Course Description

The letter 'T'his course will seek to understand how various changes in technologies of communication have transformed the very structure of human consciousness: from orality/literacy debates to the Gutenberg revolution to the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century to the digital and media technologies of the postmodern period. As a result, we will examine a massive timeline over the course of the semester: 2,000 BCE to 2,000 CE. Our ultimate goal will be to determine how our contemporary digital revolution has affected such traditional concepts as textuality, the archive, and the book. However, the contention of the course is that one cannot properly understand the changes occuring in the postmodern era without understanding the changes effected by past technologies of reproduction. The materiality of the text will thus be interpreted in its most literal sense--fabric, pulp, film, pixel. The questions we will be asking speak directly to our own society of mass marketing, image dissemination, media advertising, and computer "literacy": What effect does the gradual diminution of the artisan's book into the pulp fiction of the paperback and finally into the flicker of a computer screen have on the literary artifact? To what extent do technological advancements manifest themselves in our cultural products? What role does literature play in postmodern society and what precisely should the function of literary criticism be in an age of computers and projection screens? Students will also be expected to learn how to mount a Web page and/or produce an e-book, both to understand the technology of which we speak and to inform themselves about a new facet of academic culture.

The course will occur alongside efforts by David Blakesley, Susan Miller, Pat Sullivan, and me to establish a Center for Digital Publishing at Purdue (thanks to an e-Enterprise grant from Discovery Park) and a concurrent effort, led by Jerome McGann and in which I am involved, to create a nineteenth-century digital resource and publishing venue on par with current print publication.

Click here for our virtual discussion of Plato, Milton, and Wordsworth.

book:  Macaulay
Week One: January 14, 2004

book:  Macaulay
Week Two: January 21, 2004
Orality into Literacy

In this first week, we will discuss the effects of the technological innovation that provided us with written speech in the first place. Orality/literacy debates will help to foreground our discussion of the new transformation being effected today by digitality (leading to what some have termed a stage of "secondary orality").


book:  Macaulay
Week Three:
January 28, 2004
Plato’s Letter: Guest Lecture by John Kirby (Classics, FLL)

Plato has been a particularly interesting figure for theorists of literacy, since he eschewed writing even as he benefitted from the transformations in consciousness effected by the new medium. Derrida complicates our understanding of Plato by famously claiming that "il n'y a pas d'hors texte," that we should not privilege voice over the grapheme.


  • Plato (427-347 BCE), Seventh Letter 809-11 and Phaedrus (Reader)
  • Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy 118-35 (Reader
  • Eric A. Havelock, Preface to Plato 276-311 (Reader)
  • Jacques Derrida, Dissemination 65-75, 95-119 (Reader)

book:  Macaulay
Week Four:
February 4, 2004
Gutenberg’s Letter: Guest Lectures by Dorsey Armstrong and Tom Ohlgren

The next great revolution in mechanical reproduction occurs in the movement from manuscript to print culture. Malory and other late medieval texts will serve to illustrate the ways that the new technologies begin to change the way humans approached authorship, visuality, temporality, and even selfhood.


  • Sir Thomas Malory, Editor’s introduction and first page of the Caxton Morte D’Arthur
  • Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality” (Reader)
  • Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (Reader)
  • Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Reader)

book:  Macaulay
Week Five: February 11, 2004
Milton's Renaissance: Guest Lecture by Angelica Duran

lithographyMilton marks an important turning point in the understanding of epic form. As the tale of the tribe, Milton's own epic underscores a number of important changes in the Renaissance understanding of society, changes that were mirrored in the Puritan revolution of Cromwell's regime. We will also discuss the place of the visual image in the history of the book, aided by examples of emblematic work from the period.


book:  Macaulay
Week Six: February 18, 2004
Novel Technologies and the Spread of Fiction: Guest Lecture by Emily Allen

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw major changes in English society: the rise of the novel; the rise of mass literacy; and the increasing influence of the bourgeoisie, culminating in the French Revolution of 1789 and the Reform Bill of 1832. We will discuss the effects of these changes, particularly as they bear on the bourgeoisie's favorite genre, the novel.


  • Michel Foucault, "The Subject and Power" (Reader)
  • Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (Reader)
  • Pierre Bourdieu, "The Field of Cultural Production" (Reader)
  • Michael McKeon, The Origin of the English Novel (Reader)

book:  Macaulay
Week Seven: February 25, 2004
Wordsworth and the Constitution of Self

Wordsworth will allow us to continue our examination of the epic as reflection of the tribe. The changes Wordsworth makes to Milton's own innovations marks the rise of a new genre—the autobiographical narrative—and, with it, the constitution of a new sense of self. We will also begin to look at some hands-on applications of book history to the specific test case of Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads.


  • William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Prelude I, V-VII (preferably, 1805 version)
  • William Wordsworth, Prefaces; "Lucy Gray" (Reader)
  • Thomas Gray (1716-1771), "Elegy" (Reader)
  • John Guillory, Cultural Capital (Reader)
  • Lee Erickson, The Economy of Literary Form (Reader)
  • Alan Boehm, "The 1798 Lyrical Ballads" (Reader)

book:  Macaulay
Week Eight: March 3, 2004
Romanticism’s Last Minstrels: Scott and Byron

The Romantic period sees a strange hiccup in the implementation of the mass market, allowing poetry one last chance to dominate the literary field. This phenomenon will allow us to explore the uneven development of new technologies. Despite this hiccup, Scott and Byron, the two most popular writers of the period, could not help but encode in their work the transformations occurring in both the market and mechanical reproduction. We will also continue to look at specific applications of book-history study to specific authors.


book:  Macaulay
lithographic stoneWeek Nine: March 10, 2004
Rossetti’s Archive

The Victorian period saw the final dominance of the novel; however, older technologies nonetheless persist in nostalgic forms. By accessing Rossetti through Jerome McGann's Rossetti Archive, we will examine a number of medial issues simultaneously: the persistence of superceded technologies in the age of mass reproduction; the effects of mass reproduction on the poetic enterprise; and the effects of the World Wide Web on our study of literature. While we're at it, I ask that you have a look at other digital archives of the nineteenth century so we can begin to think about the effect of digital technology on the study of a given literary-historical period.


book:  Macaulay
Week Ten: March 17, 2004
March Break

book:  Macaulay
Week Eleven:
March 24, 2004
Discussion of Academic Publication and Self-Promotion

This week, we will take a break from readings so that we can discuss strategies for publishing our work from this course. The two articles below are only a couple of pages long and represent two recent articles in the Chronicle that might help to spark discussion. Remember that your proposals for final projects are due today.

book:  Macaulay
Week Twelve: March 31, 2004
Concrete Poetry and the Typographic Advertisement

This week, we will examine a number of poems from throughout the modern and into the postmodern period. Except for Mallarmé's "Un coup de dès," each of these poems are designed to be grasped in a single viewing; they do not progress past a single page and they are often in the form of immediately recognizable images or constructs. The influence on poetry of advertising and new technologies of typographical presentation will be discussed, aided by Kittler's influential work, as will the function of poetry as avant-garde form. We will thus be able to continue our discussion of print and the image that we began when we examined Dürer, Herbert, Quarles, and W. J. T. Mitchell's Iconology in Week Five.

Presenters: Charles Park & Neal Gill


  • Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
  • Stéphane Mallarmé (1897), "A Throw of the Dice" (Reader)
  • Optional: Commentary on Mallarmé's "Un coup de dès" (Reader)
  • Guillaume Apollinaire (1914), "Coeur couronne et miroir" (Reader)
  • Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1915-17), "Après la Marne" and "Letter from the Front" (Reader)
  • Décio Pignatari, (1957), "Coca-Cola" (Reader)
  • Al Hansen (1966), "Hershey Bar Poems" (Reader)
  • Ian Hamilton Finlay (1966), "Wave Rock" (Reader)
  • Kitasono Katué (1966), "Portrait of a Poet 2 (Plastic Poem)" (Reader)
  • Tom Phillips (1960s), "A Human Document" (Reader; from A Humument)
  • John Hollander (1968), "You Too? Me Too—Why Not? Soda Pop" (Reader)

book:  Macaulay
Week Thirteen: April 7, 2004
Theorizing Digitality

This week will be spent understanding and discussing the place of the computer in the study of literature. Having examined the Rossetti archive, we will now examine some theoretical approaches to hypertext and digitality in general that will help us to understand the subtle changes being effected by this new medium.

Presenters: Lucian Ghita, Martin Fashbaugh, & Margaret Morris


  • N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman (Reader)
  • Marie-Laure Ryan, Introduction to Cyberspace Textuality (Reader)

book:  Macaulay
Week Fourteen:
April 14, 2004
e-Book Workshop and e-Book Theory: Guest Lecture by Karl Stolley (meeting in BRNG B291)

We will here discuss to what extent the traditional understanding of the book might be in the process of transformation thanks to e-books and such new technologies as Night Kitchen's TK3.

Presenter: Kristi Embry


  • Readings to be provided in e-Book format

book:  Macaulay
Week Fifteen: April 21, 2004
Archive Theory: Meeting with ENGL 696A—Archival Theory and Practice; Guest Professors: Kristina Bross, Shirley Rose, and Susan Curtis (HIST)

We will here concentrate on the idea of the archive, with an eye to the ways it has been transformed in the digital age. Building on our discussion of orality/literacy debates, we can thus begin to understand the epistemic structures made possible by the introduction of the written word. We will be aided by the students and professors of ENGL 696A, who have been exploring the concept of the archive all semester.

  • James J. O’Donnell, Avatars of the Word (Reader)

book:  Macaulay
Week Sixteen: April 28, 2004
The Future of the Academy

We will finish the course by discussing the future of academic publishing. Faced with a crisis in humanities publishing as universities stop make sufficient contributions to their university presses and their own libraries, we will explore what options exist for academics of the future. I will discuss one such proactive response to the crisis in humanities publishing: Jerome McGann's 9s initiative (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship) and the related effort by the North American Victorian Studies Association to create a Victorian Archive.

Presenters: Sarah Johnson & Marc Santos


  • James J. O’Donnell, Avatars of the Word (Reader)
  • Cathy Davidson, “Understanding the Economic Burden of Scholarly Publishing” (Reader)
  • Stephen Greenblatt, Letter on the publishing crisis (Reader)

Great Exhibition




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Last Revised: March 17, 2004