Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist exploring the impact of new media on human interaction. He graduated summa cum laude from the Kansas State University Anthropology Program in 1997 and returned as a faculty member in 2004 after receiving his Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Virginia. There he pursued research on social and cultural change in Melanesia, focusing on the introduction of print and print-based practices like mapping and census taking in the Mountain Ok region of Papua New Guinea where he lived for a total of 18 months from 1999-2003. This work inspired Wesch to examine the impact of new media more broadly, especially digital media.
To this end, Wesch is launching the Digital Ethnography Working Group, a team of undergraduates exploring human uses of digital technology. Coinciding with the launch of this group, Wesch created a short video, “Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us.” Released on YouTube on January 31, 2007, it quickly became the most popular video in the blogosphere and has now been viewed over three million times. Wesch has won several awards for his work with video, including a Wired Magazine Rave Award and the John Culkin Award for Outstanding Media Praxis from the Media Ecology Association. Along with other explorations of mediated culture, the Digital Ethnography working group is now studying video-blogging on YouTube, a project featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Wesch’s videos are part of his broader efforts to pursue the possibilities of digital media to extend and transform the way ethnographies are presented. His first experiment with digital ethnography, Nekalimin.net, began in 1999 and was recently listed by the Cardiff School of Social Sciences Hypermedia and Qualitative Research Project as “by far and away the most interesting web-mounted hypermedia ethnography to date.” In 2002, Wesch created “Virtual Snow,” an online resource on the life and work of Edmund Snow Carpenter, an anthropologist who was instrumental in developing the foundational ideas of media ecology, which inspire much of Wesch’s work with digital ethnography.
Wesch is also a multiple award-winning teacher active in the development of innovative teaching techniques. Most notably, Wesch has developed a highly acclaimed “World Simulation” for large introductory classes in cultural anthropology. Currently, he is the coordinator for the Peer Review of Teaching Project at Kansas State University, part of a broader nationwide consortium of universities pursuing new ways to improve and evaluate student learning. He is also working with the Educause Center for Applied Research on The Tower and the Cloud project, examining “the question of how higher education institutions (The Tower) may interoperate with the emerging network-based business and social paradigm (The Cloud).”