The history of the English language is a history of upheavals and invasions. Brought to the British Isles by the Angles and the Saxons in the fifth century, "English" and the people who spoke it rapidly ousted the Brythonic (or p-Celtic) people and established the Old English "heptarchy": the seven realms of Anglo-Saxon England. These nations, in turn, were beset by Viking raids and the intrusions of Scandinavians; and after King Alfred had made a treaty with the so-called Danes, and had set the stage for a flowering of English culture and learning that left us the Old English literature we study today, William of Normandy conquered English in 1066, changing forever the direction England would take, and the nature of its language. We will study texts from the Old, Middle, and Modern English periods, and chart the ways in which our language grew from a relatively simple Germanic tongue to the powerful, ductile, and eclectic language it is today, with one of the largest vocabularies in the world. Borrowings from French, Latin, and Greek greatly enriched our lexicon in the Old, Middle, and early Modern Periods, and as the English settled colonies in America, which in turn became a melting pot of different nationalities, increasing its vocabulary. We will read texts about the English language by King Alfred the Great, Aelfric (10th C.), Robert of Gloucester, Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, Caxton, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Mulcaster, Locke, Hume, Defoe, Swift, and Samuel Johnson; Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster and the start of American dictionaries; and trace writings about 19th and 20th century concerns of language. We will end with discussions of Black Dialect, Ebonics, "uptalk," "Valley Speak," and language issues of concern to women. This class will fulfill the pre-1789 requirement for the major. Applicable English Cluster: Medieval Studies.
Chaucer is one of the wittiest, most congenial, and yet most intellectually alert of all British poets. He is a marvelous craftsman and social commentator who develops a rhetoric suited to philosophical discourse that has amazed his readers for centuries with its range of empirical, speculative, and observational psychology. English 204 provides intensive analysis of most of Chaucer's writings—dream visions (Book of the Duchess, Parliament of Fowls, and House of Fame), poetics (the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women), romance (Troilus and Criseyde), and all of the Canterbury Tales. The Chaucer readings are all in Middle English. As background we will study Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy in a modern English translation. The instructor makes a sustained effort to recreate the performative voicing that shapes his ideas and transcends the ravages of time. Classes will consist primarily of lecture with some discussion and occasional quizzes. Students write two papers and take a final examination. Class attendance is required. Fulfills the pre-1800 requirement for the English major. Applicable Clusters: Medieval Studies, Great Books, Great Authors.
The course focuses on the writings of John Milton, one of the most radical and challenging of English poets. Our work will center Milton's epic poem of the creation and fall of man, "Paradise Lost", along with shorter works of lyric and dramatic poetry, such as his biblical tragedy, "Samson Agonistes". Readings will also include selections from Milton's prose writings, in particular those that address questions about the freedom of writing and belief. One central theme of the course will be the quality of Milton's poetic inventiveness, his combination of tradition and revolution. We'll be thinking about Milton's extravagant poetic language; his ways of the re-appropriating stories and visions of the Bible; his complex pictures of divinity, of heaven and hell, God and Devil; his dynamic and seductive depictions of the created world; and his stark dramas of human moral choice. During the semester we'll also be considering Milton's changing relation to the political and religious crises of his time, especially the English Revolution of 1642-1660. In order to get a an idea of Milton's crucial influence on later English writers, we'll be ending the semester by reading selections from the poetry of William Blake, especially "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". The course fulfills the pre-1800 requirement for the English major, and can be used for English clusters in "Great Books, Great Authors" and "Poems, Poetry, and Poetics."
The American Revolution was also a literary revolution. Friends and foes of independence used literature as a vehicle for debating ideas of liberty and nationhood. This course will consider American literature during the period of the revolution. Our readings will span numerous genres, including political tracts, novels and poetry. We will consider a range of authors, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper, Lydia Maria Child, William Apess, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Along the way, we will explore the many diverse literary responses to revolutionary ideas, with a special emphasis on how early national ideas of liberty applied to women, slaves, and Native Americans and other people excluded from the newly emergent nation.
This is a course in four of the most beautiful and difficult long poems written during the twentieth century: T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets," H.D.'s [Hilda Doolittle's] "Trilogy," Ezra Pound's "Pisan Cantos," and Wallace Stevens's "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction." As we approach our concentrated experience of these four poems, we will read shorter poems by each poets, and we will explore the particular difficulties of writing a long poem during a time when the given forms of logic, narrative, and representation seemed inadequate or even dishonest. These challenging poems not only record but embody the discovery of alternative ways of inhabiting our cultural and our interior lives.
This is a course about how to read a poem. It look at poetry's extreme uses of metaphor, its use of a language by turns more raw and more oblique, plainer and more ambiguous than ordinary prose. We'll be thinking about the power of poetic gesture and poetic voice, about poetry's way of telling a story and its way of keeping secrets, and about poetry's attention to peculiarly charged moments of recognition, emotion, memory, and mystery. We will also look closely at the formal tools of poetry, the use of rhyme and meter, lines and stanzas, and the use of traditional genres such as riddle, ballad, hymn, ode, and elegy. Readings will include the work of poets writing from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, with some emphasis on the lyric poetry of William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop. Evaluation will be based on class participation and written essays. No prerequisites, no final exam. Applicable English cluster: Major Authors; Poems, Poetry, and Poetics.
Blending clear-eyed social commentary with a faith in romantic love, festooning mordant satire with enchantedly happy endings, Jane Austen's novels subsist on contradiction and enjoy more popularity than ever. This course will place Austen in the context of her times while also analyzing her continued appeal. Readings include Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion, as well as novels by such authors as Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Anne Radcliffe, and the Brontes.
An isolated country parsonage. A half mad father. A wastrel brother addicted to drugs. Three uniquely gifted sisters who burned their hearts and brains out on the moors but not before leaving us some of the most passionate and revolutionary literature of the 19th century. This is the stuff of the Bronte legend. This course will explore the continuing appeal of the Brontes and the peculiar fascination that they have exercised on the literary imagination. Through intensive study of some of the best-loved novels our culture has produced the literary works of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte we will explore the roots and reaches of the Bronte myth. We will also consider the Brontes' legacy in todays popular romantic fiction and in some of the many adaptations (and continuations) of their work in print and on the screen. And we will look at our seemingly insatiable appetite for new tellings of the Brontes' life stories. The course, then, will consider not the only the Brontes' literary productions, but also our culture's production and reproduction of the Brontes over the years. Applicable Clusters: Gender and Writing; Great Books, Great Authors; Novels.
"Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created."
Toni Morrison has emerged as one of the most influential writers and critics in contemporary American culture. This course will approach her work from a broad range of critical perspectives including black feminist thought, psychoanalysis, trauma theory, Biblical exegesis, postcolonial analysis, and critical race theory. Although this class will emphasize rigorous study of her literary work, we will also pay close attention to her contributions to literary criticism, her role in public life as well as her forays into political and national debates. In our study of her novels, we will explore such issues as the importance of history and myth in the creation of personal identity, constructions of race and gender, the dynamic nature of love, the role of the community in social life, and the pressures related to the development of adolescent girls. We will also examine the changing nature of Morrison's reception by critics and academics, and consider how and why she has achieved such widespread acclaim and influence in addition to generating significant controversy and attack. Concluding class discussions will focus on how Morrison has reconfigured the relationship between creative author and academic critic, her literary and popular reputation, and her broad influence on the study of American literature.
The eighteenth century saw the rise of the modern "tourist" (the word itself dates to 1780). At the same time, mercantile capitalism and national interest spurred unprecedented rates of colonial expansion. Explorers, diplomats and scientists engaged with many peoples and places for the first time. The period also witnessed the height of that mass involuntary travel—slavery—that gave shape to the Atlantic World. In all of the resulting narratives, an instructive juxtaposition emerges—sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit—in which the foreign is discursively "domesticated," while "home" comes to seem strange. Indeed, travel-writing's potential for societal critique was one that satirists quickly grasped, and deployed in myriad variations—from descriptions of invented lands (Gulliver's Travels), to accounts of Europe by "Peruvian Princesses" or "Chinese Philosophers." In this course we will examine all of these kinds of travel-writing, while also considering the shape and dimensions of this ill-defined genre, which often branches into historical meditation, autobiography, biography, philosophy, and aesthetics. Authors will include Bacon, Boswell, Cook, Defoe, Equiano, Goethe, Goldsmith, Graffigny, Johnson, Montagu, Montesquieu, Sterne, Swift, and Voltaire.
Spanning the history of the Americas, this course will examine a wide array of writings by and about Native people, from the literature of the oral tradition to the poetry, fiction and prose of the twentieth century. Our readings will be motivated by a concern with the many strategies Native writers have used for bringing the past to bear on the present, including reenactment, parody, and protest. We will engage texts by contemporary writers such as Sherman Alexie, Vine Deloria, and Leslie Marmon Silko alongside works by authors from the nineteenth century and earlier, such as William Apess, David Walker, and John Rollin Ridge. We will also consider texts by non-Native authors who have written about Native Americans, such as James Fenimore Cooper and Ian Frazier.
This course explores ways in which myth functions to create psychological and social identities within cultural frameworks. We will explore tales, visual art, musicals, opera, poetry, and cinema. The texts concentrate primarily on a constellation of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast adaptations, with excursions into Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Frog Prince, and Jack stories. Our concern will be with the political, didactic, and gendered implications of action/adventure plots, paradigms of exile and return, ideologies underlying the dynamics of oppression, pain fetishes, aspiration, and recovery. We will examine issues of childhood, adolescence, middle age, and old age as myth addresses the concerns of each. We will be particularly interested in historical perspectives as societies perpetually revise and revitalize their visions of themselves through the rewriting of their mythologies.
Public sex? Gruesome violence? Heroic fairies and sinister magicians? Sure: Edmund Spenser's vast epic, The Faerie Queene, contains all of that. It also contains some of the most aesthetically sophisticated and philosophically challenging poetry in the English language. This course will undertake the adventure of reading the entire Faerie Queene—and only The Faerie Queene—over the course of one semester. At the end of our journey, we will understand much about English Renaissance art, magic, politics, theology, psychology, philosophy, gender, sexuality, warcraft, and literary theory, as well as love, ambition, depression, self-control, pleasure, dishonesty, gratitude, aspiration, honor, and much, much more. Course requirements: 3 3-page papers, a midterm and a non-cumulative final of identifications of the text.
Asian American Literature is primarily a literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, with dramatic growth in the past half century or so. We will focus on the literary genres of APA works from the past century--drama, fiction, poetry, memoir--and we will also pay attention to cinematic texts. Our literature includes works by Chinese American, Filipina American, Indian American, Korean American, Japanese American, and Vietnamese American authors. Some prior knowledge of 20th century U.S. literature or Asian Pacific Islander American history will be helpful, but not necessary. (For those who have not taken history courses or who wish for a refresher see the books by Such Chan or Ronald Takaki, listed under recommended texts.) In addition to the study of genres, we will analyze Asian/Pacific Islander/American texts by interrogating myths, "foundational fictions", fantasies and the fantastical. Edward Said usefully argues in Orientalism that Europe imagined the "Orient" since it "helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience" (1978). We will read works of Asian American literature that revise and incorporate Asian myths, and contrast these with the West's popular imagination of the "Orient". Applicable English Cluster: Literature and Cultural Identity.
Theater in England will be conducted in London from Saturday, December 29, 2008, through Saturday, January 10, 2009. Students should arrive in London no later than the evening of December 28. They may return on Sunday, January 11. We will see and have classes on approximately 20 plays. At the end of the course, students will submit a journal that discusses all the plays seen. The journal is due at the beginning of the third week of classes after we get back. I do not yet know what plays we will be seeing, but you can be certain that we will see the best of what is available in the world's theater Mecca. Last year we saw such productions as Ian McKellen in Shakespeare's King Lear, Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanemaker in a legendary production of Much Ado About Nothing, and Chiwetel Ejiofor's definitive performance in the title role of Othello. As an out of town break, we went to Stratford-upon-Avon to do homage to Shakespeare, and see David Warner's Falstaff in Henry IV, Parts I and II. The range of the offerings was terrific, from Nick Stafford's War Horse (with its amazing larger than life puppetry) and a fascinating adaptation of Euripides' Women of Troy to a brilliant example of in-yer-face theater in Anthony Nielson's God in Ruins. We saw big musicals like Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins and fringe productions like Fletcher's Custom of the Country and Neil Labute's Bash. For information about the course over the past sixteen years go to www.courses.rochester.edu/peck/theatre/ The course is restricted to 23 students and carries 4 credits. The fee is $2500.00, which includes tickets to all plays and housing. Students must obtain passports and make their own travel arrangements. You may obtain the application from the English Department or Professor Peck. You need permission of the instructor to register. Contact Professor Russell Peck (email@example.com, phone 275-0110 or 585-473-7354).
The course will deal with a selection of American films from the richest and possibly most important decade in the history of Hollywood. We will screen and discuss a variety of genres, from horror to documentary, concentrating on the films themselves, their place in the history of cinema, their relevance to social, political, and cultural issues. Supplementary reading will include texts on the period and on films of the time. Two or three papers will be required, along with a final examination. Possible films include "King Kong," "Frankenstein," "Our Daily Bread," "Public Enemy," "Golddiggers of 1933," "Dinner at Eight," etc. Applicable English Clusters: Media, Culture, and Communication; Modern and Contemporary Literature.
This course combines a survey of major historical movements and styles in documentary film with an examination of more recent trends and challenges to the tradition. So, in addition to studying the expository political documentary, ethnographic film, and the direct cinema and cinema verite movements, we will explore forms including reality TV, mock documentary, and autobiographical film and video.
Major museums around the world are now collecting motion pictures and other types of moving image and audio-visual art with a level of commitment equal to their traditional interests in paintings, sculptures and other established art forms. These creative works exist in unique formats that bring special challenges to curators and archivists responsible for their conservation and proper exhibition. Taking full advantage of the George Eastman House's rich archival film collection and screening facilities, this course offers instruction in curatorial and preservation standards for motion picture, video, digital and audio materials with a contextual focus on museum, library and archive institutions. Class instruction emphasizes basic concepts of preservation, research, programming, cataloging, digital technologies and preservation; management and interpretation of collections; museum and institutional collections development policies; museum architecture relating to audio-visual media; fund raising and education. Students will be assisted in selecting a topical area of interest in film and media studies, relating to their broader academic pursuits, from which they will develop a special research project. 35mm archival film and other media screenings presented on class night in the Dryden Theatre at 8:00 pm are considered part of the class. Enrollment is limited to 20 students.
This new workshop will offer students a chance to write creatively in the genres of fiction and creative nonfiction. As we explore the murky border that separates the two, we'll be looking for qualities that are shared by both genres, and we'll examine the ways their defining differences are reshaped in inventive prose. In particular, we'll focus on the imaginative representation of real places in fiction, travel literature, and autobiography. The reading list will include a diverse group of writers, including Thoreau, Barry Lopez, Bruce Chatwin, James Joyce, Isak Dinesen, Italo Calvino, and Annie Dillard. This course will fulfill the 200-level requirement for the Creative Writing major and minor and can be used for the Creative Writing cluster.
This is a workshop for students who have completed ENG 121 or have some experience writing fiction on their own and are ready to concentrate on more ambitious projects. We'll read short stories by contemporary writers along with fiction by the students in the workshop, and we'll discuss ways writers can sharpen the conversation between text and reader. We'll also consider editing and reviewing techniques. Students will be expected to write and revise three original stories. Applicable English Cluster: Creative Writing.
Advanced creative writing workshop in poetry. Work by various contemporary poets will provide the framework for explorations into technique and poetic narrative. Students' poems will be discussed weekly. Students will be expected to do extensive reading and research on their own and to keep a poetic journal. Assignments will be given, but there is a lot of latitude for students who wish to design a poetic project or work on a series. Prerequisites: ENG 122 or equivalent work. Permission of instructor required. Applicable English Cluster: Creative Writing.
The black cultural explosion of the 1920s known as the Harlem Renaissance produced some of the most important works of the African-American literary tradition. This course will provide a survey of texts that reflect the spirit of the era, from writers such as Jessie Fauset, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Alain Locke, and Jean Toomer. A variety of genres will be covered, including the poetry of writers such as Countee Cullen and Claude McKay, essays by figures such as George Schuyler and W.E.B. DuBois, and dramatic works by Mary Burrill and Georgia Douglass Johnson. Autobiography, music, and film will also be included. In addition, the course will consider more recent works of fiction that are set in this milieu to ascertain what the Harlem Renaissance has meant for later African-American writers such as Samuel R. Delany, Toni Morrison, and August Wilson. Special attention will be paid to the topic of migration, constructions of black identity, and the ways in which both sets of texts address difference within the African-American community. May be used to fulfill the upper-level writing requirement for the major. Applicable English Clusters: Literature and Cultural Identity; American and African American Studies.
This course, essentially, will attempt to deal with the subject of creative nonfiction, the writing of publishable prose, the sort of writing about literature, film, the arts, culture, etc. that appears in newspapers and magazines. It will also include some work in practical criticism. We will read and discuss numerous examples of various excellent, lively, innovative essays and articles by some of the best writers of the 20th century, in general circulation publications. Students will try their hand at book, film, drama, and art reviewing of the sort that distinguishes some of the best periodicals in the country. We will discuss matters of style, individual voice, and ways to publish one's work.
Media ABC is an introduction to the very idea of medium and media—as in "the medium of photography" and "digital media." The goal is to come to a basic understanding of that concept. The perspective of the course is broadly historical and critical. The guiding assumptions are two: that media are not peculiar to the modern world, and that all media—the human voice, books, paint, electronic files--shape their "content"—words, pictures, sounds, etc.—and their authors and their audiences. There have always been media, and there must be media, because life cannot be lived without them.
This year's topic is the printed word—the dominant medium of communication for the past five centuries. Only very recently, because of the "digital revolution," has print begun to lose some of its power and influence as we experience a "digital revolution." This remarkable media shift puts us among the first explorers to arrive on the scene of what later generations will surely see as epoch-making change that we can't yet fully grasp. But we should take advantage of our own unique intellectual opportunity to look back on the history of print from the powerful new perspective of digital media.
This is a special year for Media ABC. We are participating in a series of experiments with Humanities Labs, where we will be able to extend our exploration of print by putting facts and theories into practice. Note that students in the Media ABC Humanities Lab must register for the recitation section when registering for this course. Work in the Humanities Lab will replace all formal exams.
Applicable English Cluster: Media, Culture, and Communication.
Ever since Christopher Herbert argued that "culture" represents the unifying conceptual principle behind nineteenth-century sciences ranging from political economy to anthropology, it has been possible to view thinkers as diverse as Thomas Malthus, E.B. Tylor, and John Stuart Mill as participating in a set of interlocking discourses: political economy, sociology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and moral philosophy. While Herbert's claim provides the impetus for this course and its examination of Victorian literature in relation to contemporary writings from the social and natural sciences, we will also address the possible methodological complications that arise when engaging in interdisciplinary research that is grounded in a concept of culture, whether ethnographic or literary. To what extent does the concept of culture both enable literary critics to make arguments about texts from a variety of disciplines and genres yet fail to adequately address differences in form or methodology? What are the possible limitations of using literature in making arguments about other disciplines? In order to pose these theoretical issues regarding interdisciplinarity and method, however, a large portion of the course will be devoted to introducing students to seminal eighteenth- and nineteenth-century political economists, anthropologists, and evolutionary biologists such as Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, E.B. Tylor, Henry Maine, John McLennan, and James Frazer. We will read these economic and anthropological texts alongside literary texts, exploring the relevance of anthropological and economic ideas of culture, kinship, sexuality, value, exchange, evolution, and (re)production for Victorian literary works. Literary texts may include Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, John Ruskin's Unto This Last, Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy, George Eliot's Silas Marner, Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, H. Rider Haggard's She, and Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now. Along the way, we may also discuss criticism by Mary Poovey, Regenia Gagnier, Catherine Gallagher, James Buzard, Herbert Stocking, Raymond Williams, and Pierre Bourdieu, to name a few.
Students in this seminar will gain familiarity with central texts of American literature and with contemporary theories of cosmopolitanism and identity in literary studies. We will assess recent critiques of national identities generally and U. S. national identity specifically and reconsider, in their light, the study of nineteenth and twentieth-century American literature. We will investigate how, in U. S. culture, especially literary culture, national identity has always contended, sometimes violently, with the irreducible heterogeneity of American populations and the conflicted inclusiveness of the American imaginary. We will also consider the difference that making cosmopolitanism central to literary inquiry and cultural studies makes.
This seminar provides a background in the Marxist theory that has most influenced our understanding of literature and other forms of culture. It is designed for students who are interested in both Marxist theory and why literary scholars have found Marxist theory useful.
We begin by focusing our attention on the logic, rhetoric, and context of key arguments by Marx and Engels. The seminar then divides into three sections that focus on aesthetics, utopia, and intellectuals. In each section, our readings and discussion emphasize a careful consideration of arguments and concepts (for instance, agency, contradiction, hegemony, ideology, mediation, mode of production) whose relevance to literary studies might not be immediately apparent, and an equally careful consideration of what those arguments and concepts might tell us about our discipline—how they influence the analytical practices of literary scholars (both Marxist scholars and scholars whose understanding of history, interdisciplinarity, or cultural studies is not explicitly Marxist), how they influence scholars who attempt to sort through the shifting definition of literary studies and its shifting role in university and non-university life, and how they might provide one theoretical framework for assessing the explanatory power of contemporary work in our discipline.
Our readings will include writing by Adorno, Althusser, Benjamin, Bourdieu, Brecht, Engels, Foucault, Gramsci, James, Hall, Lukacs, Marx, and Williams, as well as writing that focuses more explicitly on literary studies (including work by John Guillory, Richard Halpern, Frederic Jameson, Mary Poovey, and Gayatri Spivak).
Students will have the option of completing either an abstract and preliminary annotated bibliography at mid semester and a seminar paper at the end of the semester, or a short paper at mid semester and a second short paper at the end of the semester.
Modernity—the moment in which we live now, the era that began a half millennium ago—often appears as a cataclysmic change, traceable to some watershed event: the invention of print, the "discovery" of America or the East, the Reformation. This seminar will examine the ways in which western modernity has taken shape through narrative and visual depictions of non-Europeans, from the ancient world to 1600 or so, with a strong emphasis on the centuries surrounding 1492. Accounts of Alexander's encounters in the East (Persia, India) will form one central thread in the seminar. We will read the Romance of Alexander (written in Greek by an Egyptian) along with a series of medieval Latin and vernacular (including Arabic and Persian) rewritings of this narrative. We will read travel and fantasy writing such as Marco Polo, Mandeville's Travels, More's Utopia, and the letters of Columbus, Vespucci, da Gama, and sixteenth-century English publicists. We will also pay particular attention to the increasing importance of visual culture (in unique and mass-produced images) in the representation of non-Europeans, from illuminations through woodcuts, engravings, broadsheets, and other media. The seminar will return to a series of Big Questions, including definitions of Colonialism, Globalization, Transnationalism, Cosmopolitanism; modernity, medievalism, and the conventions of periodization; the history of the book, and the impact of visual materials on diverse audiences; and the function of fantasy and monstrosity in writing the Other. Secondary readings and discussions will draw on recent controversies and theory concerning Post- (and Pre-) Colonial Studies, the "New Ethnography," and the meaning of Globalization and transnational identities before the modern era. Seminar members will be expected to present at least one report, to lead part of a discussion, and to produce a substantive research paper at the end of the semester.
The goal of Text and Medium is to come to a basic understanding of the relationship between those two terms, the "text" that we generally assume is some kind of "content," and the "medium" that puts the content into some form that allows the content to be communicated. The guiding assumptions are two: that media are not peculiar to the modern world, and that all media—the human voice, books, paint, electronic files—shape their content—words, pictures, sounds, etc.—along with their authors and their audiences. There have always been media, and in literature there must be media, because literature cannot exist without them.
This year's focus is on the printed word—the dominant medium of communication for the past five centuries. Only very recently, because of the "digital revolution," has print begun to lose some of its power and influence as we experience a "digital revolution." This remarkable media shift puts us among the first explorers to arrive on the scene of what later generations will surely see as epoch-making change that we can't yet fully grasp. But we should take advantage of our own unique intellectual opportunity to look back on the history of print from the powerful new perspective of digital media. We will of course employ all the traditional tools that students of literature have developed and refined to help them analyze and understand poems, novels, and plays. We will begin with Clifford Siskin's 2007 essay, "Textual Culture in the History of the Real."
This is a special year for Text and Medium. We are participating in a series of College-wide experiments with Humanities Labs, where we will be able to extend our exploration of print by putting facts and theories into practice. Note that students in the Media ABC Humanities Lab must register for the recitation section when registering for this course. Work in the Humanities Lab will replace some of the research and writing that graduate seminars typically require, and members of the seminar will spend part of their Lab time working on individual projects.