ENG 207 Technology of Reading and Writing

Eric Reeves, MW 2:40 PM-4:00 PM


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.


We'll conclude the semester by examining the consequences of "digitization" (binary technologies in all their forms) for reading and writing.  It's already clear that a new revolution is in the making: can we catch glimpses of it from current developments in computer technologies, the digitizing of books and libraries, the inordinate amount of time spent before screens of various sorts, and more broadly, "digital culture"?