Media, History, and All the Big Questions: A Zoom Lecture from Victoria Szabo

         I had no way of knowing this before “attending” Victoria Szabo’s Zoom talk earlier this week, but it turns out she’s pretty much who I want to be when I grow up. She’s way more tech savvy than I am, but her academic background and professional history match up astonishingly well with everything that I’ve spent the past four years building towards, and I’m a little bit obsessed.

         She talked about augmented reality as it relates to interactions with material culture—a question that I’ve been wondering about since I started getting into historical anthropology. She talked about history, art history, and interactive media, tying together some of the questions I’ve been asking since I started college, and some of the things I’m hoping to pursue in grad school. In a semester riddled with stressors and disappointments—not being on campus, not being able to see friends, not having a true “senior year experience,” doubting that I’ll even get into the grad programs I want—hearing Szabo speak with confidence, ease, and comfort about topics that I care so much about was like hitting a reset button. It’s like I’ve spent the whole semester trying to remember why I care so much about all of this, and then Szabo started talking and I remembered, Oh, right. This is why.

         Szabo’s work covers the construction of fictive spaces and art forms, the meshing together of history and modern existence, understanding modern media as a sociocultural phenomenon, and creating a way to experience and understand contested ground sites. She spoke about “game-ifying” spaces for academic but also casual consumption, expanding education beyond classroom walls and into an interactive space that can be fun, create unease, or simply teach something.

         As an anthropologist, I find her work fascinating, because she’s looking at human data and the technological age and she’s found a way to understand that. One of the big questions anthropology seeks to address right now is that idea of how to engage and interact with the internet, with VR spaces, with human interaction in a virtual, online space. Szabo’s take on that question isn’t directly anthropological, but her work made me think, made me inquire, made me wonder. And isn’t that supposed to be,  at least in part, what academia’s all about?

         As a historian and an art historian, I found myself captivated by all of the possibilities inherent to Szabo’s work and research. If we can mimic architectural spaces from how they were years ago, what secrets and details can that created, half-fictive space reveal? If we can model spaces, truly walk through a modern space and see the history there, or create a sort of overlaid meta-narrative within a real space, how many new dialogues can that spark? How do reality and history mesh together? How does that combination intermingle with the anthropological questions I mentioned before? What new kinds of art can be created in a half-virtual space? what does that say about us, our society, our past, our present, our future?

         Szabo’s work redefines interdisciplinary thought. Her passion and enthusiasm in her discussion of complex theory and hyper-specific conceptual realization was a relief and an inspiration. Szabo herself was an engaging, interesting speaker, creating a narrative about her work and managing to squeeze in a whole conversation about ethics and history in the process. i started the evening dubious, hanging out in the Zoom room with the knowledge that I was one of not many students, worried that I was spending that hour and a bit on something that wouldn’t be as useful as homework.

         The talk was invigorating, interesting, and it turned my whole (very stressful) week around. It made me excited to ask big questions again, interested in the conversation between all three of my fields again, and inspired to think about future possibilities again. I am so very glad to have been proved wrong.

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