TODAY! Archives Reveal, Archives Inspire, Archives OPEN

SeeingDon’t miss the grand opening event today March 10 between 4:00 and 6:00 PM – a special Open-House to mark the opening of Spring exhibitions in Archives and Special Collections, located in the McDonald Reading Room at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. The event is free and open to the public.  Follow the event at #ArchivesReveal

Hear talks and commentary by exhibition curators, browse collection materials first-hand, and catch up on news happening behind the scenes with the archivists.  Spring 2016 exhibitions include:

Seeing Comes Before Words: Artists’ Use of the Male Nude

Elizabeth Barbeau (curator)

Inspired by the collection of artist and teacher Roger Crossgrove, and drawing from materials across the Archives’ holdings, this exhibition explores collaboration and the creative process through the lens of the male nude.  Featuring photography, artists’s books, broadsides, and posters from Archives and Special Collections, materials on display emphasize the relationships between (and among) artists and their models, and art and its audiences, and illustrate ways “the male nude” is used in different mediums for a variety of political, social, and cultural purposes.

Woman a Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings

Giorgina S. Paiella (curator)

Featuring a variety of materials sourced from Archives and Special Collections, and archives external to the University of Connecticut, Woman a Machine will explore the intersection of gender and automation from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. This exhibition will explore the intertwined history of female created beings and human female embodiment, including representations of eighteenth and nineteenth century female android automata, the twentieth-century mechanized housewife, and cyborg imagery in twentieth and twenty-first century visual culture.

We’ll see you in the Archives!

Sponsored by the UConn Libraries and the Office of Undergraduate Research IDEA Grants Program.


Laurie Anderson’s Big Science: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings

“O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad,” begins performance artist Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” Half-sung, half-spoken, and captivatingly hypnotic, the eight-minute song featured on Anderson’s 1982 album Big Science reached number two on the U.K. charts in the early 1980s.


Anderson’s work strikes an interesting balance between abstraction and accessibility. Despite the popularity of “O Superman” and the rest of Big Science, Anderson encodes her work with rich references to literary texts, operas, cultural trends and pop culture events. The album most extensively engages with the relationship among communication, technology, and political affairs. “Big Science,” after all, is a term used to describe the shift during and after World War II toward government-funded, large-scale scientific projects principally devoted to the development of new weapons and tools.

Furthering her engagement with technology are the instruments and techniques Anderson uses to produce her music. The spoken text of “O Superman,” for example, is dictated through a vocoder, a synthesizer used to reproduce human speech. Anderson uses the technology to make her voice sound synthetic, therefore mimicking the automatic voice of an answering machine and blurring the assumed boundaries between the natural and the artificial. But the most fascinating aspect of Anderson’s performance art is both its timeliness and timelessness—her songs are just as topically relevant and profound today as they were over thirty years ago.

blogBigScience 2I had the opportunity to listen to Anderson’s vinyl LP using the Dodd Center’s electronic equipment. I’ve compiled the digitized tracks of Anderson’s Big Science here for those interested in listening at home.

From the Air

Big Science


Walking and Falling

Born Never Asked

-Giorgina Paiella

Intern Giorgina Paiella is an undergraduate student majoring in English and minoring in philosophy and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. In her new blog series, “Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings,” she explores treatments of created and automated beings in historical texts and archival materials from Archives and Special Collections.

Replicating the Human Voice: Gender, Automation and Created Beings

“Hello, I’m here.” Throaty, warm, and incredibly human, the first lines spoken by Samantha, the incorporeal female operating system in Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her, are a far cry from the mechanical voice recognition technologies that we are used to. In addition to its thought provoking philosophical predictions about the near-future, Jonze’s film also hones in on the ideal of voice-replication technology: an artificially intelligent system so natural and intuitive that we can fall in love with it.

Replicating the intricacies of human characteristics and behaviors in non-sentient technologies is far from a new curiosity. Throughout history, automata creators worked to imbue automata with the ability to pen poems, perform acrobatics, play musical instruments, and bat their eyelashes, and these self-operating HumanVocalTractmachines were often admired and judged for their ability to replicate human behaviors. In perhaps the most dramatic fictional interaction with an automaton that blurs the lines separating human from machine, protagonist Nathaniel in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Sandman” falls in love with automaton Olympia, whom he mistakes for a human female.

If imitation and replication of human characteristics is one of the driving forces in the creation of artificial beings, it is also one of the greatest challenges. Moving away from automata and toward operating systems and other examples of artificial intelligence, reproduction of human speech is one of the greatest hurdles to clear if we are to produce operating systems like Jonze’s fictional Samantha. The 1981 premiere issue of High Technology affirms that the simulation of human speech has historically been one of the most elusive replication technologies. One article, “Talking Machines Aim For Versatility,”discusses various methods used to replicate speech and reflects upon the value of machines that are capable of producing and understanding human speech.

At the time, most recordings (like the voice on the operator line) consisted of actual recordings of human speech or utilized early word synthesis technologies that tended to sound flat and robotic. Higher-end technologies were very expensive; the Master Specialties HighTechnologymodel 1650 synthesizer, for example, was $550 for only a one-word vocabulary, and each additional word cost $50, so the technology was very cost restrictive. Technologies have vastly evolved since the time of rudimentary “talking machines,” but the article discusses the potential of speech synthesis and compression technologies that would streamline the process of stringing phonemes (the smallest speech units) into complete sentences, therefore maximizing speech output, concepts which have influenced current speech synthesis techniques. While there are various approaches to “building” voices, the most common technique in the modern day is concatenative synthesis. A voice actor is recorded reading passages of text, random sentences, and words in a variety of cadences, which are then combined with other recording sequences by a text-to-speech engine to form new words and sentences. The technique vastly expands upon the range and comprehensiveness of operating systems like Apple’s Siri.

The High Technology article reflects that because machines would be able to communicate in a form that is natural to humans, they are more equipped to fulfill “the role of mankind’s servants, advisors, and playthings.” Over thirty years later, this goal is still extraordinarily relevant, especially as artificially intelligent systems become more integrated into consumer products like phones, tablets, cars, and security systems. Furthermore, advancements in voice recognition and synthesis technologies have benefitted individuals with impairments who require speech-generating devices to communicate verbally. There are, of course, many challenges that still remain, including the ability of these systems to understand different human accents and dialects. Creating believable artificial speech, however, still harkens back to the greatest challenge in the evolution of these technologies: authenticity. Humans are able to register subtle changes in tone and inflection when we communicate with each other, and these subtleties are currently difficult to replicate in artificially intelligent systems, which explains why we can easily discern a human voice from that of a machine. Jonze’s film suggests that clearing this authenticity hurdle is essential to our ability to truly connect with our technology. Far from the utilitarian “servants, advisors, and playthings” suggested in the High Technology article, intuitive and human-like operating systems could alter our emotional relationship with machines to the extent that they become our confidants and romantic partners.

Intern Giorgina Paiella is an undergraduate student majoring in English and minoring in philosophy and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. In her new blog series, “Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings,” she explores treatments of created and automated beings in historical texts and archival materials from Archives and Special Collections.

Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings – An Examination of Early X-Rated Video Games

The issue of sexism in video games may seem like a modern one, especially in light of events like the recent GamerGate controversy. Although discussions about violence and sexism in video games are still extraordinarily relevant in the present day, they actually have a history dating back to 1980s digital culture.  In the early 1980s, when video game production was on the rise, these discussions introduced new ethical questions about technological representations.

CustersRevengeProtestI recently looked through feminist alternative press publications like Off Our Backs and New Women’s Times. These periodicals discuss the 1982 release of a video game called Custer’s Revenge, designed for the Atari 2600 video game console by American Multiple Industries (AMI). The goal of the game is to maneuver a naked and erect General Custer across the desert, arrows flying, toward a red-skinned, dark-haired Native American woman tied to a cactus. After he reaches the woman, he rapes her as his revenge and reward—as the tagline of the game notes, “you score, when you score.” In the 1980s, video game producers like Playaround and AMI started to churn out many x-rated video games, including “Beat ‘em and Eat ‘em,” “Harem,” and “Bachelor Party.” The latter game features eight naked women and one man, where the object of the game is to maneuver the man to each of the eight women, scoring a point after each “victory” and causing the female figure to physically disappear from the screen after the conquest. These games were produced in response to a growing demand for pornographic games, which were expected to gross more than $1 billion annually on the adult market. Although sale of the game was restricted to minors, this did not preclude younger gamers from being exposed to it. Atari even filed a lawsuit against AMI because of the negative attention and association drawn between the system and Custer’s Revenge.CustersRevengeCoverCustersRevengeCover2

The first game of its kind to be released, Custer’s Revenge received significant attention in the press. Moreover, the game’s fusion of sexist and racist content created uproar in the activist community. Members of organizations like the New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Women Against Pornography (WAP), and the American Indian Community House (AICH) organized an October 1983 protest against the inclusion of racism, sexual exploitation, pornography, and profiteering in video games with the hope of pulling pornographic games from store shelves. Denise Fuge, then-president of NY NOW, reflected upon how sexist video games push teenage boys closer to our culture’s acceptance of recreational violence against women. In response, representatives from AMI stated that the game is simply harmless fun depicting “an act of two consenting adults” and therefore could not be construed as enacting violence on women.

CusterPicTCuster’s Revenge was ultimately pulled from the market. The release of inappropriate video games presented new ethical questions about technological representations, the most important of which I will refer to as “moral slippage.” Both in the era of these early pornographic games and in the current day, many debates focus on the extent to which fictional representations like video games can influence real-life behavior. Copycat behavior and replication of violent acts that are depicted in films, music, and games are not uncommon in violent crimes—after all, there is no value-free pop culture. This is not to say that all individuals who play violent games are themselves violent or sexist, but young populations in particular are vulnerable to accepting and adopting problematic views. Custer’s Revenge, for example, was not simply a game or harmless fun, but rather promoted rape culture and racism.

Although modern games are not as overt as Custer’s Revenge, they still incorporate troubling sexual content and depictions of violence. Despite its incredibly loaded content, the pixelated simplicity of Custer’s Revenge allowed many to brush it off as harmless in its time. Simulation and interactivity have always been integral aspects of gaming. Technology has greatly advanced since the days of early gaming, however, resulting in modern games that contain more graphic and realistic content. This heightened realism intensifies the debate about sexist and violent video games in the modern day because it further blurs the boundary separating gamer, game interface, and reality.

Intern Giorgina Paiella is an undergraduate student majoring in English and minoring in philosophy and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. In her new blog series, “Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings,” she explores treatments of created and automated beings in historical texts and archival materials from Archives and Special Collections.

Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings – Children’s Literature

Photo 1From Pinocchio to The Velveteen Rabbit, tales of creation and animation have long captured the childhood imagination. I have spent several days in the reading room exploring the treatment of created beings in children’s literature. These stories differ in their narrative style, subject matter, and characters, but nonetheless offer fascinating commentary on artificiality and personhood.

I have selected seven illustrations from the children’s literature collection that visually bring these animated characters to life. Each one highlights the unique ways in which authors treat toys, dolls, cyborgs, and automata throughout the ages.

Intern Giorgina Paiella is an undergraduate student majoring in English and minoring in philosophy and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. In her new blog series, “Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings,” she will explore treatments of created and automated beings in archival materials from Archives and Special Collections.



Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings

We welcome intern Giorgina Paiella, an undergraduate student majoring in English and minoring in philosophy and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. In her new blog series, “Man, Woman, Machine: Gender, Automation, and Created Beings,” she will explore treatments of created and automated beings in archival materials from Archives and Special Collections.

We love stories of animation. Over the centuries, humanity has certainly not tired of works that engage with creation, artificiality, and the relationship between animator and animated. It’s in our myths, our movies, our television shows, and our literature—from children’s narratives to infamous novels. As a writing intern in Archives and Special Collections at the Dodd Research Center this semester, I plan to examine technology magazines, the children’s literature collection, alternative press giorgina2publications, and other archival materials that explore the rise of automation and various iterations of automata and reflect upon how these representations can inform inquiries about gender, humanity, personhood, and our increasingly intimate relationship with technology.

For my first post in this blog series, I’m going to explore the trend of incorporating issues of gender into a discussion of scientific discoveries, which I have identified in several early technology publications. I read the second issue of the science and science fiction magazine Omni, a publication that founder Kathy Keeton created in 1978 with the intention of exploring “all realms of science and the paranormal, that delved into all corners of the unknown and projected some of those discoveries into fiction.” As I searched for themes that would be relevant to my research objectives, I was fascinated by the frequency at which language relating to second-wave feminism contributes to the dialogue about scientific and technological discoveries.

This is not entirely surprising, especially considering that the issue was published in November 1978, an era of burgeoning feminist activity. Some of these references were more explicitly linked to women’s issues than others. One article describes the computer revolution as “computer lib,” a clear nod to the women’s liberation movement, commonly referred to as “women’s lib.” A short news headline details the development of a birth control pill for dogs, so “fido can have sex without fear.” The description that follows reads like a parody of the female birth control pill introduced in the 1960s: “this planned parenthood for pups is dispensed by veterinarians for about five cents a day and is claimed to be 90 percent effective in stopping estrus (heat) in bitches of all sizes and descriptions.”

Another article within this issue of Omni discusses papers and novels that speculate on the scientific and cultural possibilities of a longevity pill, including Jib Fowles’s “The Impending Society of Immorals” and Albert Rosenfeld’s Prolongevity, which cites over 500 scientific papers in its bibliography. The article also describes an assignment given to thirty-one students at the University of Houston in the department of future studies to predict how a longevity pill would alter society. Their collective prediction utilizes the same alarmist dystopian rhetoric adopted by opponents of the birth control pill:

One year after the introduction of the antiaging pill, traditional religions warn against death control a campaign similar to the earlier crusade against birth control; the economy is destabilizing as employees desert their jobs; government has moved in to monopolize distribution of the pill; and the divorce rate is increasing. Ten years later, organized religion is disgraced and disbanded, virtually everyone is taking the pill, divorce rates soar, the economy is staggering because of an increase in absenteeism, and all dangerous sports are phasing out as people everywhere reorient themselves to the quest for physical immortality.

The concept of life extension is, in fact, a centuries-old trope, but this article demonstrates the way in which existing gender debates became interwoven into discussions about technological advances. Continuing on the topic of longevity technology, the author explains that “until now it was necessary for post-menopausal humans to die and get their bodies off the scene to make room for the new arrivals.” giorgina3Of course, we’re not simply talking about post-menopausal humans, but rather post-menopausal women. The objectification of women’s bodies is also far from a new phenomenon, but notice the language: they must “die and get their bodies off the scene” to make way for “new arrivals.

The rise of mechanization and speculations on new technological possibilities amplified ideas regarding the mind/body dualism and the disposability of bodies—particularly female bodies. Another article, “The Changing Shape of Women,” recounts findings from a study conducted by Berlei, the leading manufacturer of women’s undergarments in England at the time. The company describes changing trends in female body measurements, with a sample of over 4000 British and American women revealing taller frames on average, smaller breasts and hips, and thicker waists, more generally described as a “straightening of their curves.” Berlei cites poor eating habits and hormonal abnormalities from food additives as potential giorgina4explanations, but whatever the cause, “the traditional hourglass shape is no longer symbolic of today’s women.” When tasked with describing their average customer, the company states, “something rather like a thick-ended broomhandle…one might even say they’re becoming man-shaped.”

So what does this have to do with created beings like automata, cyborgs, and robots? Existing cultural views often inform the characteristics and treatment of these beings, and attitudes toward embodied human females can therefore provide insights into female technological portrayals, and vice versa. For example, a female automaton can reveal something that would perhaps not be readily apparent about the expected appearance, behavior, and roles of human women. Similarly, the body of a female cyborg can call attention to attitudes regarding female bodies and their biological processes. I aim to keep these blurred boundaries between man and machine—or perhaps more accurately, woman and machine—in mind as I continue to work through the archives.

– Giorgina Paiella