English 400/ 601: New Literacies, Cultures, and Technologies of Writing

Cr. 3


New media—a still-forming term that defines amalgams of digital text, image, sound, and video--have certainly been changing the ways we communicate, interpret, store, and retrieve information, much less interact socially and (possibly) change the world. Fueled by the flourishing of the internet in the past two decades, the study of how media of expression affect what we say has been experiencing a renaissance: a renaissance that has been changing the shape of English studies.  This is what this course is about: the changes that new media have brought us and how the study and production of English literature have responded.

 Sociologist Marshall McLuhan, responding to television culture nearly half a century ago, famously wrote that “The medium is the message.” Literary historians who study the evolution of printed texts in the field loosely defined as “the history of the book” have been making a similar argument. Looking back at the evolution of print culture, they are studying how the printed page has affected the control, characterization, and production of various forms of literature. Rhetoricians and scholars of literacy, incorporating forms of critical theory and anthropology, have correspondingly been studying and defining social networks and other internet communities. Writers themselves, finally, have had to reshape not only the form, but also, sometimes, the content of their work as they construct creative, academic, and informative texts.  This process has been true for university students trained in English studies as well as they enter the job market, take on extracurricular activities, undergo their classes, and otherwise interpret, create artistic work, teach, and communicate in the culture around them.

In response to such advances in communication and theory, this course adopts components of both theory and practice.  That is, the course features texts, both traditionally written and electronic, that theorize, imaginatively portray, and encapsulate new media. The course also requires practice writing about, or interpreting new media both in traditional academic formats--that is, written essays--and in new media itself: that is, via electronic discussion, web-delivered hypertext, digital video, and more.

Our class wiki from recent semesters offers a window into our course.