The following is the description for my Fall 2004 permutation of “Histories of Reading, Writing, and Publishing,” a course that I proposed back in September:
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries All.
We tend to have such faith in books that we assume the printing press brought with it a wave of enlightenment, as publishing restrictions loosened and print production escalated over the course of the early modern period. As the above quote from Pope demonstrates, eighteenth-century observers were not always so optimistic. This course will explore the profound changes taking place from the seventeenth century into the eighteenth as Britain transformed into a print culture.
We will consider several questions. What are the cultural and theoretical implications of different forms of verbal communication and representation, such as speech, manuscript, or print? How did the practices of authorship, readership, and publishing change during this period? What effect did these changes have on the production, distribution, and reception of such traditionally literary materials as essays, novels, and poetry as well as of other materials such as newspapers, magazines, and dictionaries? How did these changes affect, or engender, the fields of journalism, evangelicalism, politics, and literary studies? We will address these issues through a reading of several different seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts as well as of key contemporary scholarly works. We are likely to read works by Addison & Steele, Behn, Barker, Blake, Donne, Haywood, Hogarth, Johnson, Milton, Pope, Wesley, and Whitefield.
Students can expect to complete class presentations, a take-home exam, an annotated bibliography, and a final research paper building upon the research completed for the annotated bibliography. Graduate students should expect to complete more in-depth research and writing than undergraduate students.