Here’s the graduate seminar I’ll be teaching next semester:
Literary scholar Nicholas Hudson has recently repeated media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “European intellectuals achieved a clear perception of ‘orality’ only after their own world had been engulfed in print.” In the middle of the eighteenth century, British actor and elocutionist Thomas Sheridan wrote with amazed respect about “the power which words acquire, even the words of fools and madmen, when forcibly uttered by the living voice.” For Sheridan, as for many of his contemporaries, the speech of preachers, politicians, actors, barristers, and even everyday people was a threatening and unruly force compared to the presumably ordered presentation of information through writing and print. The spoken word had been an essential part of human communication for thousands of years, yet the advent of the printed word and widespread literacy in eighteenth-century Britain dramatically reoriented attitudes towards speech. Students in this course will consider just how “clear” the perception of orality might have been among literate people in this period as they study developments in oral and literate practice in eighteenth-century Britain. We will learn what scholars have had to say about orality and literacy, and we will read the works of eighteenth-century poets, dramatists, rhetoricians, clergymen, and cultural commentators.
Course requirements will include class presentations, a take-home exam, an annotated bibliography, and a final research paper building upon the research completed for the annotated bibliography. This course will be rewarding to students interested in the eighteenth century, literary history, rhetoric, media studies, cultural studies, and critical literacy studies.