Blast from the past

Surfing around this morning, I came across a link to the Computers and Composition Homepage, something I should probably include as a link on my English 516 page. Conveniently, they have full text for issues from long long ago (1983-1990) and abstracts for articles since then. I’d like to see full text for everything, but that is in the future, I suppose.

Anyway, one kind of interesting essay I browsed through was this one, “My Write of Passage: From the Quill Pen to the Personal Computer,” by the late and great Edward P. J. Corbett. Published in 1990, it is largely a reflection on what it was like for him to make the shift from writing with a pen to writing with word processing software– in this case, Nota Benne– and how it changed his habits as a writer and such. Much of what he writes about is of course obvious to us now, 14 years later. But one passage struck me:

It is a commonplace now that humanists generally have been slower to adopt the computer than people in the physical and social sciences. Solveig Olsen, the professor of German at North Texas State University, who is the general editor of the collection of essays that MLA published in 1985, Computer-Aided Instruction in the Humanities, offers his own explanation for the reluctance of humanists to adopt the computer in their academic work. He says,

Several factors account for its [CAI’s] slow acceptance among humanists: fiscal constraints, lack of familiarity with technology, skepticism caused by the exaggerated claims of an aggressive industry, disenchantment with early experimental programs, and some fear of the machine as a ‘dehumanizing’ force (p. xiv).

Those factors and others that Professor Olsen does not name have undoubtedly disposed many humanists to be slow in availing themselves of the reputed benefices of the computer.

I think a lot has changed since Corbett’s essay and since the Olsen collection Corbett quotes. The idea of using computers to teach writing is not exactly seen as a strange thing anymore. At the same time, it’s easy to imagine this same kind of passage in a collection of essays about the present. The more things change… well, you know.

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