Documentation from our recent LRS-V conference presentation
“Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) and 21st-Century Literacies”
Derek Hansen, Assistant Professor; Kari Kraus, Assistant Professor; and Elizabeth Bonsignore, Doctoral student, College of Information Studies, University of Maryland
Margeaux Johnson, Science and Technology Librarian and Instruction Coordinator, University of Florida
Georgina B. Goodlander, Interpretive Programs Manager, Smithsonian American Art Museum
- Instruction sheet for hands-on activity (reconstructing the Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry); see below
- YouTube video with examples of artifacts produced for the Gallery
- cryptic blog posts published in advance of the conference here and here
LRS-V Conference October 2010
Beth Bonsignore, Georgina Goodlander, Derek Hansen,
Margeaux Johnson, and Kari Kraus
Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry: Reconstructing Cabinet No. 1171706
“Creativity always builds on the past. And you’re creating the past now.”
In 1844, Samuel Morse, a one-time professor of arts and design at New York University, sent a sequence of electromagnetic pulses over wire from Washington D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland. Those pulses transmitted the first message sent via telegraph, the parent technology of our current telecommunications infrastructure. The content of that first coded message–“What hath God wrought!”–was chosen by Annie Ellsworth, the daughter of a friend of Morse’s. If there was a current of divinity barreling through that wire, as Ellsworth’s choice implies, then there was also one of common humanity: Morse’s telegraph was cobbled together from odds and ends lying about his artist’s studio and his brother’s print shop. Type slugs, an artist’s canvas stretcher, wire from a paper mould, a compositor’s stick, and an old clock-work were salvaged from the jetsam to create a device that would chart a new communications course for civilization. The telegraph was assemblage art, hacked together from found objects. Or call it remixing: think of Duchamp sampling da Vinci; or Picasso, Velazquez; or Keats, Boccacio; or Reubens, Titian. It is the very banality of this tale that makes it what it is: a parable of invention.
PART I. In the spirit of Morse’s invention, we’re soliciting your help in reconstructing the Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry out of the fragments of patent models that survived the mysterious fire of 1877. To help prepare you for working with fragments and other mechanical remains, we’ve created a search and retrieval exercise intended to immerse you in the nineteenth-century culture of invention. One of the striking aspects of patented designs during this era is their partial nature: inventors often modified or improved on parts of objects rather than creating wholes (e.g., skirt borders, drawer pulls, clock fronts, coffin handles, frying pan bottoms, watch chains, watch guards, lock case nosing). The exercise should thus prime you for thinking creatively about found objects.
- To begin, point your browser to the Historical Patent and Trademark Databases at http://ptdla.org/history.
- Click on “Design Patents to 1873” to download the patent spreadsheet and open it on your desktop.
- Try to find a 19th-century design patent that corresponds generically to at least one of the objects assigned to you. (Hint: you may need to coarsen or refine your grain of analysis when searching for and selecting a patent record. Because the object on your card is part of a larger whole–a watch gear, for example, as opposed to a watch–you should generally think at the “part” level). Note that for some objects, while there may be more than one relevant patent record, you only need to choose one.
- If you get stuck, turn your card over, where you’ll find a relevant patent number encrypted in Morse code. Feel free to use an online Morse code translator to decipher it: http://morsecode.scphillips.com/jtranslator.html.
- Once you’ve successfully located a relevant patent record, you should complete each of the information fields on the patent label attached to your object (patent number, name of the inventor, name or description of the object, and year of invention)
PART II (can be undertaken concurrently with PART I). What sorts of wondrous, retro-futuristic inventions might have populated the Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry? Help us curate a reconstructed version of Cabinet No. 1171706 by repurposing the objects of your search and retrieval exercise, as well as those in your assemblage kits. Possible categories of inventions include but are not limited to communications devices, weapons and ammunition (think secret Civil War technologies), cryptographic devices, and medical equipment. Once you’ve finished your model, fill out a patent tag with the name or description of your object, today’s date, and your team members’ names. Then bring your invention up to the display area at the front of the room.