A note to visitors: this site documents “Media, Materiality, and Archives,” a course conducted in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech in Fall 2014. The content will remain up as a resource for future (and former) students, and other inquiring minds. Please contact me at lauren.klein@lmc.gatech.edu, if you have any questions about the material that appears on the site.

Reading Codex, by Lev Grossman, I felt pulled into the story right away. Maybe I was susceptible simply because I have always liked books, and looking in the back part of the library that was hardly touched. I could smell the books Wozny interacted with as they were described. It was a story I had lived myself multiple times, in some ways.

Ironically, lately I have started going digital. I even got the Kindle version of Codex. But I definitely miss holding the physical book in my hands, turning the pages carefully, and that musty book smell everyone says they hate, except for me, and the occasional like-minded person. Grossman took these ideas to the point that it was easy to recall similar instances, and in that regard, it was not so bad as a digital book.

I felt like I was in the puzzle. Grossman put us in the middle of this story, with all of these things, and changing technology. It was literally at the beginning of the change. Computer games were relatively new, but they were a thing. And they were already detracting from the time people spend with their nose in books. It was a clear documentation of the turn of the century, fiction though it may be.

One of my favorite parts of this book, and very archive-centric is how the clues are hidden. To find the codex, they had to go through a serious archive, layered with security measures. They had to read through the wordplay, and commit sacrilege to find the holy grail. An enjoyable twist.

I was very unfamiliar with the Zodiac at first and not too sure how the plot was going to unfold, but as the story progressed I became more intrigued by how it was going to end. This story based on true events had a very interesting relation to archives. As I watched the movie and saw how each police department and individual involved in the case had their own perception of the murders organized in a way that best suited them; I really understood the power of an archive. Each archive in this movie helped bring a new perspective into the case, from the police department that focused on getting evidence solely around the handwritings to the one concerned with the finger prints from the cab, and we even get another perspective with the military grade boot print. Each perspective lead the police to believe another person committed the crime. Similar to an archive where the creator of a collection; in this case a collection of evidence, can create what they want the public or investigators to believe. Pretty much parallel to a historical archive, where the creators dictate what goes in and how the audience views the collection.

I believe with the help of different collections and viewpoints and the variety of materiality involved in this case allows the cartoonist to collect all the relevant “dots “to pinpoint the killer. First with his ability to use different mediums to conduct research such as the libraries, police evidence, and personal collections of people involved, Robert Graysmith dissects each archive in an analytical manner that takes multiple years, but surprisingly the longer the time span took, the relevant the clues were, very similar in my mind to how an archive with adequate time becomes more and more relevant and important.

Last week, seeing we were assigned to watch Zodiac in class ignited questions in me. I had seen the movie about a year ago, and remembered a few things: the ending, that Jack Gyllenhaal was in it, and that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Robert Graysmith, pouring over old newspaper articles, but I was still curious as to the connections that could be made with the movie and our class. Sitting down to watch it this time, I decided to keep in mind the aspects of our class we have discussed.

Several main points popped out at me while I was watching. A main one was how different the events would have transpired if they had taken place in the modern day. The big issue as to why the Zodiac killer was never caught was the problem with the archives and evidence stored across the entire state of California. Imagine how helpful a digital archive would have been for Robert Graysmith, and more importantly, the police. Connections could have been made extremely quickly, perhaps years before, if a digital archive existed. All of the archives, evidence, and articles would have been gathered in one place, which was the whole reason Graysmith was writing his book anyway. He thought that gathering all the important information would lead to the killer.

Another main theme that jumped out at me was the importance that the handwritten letter played in the events. Finding a match for the handwriting was one of the only aspects the police were focused on to nailing a suspect. Although they came close, a match for the handwriting was never found. This got me thinking about the notion of studying written documents and placing importance on them. Although I’m not sure the correct questions to asks, I think it is important to note that the handwriting never led them anywhere. Why didn’t they ever abandon the idea? How did they know the killer did intentionally practice a different handwriting ever time a letter was written? I understand that high importance was placed on the written letters due to the handwriting, but it seems like the it was never thought about why he was hand writing the documents in the first place. The materiality of the letters should have been noted by the police. The killer could have easily typed of the letters, so why was he choosing to hand write them? To lead them astray?

The importance of keeping archives is extremely obvious to the viewers in Zodiac, in fact, the entire movie is based on the files from the case. However, it was just as obvious that the archives weren’t completely organized and used to their greatest asset in catching the Zodiac killer.

The Zodiac Killer says in one of his letters that humans are the most dangerous animal. However, the Zodiac killer’s methods of murder are nothing like the murder to whom he is alluding to.The Most Dangerous Game, written in 1924, tells the story of a shipwrecked sailor who finds himself on Zaroff’s island. Zaroff hunts people for pleasure because he claims her grew bored of hunting animals. Other than the obvious murderer inspiration (and maybe his name), I do not see many other similarities between the Zodiac Killer and Zaroff.

So what does The Most Dangerous Game have to do with the Zodiac Killer? The most common theme in both stories is that of a serial killer. The Zodiac killer does not do any chasing in his murders. There is no risk involved. My question is, is the Zodiac Killer inspired by Zaroff the hunter, or by Rainsford the hunted? For by the end of the story, both men have become murders, even if Rainsford was only killing in self defense.

Because Rainsford must use cunning and skill, it seems to me that the Zodiac killer would be more inspired by Rainsford because of his creativity in defending himself. Zaroff on the other hand is beaten at his own game, something that has yet to happen to the Zodiac killer.

Before watching the movie Zodiac, I knew nothing about what it was about or that it was based on a true story until I mentioned the movie to my parents and my dad said, “Oh, based on the Zodiac killings?” I decided to wait until after I finished the movie to make my assumptions, but if this movie was based on a true story, I was ready to argue that this movie was an archive itself.

Yes, absolutely, the Zodiac killings and the basis of Graysmith’s novel are completely supported by archives: each police department had their own set of files and evidence (a problem oft mentioned in the movie). Plenty of print evidence to help Graysmith try and identify Allen as the Zodiac killer.

The movie on its own, however, made in 2007, is absolutely a rather accurate archive of the events that happened in California in the 1960s and 1970s.

After watching the movie, I did a Google search for the similarities between the real events and the movie, knowing that often in “true story” films certain things are changed or altered up to the production team’s discretion to “make a better movie.” I found this link in particular that made me realize that David Fincher and his team did a great job at keeping it fairly accurate: http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/zodiac.php. Of course, I am assuming that all of the information here is trustworthy.

We have discussed that the make of the archive, what is in it, what is not… etc. is up to the archivist/curator taking care of the information. We as a class are proving that with making such different final projects for our fanzines. This also rings true for a movie adaptation– you want to keep true to the story, keep the most important details there, but if you need to make something a little more obvious to the audience or you want to add a scare tactic, you need to change some things.

Zodiac overall seemed faithful to the real event. I’d first like to point out how similar the actors look to the real people– definitely believable. You can tell Fincher and the casting department tried to keep the looks as close as possible.

Furthermore, as discussed in the article, many of the key moments and turning points in the movie did actually happen in real life. Yes, the Zodiac threatened to kill children off a school bus. Yes, he did mail a piece of the taxi driver’s shirt. Yes, he did call Melvin Belli on live television. A lot of the main details are true. Keeping the archive accurate to the real thing.

Some things on surface value were true, but the way they played out in the movie did not actually happen that way. For example, to quote the article: “Did Robert Graysmith really come face-to-face with Arthur Leigh Allen at a hardware store?

Yes, but not exactly how the film portrays it. At the end of the movie Zodiac, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes face-to-face with his prime suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, inside of a hardware store where Allen works. Graysmith described the real encounter during an interview with RopeofSilicon, “…I’m following [Allen] around in an orange VW Rabbit and I park outside of Ace Hardware and obviously he’s seen me from the big window and so I’m parked and he pulls alongside me so I can’t get my door open and he gives me this look like you wouldn’t believe.” In addition to his parking lot encounter with Arthur Leigh Allen, Graysmith attempted to obtain a sample of Allen’s handwriting by sending friends in to buy things at the hardware store in Vallejo.”

I personally believe that the way they portrayed it in the movie did not take anything away from how Graysmith explains it happened. I feel like perhaps they were going more for shock value than scare tactic (which is what would have happened if they had filmed what actually happened), or perhaps they did film both what was in the movie and what actually happened and felt this moved better with the rest of the film. No matter their reasons, it still worked well and they still had Graysmith coming face-to-face with Allen. The point still came across.

I think my favorite part about the film is that there wasn’t really a resolution at the end… just like there really wasn’t in the actual case. I think the way they chose to end the movie, with the intertitles at the very end explaining the rest of the case, and how it is still an open case, proves just how tedious and frustrating this case is and accurately represents the true story.

I thought this was a beautiful film and a wonderful archive of the true story. The fact that it made me want to research more about the actual events certainly proves that!

As the name suggests, Zodiac is about the famed Zodiac Killer. In the movie, everyone is trying to catch this killer and bring him to justice. *Spoiler* The killer is never caught, but the person who came closest to exposing the killer was a cartoonist for a newspaper. More than 10 years after the events, the cartoonist decides to write a book on the Zodiac killings, long after everyone else had moved on. Going through the records of the different police stations, he is able to make connections in the case that were missed in the initial investigation. The book revitalizes interest in the case and leads to the killer supposedly being identified in the 90’s, more than 20 years after the case started. It can be said that this shows the importance of archives in society.

If not for the archived data from the case, the missed connections and leads in the case would not have been found. It can also be said that the movie shows the importance of sharing data. A lot of the missed connections were missed because the data on the case was split between three different police departments. This is shown many times in the movie when the police departments are trying to share data. In a scene, the police departments are on the phone with each other. One department is complaining about never receiving data and says they will only send their data if they receive all the missing data from the other department. If all the data was not fragmented, the investigation might have gone better and the killer might have been charged.

Zodiac showed the importance of being able to go back and go over past data and files. It is the job of the archive to provide this service. The archives allow us to take a look into the past. With them, we may just be able to solve the mysteries of the past.

When I first opened the Humament book, I was really intrigued by the unique form of art. As I looked it up, I found that this was what they called “altered book” where someone would basically take a book and alter its meaning or appearance to make it into a new kind of media. The main purpose of “Wreck this Journal” is basically to draw/write/glue/paint/etc. on the book to make it your own. Each page has a prompt or an idea, and the rest is up to the owner of the journal. Just like the Humament, the author is able to make the book very unique, but the only difference is that the “Wreck this Journal”s are more personalized, and not sold for profit. Either way, I really admire the idea of altered books and forms of mixed media.

Tom Phillips’ postmodern technique is not new, but it is postmodern. One of my favorite works of this technique–appropriately named erasure–is by Jen Bervin. Her work takes Shakespeare’s sonnets and strips them down to just Nets. Her technique is very similar to a new take on the trend– black out poetry.

In fact there is a whole Instagram account dedicated to the art. @makeblackoutpoetry showcases some of the latest works. These are more similar to Phillips’ work with the art worked into the background.

I used this technique with middle school students this summer. The results were intriguing and do not take that much skill to be creative. I guess in Phillips’ case there is more thought involved in order to write an entire novel. But the art in itself? Interesting, but about as impressive as high-low technology.

Oblique Strategies (original deck and web version)

Brian Eno’s Bloom app

Adam Thirlwell, Kapow!

Jonathan Safran Foer, Tree of Codes

Chris Ware, Building Stories

A Humument Gallery

Humument Skull

Humument globes