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A Potion for Memory and Wisdom

In which we panic about new writing technologies. February 2019 - Adams Library Lobby

Cuneiform Tablets

Later Nostalgia for Oral Traditions

Though the initial fear of the loss of memory and oral traditions began with early writing, the eighteenth-century elocution tradition arose out of a nostalgia for expression of self in opposition to the "dead letter" of print. The movement jumped back past handwritten text to storytelling, lectures and recitations.

The recording below is from nearly 100 years later than the hay day of this movement, but the laughter included in the recording is an example of the storyteller intentionally infusing the performance with emotion.

Men and women of the eighteenth century found other ways of dealing with the blankness of print. One was to reject print for the spoken word. In what has been termed an elocutionary revolution, mid-eighteenth-century rhetoricians proposed a model for public speaking that deemphasized the text itself and stressed instead the public expression of private sentiments engendered by the text. -Tamara Plakins Thornton. Handwriting in America: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.