MDST350-1 (Schedule # 70233)
University of Virginia
Spring 2004
MW 3:30-4:45 :: 110 Rouss Hall
Mr. David Golumbia
Office: 304B Bryan
Spring 2004 Office Hours :: MW 2:00-3:15 and by appt

Textuality, Language, and the History of Media

"Media" is a word that is commonly used in opposition to language-based communicative forms, despite the fact that few would deny the status of language-based forms as media. At the same time language is often seen as the basis for critique and analysis of media forms, as seen in critical programs such as semiotics. This course will survey the history of media forms by paying especially close attention to the world history of books, languages and printing, and the direct extensions of language into other forms of media. We will set foundations by reading several surveys of language formations in world history (Fischer, Dixon). We'll then spend a considerable amount of time on the various ways of looking at transitions from spoken to written forms (Ong, Eisenstein, Finkelstein and McCleery, McLuhan) and the poststructuralist critique of the speech/writing distinction (Derrida). Then we'll expand our viewpoint to include the broad range of modern media forms (McGann, Lakoff and Johnson, Bolter and Grusin). Finally, we will turn to several products of contemporary media that combine many elements of other media forms (Jiles, Rushdie, Kunuk) to look closely at how the history of media functions in the contemporary world. Students will write a substantial research paper (18-20pp.) on an aspect of the interaction between language and the history of a medium of their choosing. Students will also write two brief (3-5pp.) critical reviews of material either covered in or related to the topic of the course.

Primary Materials

Books (available at UVa Bookstore):

Film (on reserve at Clemons Library-Robertson Media Center):


There are three major assignments for this course. For the major final assignment, in consultation with the instructor, students will develop a substantial paper or media project (18-20 pages or equivalent) that combines an aspect of language or book history with the history of media. These topics will be developed during the first part of the term to ensure timely completion of the final paper, which is due by the last day of class. No extensions will be granted for papers in this class.

Students will also write two brief (approximately 1000 words or 4 typed pages) critical reviews on materials covered in or related to class. These assignments will be due at the beginning of class on Feb 11 and Mar 24 (again, no extensions will be granted) and the books will be chosen in advance in consultation with the instructor. Briefly, students are required to summarize the contents of a book chapter-by-chapter, and then to write a few paragraphs analyzing the book's strengths and weaknesses. Students will write one review of a primary book read for class, and another from a list of secondary reading choices.


The course is conducted through lecture and discussion. Students are expected to attend class and to participate knowledgeably in discussion. Absences above 3 per semester must be discussed in advance with the instructor.


Grades are constituted 50% by the final paper/project; 20% by each of the two critical reviews; and 10% by class participation.

Honor Code

All work for this class is subject to the University of Virginia's Honor Code.


Wed Jan 14. Introduction

Mon Jan 19. Fischer, History of Language. Chapters 1-4.
Wed Jan 21. Fischer, History of Language. Chapter 5-end.

Mon Jan 26. Dixon, Rise and Fall of Languages. Chapters 1-7.
Wed Jan 28. Dixon, Rise and Fall of Languages. Chapter 8-end; de Grazia, "Homonyms Before and After Lexical Standardization" (article in toolkit).

Mon Feb 2. Ong, Orality and Literacy. Chapters 1-4.
Wed Feb 4. Ong, Orality and Literacy, Chapter 5-end.

Mon Feb 9. Eisenstein, Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Chapters 1-4.
Wed Feb 11. Eisenstein, Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Chapter 5-end.
                   First 1000-word critical review due at beginning of class Feb 11.

Mon Feb 16. Selections from Finkelstein and McCleery, The Book History Reader:
                  - Darnton, "What Is the History of Books?"
                  - McGann, "The Socialization of Texts"
                  - Johns, "The Book of Nature and the Nature of the Book"
                  - Chartier, "The Practical Impact of Writing"
                  - McKenzie, "The Sociology of a Text: Orality, Literacy and Print in Early New Zealand"

Wed Feb 18. Selections from Finkelstein and McCleery, The Book History Reader:
                  - Bourdieu, "The Field of Cultural Production"
                  - Bayly, "The Indian Ecumene: An Indigenous Public Sphere"
                  - Barthes, "The Death of the Author"
                  - Foucault, "What Is an Author?"

Mon Feb 23. Derrida, Of Grammatology. "Preface" through Part II, Chapter 1 ("The Violence of the Letter") (pp. lxxxix-140). The "Translator's Preface" is not part of the reading assignment.
Wed Feb 25. Derrida, Of Grammatology. Part II, Chapter 2-end.

Mon Mar 1. Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By. Chapters 1-17.
Wed Mar 3. Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By. Chapter 18-end.

Mon Mar 8. No class. UVa Spring Break.
Wed Mar 10. No class. UVa Spring Break.

Mon Mar 15. McLuhan, Understanding Media. Chapters 1-17.
Wed Mar 17. McLuhan, Understanding Media. Chapter 18-end.

Mon Mar 22. Bolter and Grusin, Remediation. Chapters 1-8.
Wed Mar 24. Bolter and Grusin, Remediation. Chapter 9-end.
                   Second 1000-word critical review due at beginning of class Mar 24.

Mon Mar 29. McGann, Radiant Textuality. Chapters 2, 3, and 5.
Wed Mar 31. McGann, Radiant Textuality. Chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Mon Apr 5. Jiles, North Spirit. Chapters 1-31.
Wed Apr 7. Jiles, North Spirit. Chapter 32-end.

Mon Apr 12. Rushdie, Satanic Verses. Parts I-IV.
Wed Apr 14. Rushdie, Satanic Verses. Parts V-end.

Mon Apr 19. Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). (DVD in Clemons; please view entire film prior to Apr 19 class).
Wed Apr 21. Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner).

Mon Apr 26. Summary; discussion of student projects.
                   Final paper or project due Apr 26.

Last updated January 14, 2004 .