Matrix, Meshwork, Moiré: Patterns in American Print

Jennifer Roberts

2015 Syracuse Symposium™ on Networks

Public Lecture: November 17 / 6 – 7:30 p.m. / Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, Bird Library

Mini Seminar November 18 / 3 – 5 p.m. / Special Collections Research Center / Lemke Seminar Room

Both events are free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required for the mini-seminar. To register, contact Romita Ray at

A key question lies at the intersection of network studies and print studies: how might we define the relationship between the social networks that replicated images enable, and the physical net-works — the screens, dots, and lines of various printing matrices — that enable those images to be replicated in the first place? Proceeding through select examples by artists from Benjamin Franklin to Roy Lichtenstein, Jennifer Roberts’s public lecture, Matrix, Meshwork, Moiré: Patterns in American Print, superimposes these social and material networks in order to explore their patterns of convergence and their reciprocal agencies.

Jennifer L. Roberts is Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. She is an art historian focusing on American art from the colonial period onward, with particular interests in craft and materiality theory, print studies, and the history and philosophy of science. She is the author of Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History (2004), Jasper Johns/In Press: The Crosshatch Works and the Logic of Print (2012), and Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America (2014).

Event Co-Sponsors:

The Syracuse University Humanities Center in the College of Arts and Sciences, organizer of the 2015 Syracuse Symposium™ on Networks

Department of Art and Music Histories

Special Collections Research Center

SUArt Galleries

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A Social History of Your Car’s ‘Check Engine’ Light

Kevin BorgCritical Connections Public Lecture and Mini-Seminar
Kevin Borg (James Madison University)

Public Lecture: January 22, 2015 / 5:00 p.m. / Peter Graham Scholarly Commons / Bird Library

Mini-Seminar: January 23, 2015 / 10:00 a.m. – Noon / Special Collections Research Center / Bird Library

(Both events are free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required for the mini-seminar. To register, contact or at 315-443-2697)

Rare is the motorist today who is not baffled by what to do when their automobile’s “Check Engine” light comes on.  We depend on our cars yet have little understanding about how they work or what to do when they fail.  So when that light comes on, even though we can detect no new noise, vibration, or other sensorial manifestation of trouble, we take the car to a mechanic.  But what does this light mean? Why is it there and why is it not more helpful?  This presentation will explore the interwoven social, technical, political, and environmental histories that converged to create this ubiquitous and ambiguous warning light, and in the process will show that the social, personal, political, and economic meanings of complex consumer goods do not end with their creation or with their use.  Their repair is also fraught with meaning.

For more than a decade Dr. Borg has been studying and writing about automobile repair, auto mechanics, and the creation and maintenance of sociotechnical hierarchies in American auto repair shops. In these shops consumers have interacted with workers whose technological knowledge is crucial to motorists’ needs but whose social status has long been stigmatized.  By the latter half of the twentieth century the social friction caused by this asymmetry of social class and technical knowledge between consumer and mechanic was layered over with increasing consumer frustration with the poor quality of the cars manufacturers sold them in the first place.  At the same time politicians responding to the growing consumer and environmental movements brought new, very public, attention to the business of repairing cars, ultimately mandating new cars display a “Check Engine” light in the instrument panel.  This presentation will argue that the “Check Engine” light is a symbol of the limitations of late-twentieth century consumer and environmental advocacy.

The presentation will close with a call for additional histories of the cultures surrounding the maintenance, repair, and durability of other artifacts and products as a means to help shift attention from our myopic fascination with the inventors, producers, and consumers of new things.  Understanding how we make things continue to last and work—and the social meanings we construct around those processes—might help us glean some wisdom for approaching our current global environmental situation.

Critical Connections Mini-Seminar:

“Using Geospatial Technologies to explore the history of Automobility in Syracuse, New York”

Lately, Dr. Borg has been exploring ways to use geospatial technologies such as Google Earth and ArcGIS to research and teach local and regional history in the late 19th and early 20th century.  This mini-seminar will explore how we might apply these techniques to the history of automobility in Syracuse NY in the early twentieth century by digitizing, georeferencing, displaying, and analyzing Sanborn insurance maps, city directory data, and other sources.  Participants are encouraged to bring their laptops, loaded with Google Earth, to the session and work with the spatial data provided.

CNY Humanities Corridor Visiting Scholars Brownbag Presentation

Jenn ThomasJenn Thomas (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
“Researching Nineteenth-Century Insane Asylum Landscapes of New York State”
Brownbag Presentation: September 5, 2014 / Noon / Tolley 304 / SU Humanities Center

Between 1843 and 1890 New York built state run insane asylums in Utica, Ovid, Binghamton, Poughkeepsie, Middletown, Buffalo, and Ogdensburg.  With the passage of the New York State Care Act of 1890, six more local asylums were brought into the state institutional fold, bringing the total to thirteen.  Most asylums required large amounts of acreage to treat hundreds of patients.  Land to farm, access to natural resources and picturesque settings were considered essential for treating the mentally unwell.  Moral treatment, the Quaker inspired psychiatric practice of the age, combined spiritual guidance, behavior modification, and labor activities to administer patient healing.  Regimented daily routines aimed to adjust mind, body and spirit back to a reasoned state.  Male patients cultivated crops, tended livestock, and constructed formal gardens, grounds and buildings.  Domestic tasks, like cleaning, sewing and laundry were done by women.  Patients participated in a variety of recreational activities including supervised strolls, carriage rides, theatrical performances, and sporting events.  Although asylum histories often focus on specific doctors, treatments, or exceptional circumstances, this project emphasizes how landscape-related activities reinforced expected normative behaviors, reflected contemporaneous landscape theories, as well as paralleled social and state concerns related to mental illness, gender, class, and race in New York.

Jenn Thomas is landscape architecture PhD candidate in the history/theory track at the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign and was a 2013‐2014 graduate fellow at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from the University of Oregon and a Master of Landscape Architecture with a certificate in Historic Preservation from the University of Colorado Denver. Her master’s thesis (2009)—The Education of Jane Silverstein Ries at the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women, Groton, MA, 1928‐1932—explored gendered pedagogy in professional training of women landscape architects through Ries’s schoolwork.

CNY Humanities Corridor Visiting Scholars Brownbag Presentation

Richard Bell“The Blackest Market: Kidnapping, Slavery and Salvation”
Richard Bell (University of Maryland)

Brownbag Presentation: August 29, 2014 / Noon / Tolley 304 / SU Humanities Center

Long before Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) fixed the depiction of man-stealers in the American imagination, there was Patty Cannon (c. 1760-1829). A kidnapper, enslaver, and slave trader of unprecedented audacity and ambition, this Delaware woman died by her own hand in prison in 1829. Concluded decades before the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 brought the abduction of free black men and women to national attention, her repellent career offers a rare glimpse of slavery’s darkest secret: a black market underworld in which legally free people were kidnapped and traded as slaves; a reverse underground railroad of infamous repute in its day that has since been largely forgotten.

Situated at that pivotal moment during which sectional identities began to harden and racial and class politics came to consume the American imagination, Patty Cannon’s story provides a new means to probe some of the major themes in early national and antebellum historiography. Bridging the historiographical and geographic divide between North and South, Cannon’s repugnant exploits connect the rise of the market not only to organized antislavery activism, but also to the spread of industrial agriculture, western expansion, and the democratization of print culture. Hers is a story with national implications.

Richard Bell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received his PhD from Harvard University and his BA from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States (2012) and the co-editor of Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (2012). He is currently at work upon a new book-length micro-history titled “The Blackest Market: Kidnapping, Slavery and Salvation.”

Slavery and Abolition, History of the Book, and Religion in African American History

Undergraduate students
Undergraduate Research Conference
April 14-17, 2014 / See Schedule Below / Peter Graham Scholarly Commons, Bird Library, 1st Floor

Please join us for this week-long conference featuring student research in the holdings of the Special Collections Research Center.

Students from Professor Joan Bryant’s courses Religion in African American History and Slavery and Abolition alongside students from Professor Patricia Roylance’s course History of the Book have spent the semester immersed in special collections, conducting individual research projects on items they have discovered in our holdings. Marking the culmination of a semester of intensive work, this conference offers students the opportunity to present their research in a public forum.

The conference is open to the public. Refreshments generously provided by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Conference Schedule

April 14
12:45-2:05 Slavery and Abolition
2:15-3:35 Slavery and Abolition

April 15
11:00am-12:30 History of the Book

April 16
12:45-2:05 Slavery and Abolition
2:15-3:35 Religion in African American History

April 17
11:00am-12:30 History of the Book

For more information contact Lucy Mulroney, Curator of Special Collections,