New Technology

Technology and the Teaching of English

Written by Walter Ginsberg, instructor in the teaching of English at Teachers College, Columbia University. This paper was read in connection with the 1938 annual Thanksgiving convention of the National Council of Teachers of English, at which the Committee on the Applications
of Technical Advances to English held a meeting on the theme, “Teaching
English by Electricity,” and published in The English Journal Vol. 28 N. 6. (June 1939).

The striking recency and rapidity of scientific advance may be
realized if we recall with Dr. M. Llewellyn Raney,distinguished
director of the University of Chicago Libraries, that, although we
are about half a million years removed from our simian progenitors,
the beasts of the trees (notwithstanding the barbarism observable
in certain parts of Europe today), the record of man’s culture does
not exceed four figures in years. To visualize the short span of our
recorded culture, compress the 500,000 years to fifty. On this scale
the printing press is just a few weeks old, Darwin’s Origin of Species
appeared this morning, and the motion picture, the radio, and the
photoelectric cell are matters of the last few seconds. Indeed, the
scientific developments subsequent to the discovery of the electric
impulse are still in their early dawn.

Only the dawn-but we are excitedly aware of technological advances
already affecting the great expressional and interpretational
areas of life with which our English teaching is concerned. And here
we recognize that science provides us not only with the background
materials so needed in the service of the present program’s contents;
what is far more significant, it opens completely new spheres of
experiences. We must therefore attend to the development of abilities
as demanded by the new mediums of expression and comprehension
—these new instruments of scientific advance.

. . .

In the field of photographic reproductions English teachers undoubtedly
are familiar with the photostating of library materials
and the photo-reprint method of reproducing textual and pictorial
material in quantity. In 1936 the English Journal described the
photo-reprint method of producing the school paper—a method
that has in many places given new life, if not life for the first time,
to the school paper. And in the spring of 1938 the Teachers College
Bureau of Publications had occasion to make available to English
teachers full-size photographic reproductions of rare illustrative
Shakespearean materials. But here let me tell you about the most
recent and most thrilling development of photographic reproduction—
a development for our purposes really of only the last two
years. Let me tell you about microphotography !

What is microphotography? It is a young genius in the miniature
camera family, related to the candid camera so much in amateur
vogue in that it uses the same size film, 35 mm.—also the size of the
professional movie film. Books, charts, manuscripts, pictures of all
kinds, are photographed on the microfilm in the form of minute
stills, each occupying a “frame” of space. Eight to sixteen frames
occupy a foot of this film. Thus eight to sixteen pages of a book
can be placed on a foot of film at a cost varying with the library or
laboratory where the work is done from about one to three cents a
“frame’) or page.

An entire book in microfilm literally can be carried in that much-stuffed
vest pocket! Recently I inquired at the New York Public Library’s newspaper division for a certain September day’s copy of the New York Herald-Tribune. The attendant handed me a small
container no bigger than four and one-half inches in diameter and
two inches high, and said, “Here is the Tribune for the whole month
of September, Sunday editions, too.” It was on microfilm, and he
showed me to the nearest reading machine.

. . .

What can microphotography do for us English teachers? For one
thing, it makes library walls disappear. The magic microfilm
camera has penetrated the great repositories of recorded culture.
Materials we could not even dream of having—the rare, the inaccessible,
the cumbersome-now we can have them, arranged in
proper sequence for vivid presentation to the class with the projector,
and for re-examination by the individual student after class
with the reading machine. Using 35-mm. strips or rolls of safety
film, the libraries will copy their books and manuscripts on your
demand, for your permanent possession, at a cost almost negligible.

. . .

Precursive H. G. Wells, contemplating the development of microphotography
and what it means for the preservation, release, and
exchange of information, exclaimed:

“It . . . . was the beginning of a world brain . . . . a sort of cerebrum for
humanity . . . . which will constitute a memory and also a perception of current
reality for the entire human race. . . . . In these days of destruction, violence,
and general insecurity, it is comforting to think that the brain of man-kind, the race brain, can exist in numerous identical replicas throughout the
world. . . . “

Mr. Wells’ imagination was excited by the possibilities of microphotography
for intellectual progress. Let your own imagination
play a bit upon the possibilities, if not for the intellectual progress of
all mankind, then for the progress and enrichment of the work in
English teaching. Let your imagination play, and soon you will be
fashioning applications that will excite you tremendously.
How can we achieve the fullest values of the remarkable development
in photographic reproduction? I propose that the National
Council of Teachers of English—perhaps through the Committee on
the Applications of Technical Advances to English—explore needs,
prepare materials, co-ordinate efforts of specialists, and perform all
the functions of leadership in a co-operative service to English

Alert English teaching, with its active awareness of radio and motion
pictures and other scientific developments, seems far from the
danger of becoming out of date. However, any cognizance of the applications of scientific advances to the teaching of English surely must include the tremendous possibilities of microphotography.

1 thought on “New Technology”

  1. the world brain

    Jeff Ward blogged about the advent of microphotography a couple of days ago, and I was struck by an H.G. Wells quote he included. Wells is commenting on the possibilities of building a commons through microfiche, but it also sounds…

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