Video and podcast: Thomas Pettitt, “The Gutenberg Parenthesis: Oral Tradition and Digital Technologies”


Is our emerging digital culture partly a return to practices and ways of thinking that were central to human societies before the advent of the printing press? This question has been posed with increasing force in recent years by anthropologists, folklorists, historians and literary scholars, among them Thomas Pettitt, who has contributed significantly to elaborating and communicating the version of this question named in the title of today’s forum.

The concept of a “Gutenberg Parenthesis”—formulated by Prof. L. O. Sauerberg of the University of Southern Denmark—offers a means of identifying and understanding the period, varying between societies and subcultures, during which the mediation of texts through time and across space was dominated by powerful permutations of letters, print, pages and books. Our current transitional experience toward a post-print media world dominated by digital technology and the internet can be usefully juxtaposed with that of the period—Shakespeare’s—when England was making the transition into the parenthesis from a world of scribal transmission and oral performance.

MIT professors Peter Donaldson and James Paradis join Thomas Pettitt in a discussion of the value of historical perspectives on our technologizing human present.

Andrew Whitacre

About Andrew Whitacre

Andrew directs the communications efforts for CMS/W and its research groups. A native of Washington, D.C., he holds a degree in communication from Wake Forest University, with a minor in humanities, as well as an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College. This work includes drawing up and executing strategic communications plans, with projects including website design, social media management and training, press outreach, product launches, fundraising campaign support, and event promotions.


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