Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 October 2020
[B]y carrying us beyond paper, the adventures of technology grant us a sort of future anterior: they liberate our reading for a retrospective exploration of the past resources of paper, for its previously multimedia vectors.
—Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine
This essay explores some of the ways that the contemporary mediascape has begun to transform the questions we can ask of our students and ourselves. Our subject derives from an undergraduate English course, Literary History and/as Media History, that we designed to address the lack of critical attention paid in the curriculum to the media of literary works. The course, whose catalog description follows, was intended to cover a lot of historical ground while highlighting theoretical questions that generally remain unasked in Norton Anthology–style surveys:
Living in an era of rapid technological innovation, we tend to forget that print itself was once a new medium. The history of English and American literature since the Renaissance has been as much a response to the development of new material formats (scribal copying, printed playtexts, newspaper and serial publication, “little magazines,” radio, film, television, the internet) as it has been a succession of ideal literary forms (poems, plays, and novels). This course will survey literary works from the sixteenth to the twentieth century in relation to the history of media. What can these histories say to each other? Are they, indeed, one history?