Week 2 (Sept. 1-5)

Mediums, Media, Materiality: English Studies as a Technological Endeavor

“For there is nothing more natural for a human being than the artificial.” – Walter J. Ong, “Digitization Ancient and Modern: Beginnings of Writing and Today’s Computers”

In the Introduction to the syllabus, I argue that New Republic Senior Editor Adam Kirsch fails to recognize that Renaissance Humanism was born within the early printing houses of Europe because he believes the study of media technologies is antithetical to the humanistic concerns of a discipline like English Studies. I want to juxtapose Kirsch’s rejection of technology as a subject of concern for English studies with the quote above. Walter Ong, a professor of English at Saint Louis University and past president of the Modern Language Association, spent his career arguing that English studies has always been a technological endeavor.

Regardless of how one practices English studies, be it creative writing, teaching, literary studies, rhetoric, composition, professional writing, film studies, one is engaged with texts. And texts are media produced in a specific medium with its own specific materiality. While one can engage in English studies and ignore or choose to not focus on the technological aspects of the discipline, one is never free from the technologies and the materiality in which texts are created, shared, preserved, and studied. When we stop to reflect upon the fact that language is itself an invention and that writing is itself a second invention that represents spoken language in a visual form, one begins to realize that there is no escaping technology. If tool use and language are defining characteristics of being human, then, as Walter Ong suggests, “there is nothing more natural for a human being than the artificial.”


  • Reading Response post: 10:00 PM, Wed., 3 Sept.
  • Community Response post: 10:00 PM, 10:00 PM, Sat., 6 Sept.
    • Group 1 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 2.
    • Group 2 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 3.
    • Group 3 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 4.
    • Group 4 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 1.
  • Participation posts (3): During the week.


  • Review and begin weekly Participation assignment forum posts.
  • Reading Response and Community Response blog posts (Online Writing Activities).
  • Continue working on the Literacy Practices assignment. Due: Sept. 8, 10:00 PM.
  • Review and begin working on the Annotated Bibliography assignment (graduate students only). Due: Dec. 2, 10:00 PM.
  • With your book in hand, listen to the The Medium Is the Massage, Lecture 5 (pp. 44-61) and Lecture 6 (pp. 62-79).
  • Explore “In the Beginning Was the Word: A Visualization of the Page as Interface.”


  • Bolter, David Jay. “Ch. 2: Writing a Technology.” Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, adn the Remediation of Print. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001. 14-26. (.pdf in Blackboard)
  • Ong, Walter J. “Digitization Ancient and Modern: Beginnings of Writing and Today’s Computers.” Communication Research Trends 18.2 (1998): 4-21. (.pdf in Blackboard)
  • Brantley, Jessica. “The Prehistory of the Book.” PMLA 124.2 (2009): 632-639. (.pdf in Blackboard)
  • Historica Canada. “Marshall McLuhan: Heritage Minute.” (Online video, 1 minute.)
  • Jacobs, Alan. “Why Bother with Marshall McLuhan?” The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society 31 (Spring 2001): 123-135.
  • Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan. Library and Archives Canada. 7 July 1998.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. “Probe as a Tease.” Marshall McLuhan Speaks: Centennial 2011. (Online video, 20 seconds.)
  • McLuhan, Marshall. “My Statements as Probes.” Marshall McLuhan Speaks: Centennial 2011. (Online video, 38 seconds.)
  • McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, pp. 44-79. (Required textbook.)
  • Graduate Students: Select on of the Optional Readings
Optional Readings (Graduate Students: Please select and read one.)
  • Brantley, Jessica. “Medieval Remediations.” Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era. Ed. N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2013. 201-220. (.pdf in Blackboard)
  • Goldsmith, Kenneth. “Language as Material.” Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia UP, 2011. 34-62. (.pdf in Blackboard)
  • Ong, Walter J. “Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought.” The Written Word: Literacy in Transition. Ed. Gerd Baumann. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. 23-50. (.pdf in Blackboard)

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