Shannon Mattern: Code and Clay, Data and Dirt

What if, instead, we flipped the script and start with the present day and dig further and further backwards in time...see all of these tropes and morphologies and hopes and dreams recurring and echoing as we go further and further back into history?

Shannon Mattern discusses her book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media with Chris Richardson. Mattern is a Professor of Media Studies at The New School. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities; Deep Mapping the Media City; and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, all published by University of Minnesota Press, and she contributes a regular long-form column about urban data and mediated infrastructures to Places, a journal focusing on architecture, urbanism, and landscape. You can find her at


Rather than listing books I have read, and which have informed Code + Clay, I’ll instead list five related books that are on my to-be-read bookshelf (and which, in many cases, have been sitting there for years) — and that I’m eager to read this summer. First, Meredith Broussard’s Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World (MIT Press, 2018). Broussard’s various encounters with not-so-smart artificially intelligent systems reveal the limits of what technology can do in addressing social problems. 


Second, Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, Are We Human: Notes on an Archaeology of Design (Lars Müller, 2016). Drawing upon their work on the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, the authors examine the deep history, the archaeology, of humans and their designed artifacts — from early tools to algorithms. 


Third, David Parisi’s Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing (University of Minnesota Press, 2018). Parisi feels his way across 300 years of haptic media to understand how these technologies condition the way we understand the world through touch.



Fourth, Michael Osman’s Modernism’s Visible Hand: Architecture and Regulation in America (University of Minnesota Press 2018). Osman links the history of environmental control — from thermostats to refrigeration — to the rise of industrial capitalism, systems of regulation and standardization, and modern design. 


And fifth, Ann Stoler, Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times (Duke University Press, 2016). Addressing the “duress” — the hardness and tenacity -- of colonial histories, Stoler proposes new methodologies that allow us to acknowledge how such pasts are entangled with the present.