Code and Clay, Data and Dirt

Code and Clay, Data and Dirt

Five Thousand Years of Urban Media

Shannon Mattern

A breathtaking tour through thousands of years of urban life and its attendant technologies, rewriting the history of our cities

288 Pages, 7 x 10 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517902445
  • Published: November 1, 2017
  • eBook
  • 9781452955421
  • Published: November 1, 2017


Code and Clay, Data and Dirt

Five Thousand Years of Urban Media

Shannon Mattern

ISBN: 9781517902445

Publication date: November 1st, 2017

288 Pages

67 black and white illustrations

10 x 7

"Code and Clay, Data and Dirt has style and method, originality and purpose. Each dig into this exceptional work has brought pleasure and scholarly respect."—Malcolm McCullough, author of Digital Ground

"Code and Clay, Data and Dirt is a vital new contribution to media archaeology. Using multisensory, archival, and speculative methods, this book’s riveting journey through the deep time of media explores how cities inscribe, transmit, perform, and reverberate. Responding to the current fascination with big data and smart cities, Shannon Mattern powerfully demonstrates that cities have always been sites of urban intelligence."—Lisa Parks, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"This is highly synthetic and sophisticated work, and Shannon Mattern is generous to her readers, serving as an informed guide to a complex past. She pushes us to a rich archaeological encounter with the layered presence of the past, as well as its vanished remains and traces, to think about ways of reading the world in its full artifactuality. The book is a wonderfully vivid account and analysis of the intersections of media technologies and urban landscapes."—Johanna Drucker, University of California, Los Angeles

"Shannon Mattern has long been a go-to source for provocative and insightful accounts of cities and media, and cities as media. Now at last we have her book-length, cultural materialist history of mediated cities, and it is wonderful. Beautifully written and genuinely interdisciplinary, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt will be required reading for anyone interested in understanding the media's temporal and geographical urban entanglements."—Gillian Rose, University of Oxford

"Mattern is a writer who is able to mobilize detailed material in exciting ways."—Leonardo Reviews

"Mattern’s methodology and sources attest to the necessity of rigorous interdisciplinary reading and research for an archaeological history of media." —BioScope

"The book intrinsically deconstructs the cult of techno-solutionism, definitely shifting the city’s structural core from a focus on technologies to one of processes." —Neural

"Its fresh take on urbanism—that stitches together media studies, archeology, and the urban environment—was a wonderfully thought-provoking, off-the-beaten-path journey into the messy complexity of people, technologies and the material world." —Spacing

For years, pundits have trumpeted the earthshattering changes that big data and smart networks will soon bring to our cities. But what if cities have long been built for intelligence, maybe for millennia? In Code and Clay, Data and Dirt Shannon Mattern advances the provocative argument that our urban spaces have been “smart” and mediated for thousands of years.

Offering powerful new ways of thinking about our cities, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt goes far beyond the standard historical concepts of origins, development, revolutions, and the accomplishments of an elite few. Mattern shows that in their architecture, laws, street layouts, and civic knowledge—and through technologies including the telephone, telegraph, radio, printing, writing, and even the human voice—cities have long negotiated a rich exchange between analog and digital, code and clay, data and dirt, ether and ore. 

Mattern’s vivid prose takes readers through a historically and geographically broad range of stories, scenes, and locations, synthesizing a new narrative for our urban spaces. Taking media archaeology to the city’s streets, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt reveals new ways to write our urban, media, and cultural histories.

Shannon Mattern is associate professor in the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York. She is author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities and Deep Mapping the Media City, both from Minnesota. 


Introduction: Ether/Ore

1. Waves and Wires: Cities of Electric Sound

2. Steel and Ink: The Printed City

3. Of Mud, Media, and the Metropolis: Aggregating Histories of Writing and Urbanization

4. Speaking Stones: Voicing the City

Conclusion: Coding Urban Pasts and Futures