English 509A: Technology & Rhetorical Criticism: From Microscopes to Algorithms

Instructor: Ian Hill
Section: 001
Term: 1
Meets: Fridays 10:00am-1:00pm

This course will study the confluence of rhetoric, technology, and textual criticism with the aim of learning about how technology affects language and how language affects technology. Readings will be drawn from the fields of rhetorical criticism, Science and Technology Studies [STS], and the philosophy of technology.

After beginning with a look at the current disciplinary state of the rhetoric of technology, the trajectory of the course will be loosely chronological. The first phase will examine the interaction of Enlightenment-era philosophy, politics, scientific instruments, and industrial technologies, as well as the era’s anti-rhetoric attitude. Readings will include, for instance, 18th century philosopher Julien Offray De La Mettrie’s Man as Machine, STS historian John Tresch’s The Romantic Machine, and the contemporary rhetorical criticism of Chelsea Redeker Milbourne’s and Sarah Hallenbeck’s “Gender, Material Chronotypes, and the Emergence of the Eighteenth Century Microscope.”

Selected readings from philosopher of technology Don Ihde, media theorist/rhetorician Walter Ong, and media theorist Friedrich Kittler will serve as a bridge between the early modern period and more contemporary critical interventions.

The latter portion of the course will focus on contemporary examples of the rhetoric of technology in addition to recent STS scholarship that takes up rhetorical concerns. We will read the rhetorical criticism of Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games, Thomas Rickert’s Ambient Rhetoric, and multiple articles by Carolyn R. Miller, including “Writing in a Culture of Simulation,” “Ethos Online,” and “What Can Automation Tell Us about Agency?” From STS, we will read selected essays from Bruno Latour’s Pandora’s Hope and “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik,” as well as articles by writers such as Evelyn Fox-Keller, Trevor Pinch, Malcolm Ashmore, Keith Grint, Steve Woolgar, and Rob Kling.

A Sample of Potential Additional Readings:

  • The recent special issue of Poroi entitled “Inventing the Future: The Rhetorics of Science, Technology, and Medicine”
  • Sean Zdenek’s “Scripting Sylvie: Language, Gender, and Humanness in Public Discourse about Software Agents”
  • Adam J. Banks’s “Groove: Synchronizing African American Rhetoric and Multimedia Writing through the Digital Griot”
  • Stephen Ramsay’s “An Algorithmic Criticism”
  • Celeste Condit’s “Hegemony in a Mass-Mediated Society: Concordance about Reproductive Technologies”
  • Dave Tell’s “The Rise and Fall of a Mechanical Rhetoric, or, What Grain Elevators Teach Us About Postmodernism”
  • David Nofre et al.’s “When Technology Became Language: The Origins of the Linguistic Conception of Computer Programming, 1950-1960”

Register here: