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HISTORY 241C: Histories of Attention and Mind Control

This course follows the history of attention from the Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism to Cold War controversies over mind control and recent debates on the attention economy and the ethics of technology. Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, which regulates what enters consciousness. In an age of information abundance, digital technologies compete to catch and direct our attention. Offering a historical perspective, the course readings trace how attention has been constructed, studied, commodified, and manipulated throughout the modern period by travelling across various regions including the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean and North America. Consideration will be given to the training and altering of attention, to spectacle and the manipulation of attention, and to the shifting economies of attention. We will explore how practices such as mesmerism, hypnotism, and conjure became part of power relationships with more »
This course follows the history of attention from the Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism to Cold War controversies over mind control and recent debates on the attention economy and the ethics of technology. Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, which regulates what enters consciousness. In an age of information abundance, digital technologies compete to catch and direct our attention. Offering a historical perspective, the course readings trace how attention has been constructed, studied, commodified, and manipulated throughout the modern period by travelling across various regions including the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean and North America. Consideration will be given to the training and altering of attention, to spectacle and the manipulation of attention, and to the shifting economies of attention. We will explore how practices such as mesmerism, hypnotism, and conjure became part of power relationships within social, racial, gendered, religious and cultural contexts, and how attention was made to reproduce different relationships of inequality between the industrial revolution and the advent of surveillance capitalism. The course is divided into three parts. It begins with introducing approaches to attention by historians, philosophers, and scholars of visual studies among others. Second is a more empirical analysis of how slavery, industrialism, advertising, cinema, science, and technology came together to shape modern theories of attention. The course then ends with several weeks on the current politics of attention and the attention economy.
Terms: Spr | Units: 5 | UG Reqs: WAY-SI
Instructors: Zakar, A. (PI)
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