Poetry, by Pedro Pietri, edited by Juan Flores and Pedro Lopez Adorno. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2015.

———. “El Spanglish National Anthem.” In Pedro Pietri: Selected Poetry, by Pedro Pietri, edited by Juan Flores and Pedro Lopez Adorno. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2015.

———. Pedro Pietri: Selected Poetry. Edited by Juan Flores and Pedro Lopez Adorno. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2015.

———. “Puerto Rican Obituary.” In Pedro Pietri: Selected Poetry, by Pedro Pietri, edited by Juan Flores and Pedro Lopez Adorno. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2015.

Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1991.

Stone, Jacob, D. W. Wisdom, Ruth Phelts, and Walda Price. “Chords and Discords.” DownBeat, April 12, 1962, 6.

Taylor, Marvin J. “Playing the Field: The Downtown Scene and Cultural Production, an Introduction.” In The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, edited by Marvin J. Taylor, 17–40. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.

———, ed. The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.

The Universe of Keith Haring, 2008.

Tynan, John. “Take 5.” DownBeat, November 23, 1961, 40.

Whitehead, Colson. “City Limits.” In The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts, 3–11. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.

Wild Style, 1982.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.