ENGL 212: Writing Machines

This section of ENGL 212: Topics in Critical Writing investigates the rhetorical impact that the tools of writing and reading have on writers and readers. In the 1960s as media shifted from print to radio to television, communications theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote, “the medium is the message.”  How can we, 21st century communicators, continue to apply and reinterpret this phrase?  Specifically, how can writers become more attuned to the ways in which our tools drive the things we write? And finally, how do the constraints and freedoms of any particular writing machine define the things we write?

The course works backwards through time to look at how writing machines have formed and reformed over centuries. We start with our present-day, digital tools, and then move backwards with discussions about mechanical, manual, and finally, biological writing machines.

While the machines themselves are interesting (at least, I think so!), they lead us into conversation about important topics, including:

  • Public versus private versus collaborative writing
  • The relationship between gender and technology
  • The question of race and silenced voices in writing industries and eras
  • The ways in which writing tools and technologies support or harm writers in the disability community
  • Complex terms such as the “digital divide,” “digital natives,” and “owning the means of production”

Finally, as part of our interrogation into writing machines and their rhetorical pull on what and why we write, our class will engage in a wide variety of types of writing. The bulk of our formal coursework will be completed through discussion boards and formal writing assignments, but we will also document a series of writing experiments and activities on a blog that include typewriters and old-school typesetting, making books and scrolls with various kinds of paper, and engaging in a class-wide wiki collaboration.

All of our required readings will come from the SVSU library databases (so they’re free, and you can read them online or print them out). These readings will help us focus on the topics above and make connections to writing concepts such as discourse communities, literacy sponsors, autoethnographies, and rhetorical analyses.  NOTE: These concepts may already be familiar to you, especially if you used the textbook, Writing About Writing, edited by Wardle and Downs in a prior class.

If you are interested but want more detail, please email me at sfrances@svsu.edu. I would be so happy to talk with you!