Alex Mueller

Alex Mueller is associate professor of English and director of English teaching at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is also the book review editor for Arthuriana.

Habitual Rhetoric

Digital Writing before Digital Technology

Writing has always been digital. Just as digits scribble with the quill or tap the typewriter, digits compose binary code and produce text on a screen. Over time, however, digital writing has come to be defined by numbers and chips, not fingers and parchment. We therefore assume that digital writing began with the invention of the computer and created new writing habits, such as copying, pasting, and sharing. Habitual Rhetoric: Digital Writing before Digital Technology makes the counterargument that these digital writing practices were established by the handwritten cultures of early medieval universities, which codified rhetorical habits—from translation to compilation to disputation to amplification to appropriation to salutation—through repetitive classroom practices and within annotatable manuscript environments. These embodied habits have persisted across time and space to develop durable dispositions, or habitus, which have the potential to challenge computational cultures of disinformation and surveillance that pervade the social media of today.