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Meet Jeffrey Kirkwood, art history

By Haley Silverstein

   Jeffrey Kirkwood 

From body cameras to Facebook, we live in a world shaped by technology. While these machines and social networks are ubiquitous, little thought is given to their actual functions and influences.

Jeffrey Kirkwood, an assistant professor of art history at Harpur College, studies media technologies and the ways in which they transform systems of belief and ideology.

"These histories of material technologies, actual things that have actual functions, limit, dictate or influence the ways in which we produce ideas," Kirkwood said.

As part of his course on the introduction to media theory, Kirkwood looks at how technology has transformed the conception of "self." According to Kirkwood, people are able to construct identities and govern their social interactions through media platforms like Facebook.

"You have the construction of seemingly authentic identities — people take photos of themselves and put effects on them. But these are all hyper standardized," he said. "They grow out of programing languages that are not transparent to us. You think that you're constructing an authentic version of yourself, when in fact, the options have already been set for you."

As a media theorist, Kirkwood examines technological questions that have social and cultural implications. Technology is transformative, he said, echoing in all aspects of life. From a policeman's body camera shifting power dynamics between the police and policed to the way Google Scholar revolutionized the way we access knowledge, these material technologies have remarkable secondary effects.

As an undergraduate at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Kirkwood studied philosophy and history. He continued his education at the University of Chicago, receiving a master's degree and ultimately a doctorate from Princeton University.

Kirkwood has spent time in Germany researching and studying media theory. In 2011, Kirkwood received a Fulbright Fellowship to Germany where he was a visiting junior fellow at the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM), at Bauhaus University in Weinmar.

"It was really great to have an entire year to do your own work. The stipulation is that you are only to do your own research," he said. "You're kind of like a scholarly ambassador."

Kirkwood met media scholars from all over the world at the IKKM.

"There's a good community of people who go as Fulbright scholars so you end up meeting a lot of people that do really diverse work," he said. "Two of my closest friends are people with whom I was on the Fulbright."

This summer, he will return to Germany once again to conduct his last bit of research for his book on how cinema and the theorization of cinematic mechanisms are essential for establishing the psyche as a science.

His book, which is an extension of his dissertation, has given him a new perspective on seemingly old material.

"I love starting new projects and developing an expertise and seeing the nuances that emerge ... your perspective on the original topic becomes totally transformed," he said.

As a professor at Harpur College, Kirkwood sees those transformations daily in the classroom, in both his students and himself.

"It's a place where you're granted the freedom of a curiosity that is rare in a lot of careers," he said.

For Kirkwood, a public university is the ideal place to teach and pursue academic endeavors.

"Public universities end up being repositories for what I would argue are the most interesting people because you get a cross section that isn't like the self selection that happens at small liberal arts schools," he said.

With a diverse student population and collaborative faculty, Kirkwood said Binghamton University forces people to confront the unfamiliar in a way that other liberal arts colleges don't.

"My perspective on things has been reinvented since I've been here," he said. "And that's exactly what you would hope for from a university."


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Last Updated: 3/1/17