Archive for October, 2011

Documenting Catalogs

Over the next couple of weeks, the information age class will be considering events in the digital age. Like our last project, Dr. McClurken has asked us to participate in a less than conventional project. We will produce a documentary, perhaps even of epic proportions. We have a considerable amount of work ahead of us. I have never done this sort of project before, but with enough foresight and good effort, I believe we can all have a fun and engaging project.

My group decided to pursue the shifts from card catalogs to digital databases. It’s a small detail, but the change surely has major consequences for librarians and borrowers who trained in and grew up with the card catalog. In trying to find individuals who could take part in the documentary, we need to consider librarians who have extensive exposure to the older system. My initial conversation with a younger librarian on campus demonstrated that the shift from card to electronic is not that recent.

Why this project? Well, unlike the last project, we do in fact have an idea that relates more directly to the information age than weight-gaining products. The choice of library cataloging practices is an excellent one. We will seek to understand how the change occurred, its impact, and implications. Given that I have never been stuck with a card catalog system, I have no idea how one would search for a book without effortlessly searching with keywords and phrases. The way you search for information shapes how you think of information, understand what information is available.

Obvious interviewees for completing this project are older librarians. Perhaps additional interviewees should include users who have worked with both systems. I wonder if such an approach would make our documentary too broad, given that we only have a 5-10 minute limit. With that issue in mind, we may have to consider how to narrow our questions down to a specific issue.

Gain Flesh! Gain the Girl!

Final product of the advertising project for Dr. McClurken's Information Age seminar.


Advertising Age. How It Was in Advertising, 1776-1976. Crain Books, 1976.
Brown, Bruce W. Images of Family Life in Magazine Advertising, 1920-1978. Praeger Publishers, 1981.
Heimann, Jim. 40s: All-American Ads. Köln: Taschen, 2001.
Parkin, Katherine J. Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
Primary Sources for example advertising:
Life, 1936-1940. Accessed October 15, 2011.
Popular Mechanics, 1937-1938. Accessed October 15, 2011.

Popular Science, 1937-1938. Accessed October 15, 2011.

As a Preamble to the Project

Before diving into the advertisement proper, I would like to give a hearty thanks to my fellow project members who have made this small project possible. Caitlin, Ashley, and Nicole put time into taking my notes and sources and creating a wonderful product, which mimics 1930s advertisements for weight-gaining supplements. As a note for process, Ashley crafted the text for the advertisement and looked closely at various examples in order to develop a proper sense of wording for the piece. Nicole spent a great deal of time selecting appropriate fonts and modifying the layout. Caitlin, being a photoshop wizard, worked most closely with the program and made wonderful use of a set of early family photos for our advertisement. Although I worked primarily on the research end of the project, their work and effort made the project concrete and tangible.
In considering where this piece goes into the master timeline seen here, I wrote an earlier blog post about this style of advertisement. We (the group members) consider a product that is not a part of the information age but exemplifies certain characteristics about advertising during that time to be worthy addition to the timeline. The ad fits best within the 1930s segment and carrying a post of its own, perhaps with a title of “Early 20th Century Advertising.” In clicking that post, viewers can readily see our work, which makes an excellent example of advertising from then. Unlike other posts that are directly related to the flow of information, this small footnote would encourage readers to think of advertising not for its message but rather as a medium itself.
The next question one might have is “Is this really part of the information age?” The advertisement here is just a bunch of flashy exclamation points and pictures. Why should weight-gaining products make into the info age? The information age is not only about the passing of ideas from one entity to the next, it is also about how one passes such information. In terms of advertising, the question one needs to ask is what other messages are being encoded into the advertisement? I perceive ads such as weight-gaining to be more than just an advertisement encouraging one to bulk up and become extra hunky. Rather, one can note that the ads represent certain norms, namely heterosexual relationships, muscles and a particular body shape being keys to attracting women, and just plain old, every male requires a relationship to function. The ad does not just promise a product that will allow the consumer to gain weight, but it also transfers biases and life perspectives.What we can see in these ads is a company attempting to shape readers in a particular way.
So was there something special about weight-gaining products that made them apt for mimicking, as opposed to say car wax or cigarettes? Weight-gaining ads were not hiding secret messages to overturn the government, nor did they present the transfer of biases and perspectives better than other products. Rather, we chose our product as a fun and interesting item that flies in the face of contemporary perspectives about body size. To speak more personally, few would take such an interest in purposefully gaining weight, unless it involved muscle growth. Thus, the product will most certainly grab the viewer’s attention as an interesting advertisement. One might even note that things such as body size and image are all matters of cultural norms and that different generations can have vastly different outlooks on being sexy and attractive.

Monday morning (Oct 24, 2011), I will be posting up the advertisement and a bibliography for the Info Age project. Sit tight!

A Few Notes on Advertising Project

Having spent the past few days digging through old magazines online, I feel comfortable to say that the world of advertising has become much more conservative since the 1930s. Most advertising scholars point to the “Your car is no nudist,” advertisement and note that nudity was not struck down or necessarily shied away from at the time. In this post I will be introducing my role in the upcoming project for Dr. McClurken’s Information Age as well as what my project group has been working on. So, I hope you are ready for a feast, as our project is a rather weighty matter.
With most working groups there is division of labor. Not everyone works on the same thing at the same time. It isn’t effective time management. Further, not everyone brings the same set of skills to the table. With that in mind, I was selected to handle the initial researching for our project. Before doing this project I had no idea what sort of magazines Google has put up for anyone to read and search through. The initial search for example ads was not easy, however. Keywords like “weight,” “skinny,” etc. did not yield too much, but I did get a closer look at an advertisement on this blog. When one enlarges the first advertisement, one can find the actual company name. Once I had the name, finding similar ads became far easier.

That's right ladies, with just a few more pounds your man can be handsome!

We decided that weight-gaining advertisements in the 1930s/40s would make for a fun and interesting project. How does this fit into the information age timeline? Well, granted the product certainly is not distributing information. There is something to looking critically at how such advertisements sell a company’s products. What is the use of language? Targeted audience? Images? Are male weight gaining products targeted at men or women who will tell their husbands/boyfriends/brothers to try the product. Thus, there is something of value to looking at a non-information centric product and digging one’s heels deep into the lingo and imagery of the period. Furthermore, this sort of product stands outside our cultural milieu. We might have some male weight gaining products, but they are sold as muscle enhancers, typically for body builders to appear more buff. The average reader today will more than likely look at these ads and remark about the differences in cultural values between 1930s and now. It’s a provocative product that not only will inspire a few laughs but also consider what qualifies as beauty, skinny, or glamorous. What these ads communicate is a set of esthetics which determine one’s beauty and perhaps even his/her societal value. One will lack social capital without the stunning, broad shoulders exhibited by the man pictured above.
As to sources, I found that most of the male-targeted ads were listed in popular science and popular mechanics. The writers and illustrators for the advertisements focused on informing skinny men that they would have no hope of a happy lady-filled existence without bulking up as much as twenty-five pounds. As ironized yeast apparently works quickly, the ads carry a sense of urgency, as if one needed to drop everything in order to lose weight, get the girl, and obtain a perfect life of smiles and…Perhaps I read a little too far into the advertisements, but when you read over so many you can’t help but wonder what the company is provoking the audience to believe.

Encoding the Language

Having now given my presentation, I reflect back on how I made it through the talk. I dug up the few articles and works about the talking drums. There seems to be a wider literature about “language surrogates”, but those works treat talking drums in a very cursory fashion. When I began this project, I went straight for John Carrington’s slim volume on African talking drums, which written in the 1940s, provided me with little more than a conceptual understanding of the instrument. For this assignment I needed to successfully play the instrument, not just theorize. McClurken seemed to be looking for more than just theory when he gave us the option of demonstrating a form of early communication. I began to search for more materials, perhaps there was a teaching book for the talking drums? I found little of practical use, but there were some amazing individuals teasing out how the drums work and relate to other systems of encoding language, such as writing.

What I really need was more Youtube. I found a few users who uploaded themselves playing or taught the absolute basics of the system. The visual and audio of those videos solidified how to play the drums for me. I do admit that I still lack the ability to make my drums talk, but I do sound rather awesome when going off on a hippie jam. I studied the three tones and how those tones work in conjunction with the language. While I couldn’t tell you how to say a phrase, I can tell you that if there are x syllables in that phrase you hit the drum y times and the tone’s of the words in the phrase will tell you how to tighten the drum. My project technically tanked; I couldn’t actually use the device. However, I came away feeling confident that I could explain and demonstrate how one would communicate with the talking drum. Below I list the texts that provide good resources for further information on the talking drums. You will notice that few of the sources are completely up-to-date. Talking drums have seemingly lost their status as a true speech surrogate and now represent a past cultural tradition rather than a current and practically used linguistic practice.

To gush for a moment: I loved this project. It’s rare for me to combine my love of languages, drums, and history into one assignment. Hats off to you Dr. McClurken.



Arewa, Ojo and Niyi Adekola. “Redundancy Principles of Statistical Communications as Applied to Yoruba Talking-Drum.” Anthrops Bd. 75, H. 1./2. (1980): 185-202. Accessed: 20/09/2011,

Armstrong, Robert G. “Talking Drums in the Benue-Cross River Region of Nigeria.” Phylon vol. 15, no. 4 (4th Qtr., 1954): 355-363Accessed: 20/09/2011 08:47,

Carrington, John F. Talking Drums of Africa. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1949.
Nzewi, Meki, Israel Anyahuru, and Tom Ohiarumunna. “The Lingual Fundamentals of African Drum Music.” Research in African Literatures vol 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2001): 90-104. Accessed: 21/09/2011,
Ong, Walter J. “Oral Cultures and Oral Performances.” New Literary History vol. 8, no. 3(Spring, 1977): 411-429. Accessed: 21/09/2011,
Related Youtube Videos:

Ayan Bisi Adeleke – Master Talking Drummer: Drum Talks, 2007. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

___________. How To Play a Simple Rhythm on The Talking Drum, 2010. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

Ilubabamini. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, PART A, 2011. Accessed: 9/27/2011.

________. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, Part B., 2011. Accessed: 9/27/2011.

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