Mal Ahern (she/her/hers)

Assistant Professor
M Ahern

Contact Information

Padelford C-502

Biography

PhD, Film and Media Studies / History of Art, Yale University, 2019
MA, City University of New York Graduate Center, 2011

On leave from teaching for an ACLS research fellowship for the 2023-2024 academic year

I am a media theorist working at the intersection of visual studies and the history of technology. My teaching and writing offer concrete accounts of how media technologies work while critiquing common assumptions about technological progress. One thing this means is that I love bringing old machines into the classroom: I am developing a teaching collection of historical media technologies that includes game consoles, projectors, television tubes, and other devices. In the department of Cinema and Media Studies I teach undergraduate courses on the the history of "new" media, glitch aesthetics, media labor, and feminist media theory, as well as graduate seminars in media archeology, historiography, and research methods.

My current book project, "Factory Forms," is a materialist history of the technologically reproducible image. It investigates the skilled labor that reproduces images in film laboratories, printing pressrooms, projection booths, and television field engineering. I am particularly intersted in the ways industrial automation and new forms of computation infiltrated these industries, spurring strikes and other labor struggles. I am also interested in how automation's failures—apparent in glitches, errors, and misprints—transformed fine art and mass culture in this period. Each chapter of the book focuses on a particular form that enabled the industrialization of image reproduction (such as the layers of CMYK printing, or the dotted raster of a color CRT screen) and investigates changing values around precision in each case.

My most recent essay regards air conditioning's transformation of media through a new kind of atmospheric work discipline (Discourse). I have also published essays about the aesthetics of factory automation (diacritics), the indexicality of mechanical drawing (World Picture), Andy Warhol's industrial production of Screen Tests (NECSUS), and Laura Mulvey's use of the panoramic shot (The Viewing Platform). Additional publications in The New Inquiry, Millennium Film Journal, Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism.

My PhD is in Art History and Film & Media Studies with a certificate in Technologies of Knowledge. My research has received funding from the Mellon Foundation, the Simpson Humanities Center, the UW Royalty Research Fund, and most recently the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Before coming to UW I taught at Bard College. Before entering academia I was a collection cataloger and registrar at Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY.

Other interests include experimental film, media art, Marxist theory, psychoanalysis, 19th century media technology, and gender and sexuality studies. I collect printer's errors, glitches, and other failures of mass production, so please send them as you find them.

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