Technologies of Text (GENS 410, Spring 2012)

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Abstract (in English): 

When you hear the word “technology,” you may think of your computer or iPhone. You probably don’t think of the alphabet, the book, or the printing press: but each of these inventions was a technological innovation that changed dramatically how we communicate and perhaps even how we think. Texts are at the heart of most disciplines in the humanities—literature, philosophy, history, religious studies—but this course will argue that technology and humanistic study are deeply intertwined. Literature in English, for instance, has always developed in tandem—and usually in direct response to—the development of new technologies—e.g. printed texts, newspaper publication, radio, film, television, the internet. Our primary objective in this course will be to develop ideas about the ways that modern innovations, including computers and the internet, continue to shape our understanding of texts (both classic and contemporary) and the human beings that write, read, and interpret them. In order to help us understand these recent changes, we will compare our own historical moment with previous periods of textual and technological upheavals in Western Culture. We’ll learn that many of the debates that seem unique to the twenty-first century—over privacy, intellectual property, and textual authority—are but new iterations of familiar battles in the tumultuous history of technology and literature. We will see how modern scholars are illuminating these debates in our textual past using the rapidly changing tools of our textual present: e.g. geographic information systems, data mining, textual analysis. Finally, we will gain new skills for working with texts as we develop digital projects using texts from the Center for Norbertine Studies’ special collections library. (Source: course website)

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Eric Dean Rasmussen