seminar description: orality & literacy in the 18th-c

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.

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5 thoughts on “seminar description: orality & literacy in the 18th-c

  1. This sounds great. Lucky students!
    I am doing some work on the “oral/print divide” in popular texts; maybe I will contact you when I am further along.

  2. Thanks, Miriam! The director’s cut of the course description was longer

    We will cover a number of topics, including the following:

    • The Beggarís Opera ñ an example of the kind of social and political stage satire that led the government to pass the Licensing Act of 1737 in an effort to curb the performance of seditious and immoral plays;
    • The Poems of Ossian ñ an influential publication that helped inspire the Romantic movement, but that was actually a hoax written by its ìeditor,î the Scottish poet James MacPherson, who passed the Poems off as the work of an ancient, Gaelic, oral epic poet;
    • The elocutionary movement ñ a controversial branch of eighteenth-century rhetoric that sought to provide detailed instructions for the proper delivery of speech;
    • The genre of the sermon ñ didactic, dogmatic, controversial, and perhaps the most familiar genre, printed or spoken, of the eighteenth century;

    We’ll probably also discuss the cultural anxiety over religious “enthusiasm” by looking at some well-known conservative responses to evangelicalism, and we’ll consider some of the moral (in addition to political) responses to the stage (paging Jeremy Collier).

    A list of the big wig theorists on orality and literacy would include Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, Jack Goody, and Albert Lord & Milman Parry. Adam Most recently, the work of Adam Fox on early modern England has been very interesting.

  3. And here are some additional finds. Let me know if you need help finding a copy of each:
    Timothy Clark
    ìTechnology Inside: Enlightenment and Romantic Assumptions of the Orality/Literacy Schoolî
    Oxford Literary Review 21 (1999): 57-72.
    Paul Goetsch
    ìLinguistic Colonialism and Primitivism: the Discovery of Native Languages and Oral Traditions in Eighteenth-Century Travel Books and Novelsî
    Anglia: Zeitschrift fur Englische Philosophie 106.3-4 (1988): 338-359.
    Jackie MacLelland
    ìThe Rhetoric of Orality in Defoeís A Journal of the Plague Yearî
    Conference of College Teachers of English 58 (1986): 36-39.

  4. More placeholding:
    Acker, Paul.
    Revising oral theory : formulaic composition in Old English and Old Icelandic verse
    New York : Garland, 1998.
    MNL PR179.O7 A25 1998
    Bradbury, Nancy M.
    Writing aloud : storytelling in late medieval England
    Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1998.
    MNL PR275.O72 B73 1998
    Gellrich, Jesse M., 1942-
    Discourse and dominion in the fourteenth century : oral contexts of writing in philosophy, politics, and poetry
    Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1995.
    MNL PR275.O72 G45 1995
    Lindahl, Carl.
    Earnest games : folkloric patterns in the Canterbury tales
    Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1987.
    MNL PR1875.F67 L5 1987
    Opland, Jeff, 1943-
    Anglo-Saxon oral poetry : a study of the traditions
    New Haven : Yale University Press, 1980.
    MNL PR203 .O6
    Oral poetics in Middle English poetry
    edited by Mark C. Amodio with the assistance of Sarah Gray Miller.
    New York : Garland Pub., 1994.
    MNL PR317.O72 O7 1994
    Smith, Bruce R., 1946-
    The acoustic world of early modern England : attending to the O-factor
    Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1999.
    MNL PR428.P65 S65 1999

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