ENG 207 Technology of Reading and Writing

Douglas Patey, MWF 9:00 AM-9:50 AM


In this course, we'll explore some of the ways in which, over time, people have recorded and communicated their thoughts (orally or in writing, in poetry or in prose, in handwritten script or in print) and the way culture communicates (what verbal technologies are available to it) and how that affects what people think and say. How is learning conducted in a wholly oral culture (how do people remember anything)? What happens when cultures become literate, so that learning is recorded and communicated through written texts? How is such literacy achieved, and what political and educational changes foster it and are fostered by it? How does the invention of printing alter communication and thought? How has the format of books (and magazines) reflected or fostered these changes? In our historical explorations we'll trace the ways certain key concepts in our culture have changed, bringing about what we recognize as our modern intellectual terrain: concepts of the "literary" and the "scientific," of authorship and authority, of originality and publication. We'll examine how and when literature became a profession, and the invention of new legal instruments, like copyright, and new disciplines of study, like "aesthetics." We'll explore how and why the first dictionaries came to be written, and how our notions of "standard usage" in spelling and punctuation have emerged.

The course has no prerequisites except a strong historical curiosity and a willingness to read and think about materials that will at first be unfamiliar, if not downright strange. Midway through the semester, we'll work in the Rare Book Room to get some firsthand knowledge of the earliest printed books; we'll also have some guest lectures by local authorities on particular eras and problems.

Writing assignments: weekly one–page meditations on our reading for the week; two research papers (of 6–10 pages).

Much of our reading will be in the form of photocopiede essays. Anyone who wants to get a jump on our reading—and a taste of what the course will be about—might take a look at a Walter Ong'sOrality and Literacy.