HC 101H: The Pencil

Professor: Daniel Rosenberg

4.00 credits

• CRN 16620: Monday & Wednesday, 1415-1545 @ ALL 140

If you pay attention to such things, you’ll have noticed that the pencil has been having a comeback. In 2010, the iconic Blackwing 602 Pencil, manufactured by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company from the 1930s, was reintroduced. After its discontinuation in the 1990s, aficionados had been hoarding dead stock, and the resale market had gone crazy. The new Blackwing fit right in with the revival of Moleskine and other analog stylus nostalgia brands around the same time. In 2015 the computer company, Apple, released its sleek white Apple Pencil, a remarkable development given the opinion on the stylus of co-founder Steve Jobs. If you see one packaged with a tablet, you’ll know “they blew it,” Jobs famously said. Yet, less than four years after Jobs’s death, there was the Apple Pencil, and no one seemed to be complaining. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, then, pencils were back, whether the old fashioned Eberhard Faber kind or the hypermodern Apple kind. Why? And what does this return to the stylus tell us about our time? To address these questions, we will look at the pencil through the lenses of history, ethnography, engineering, design, art, and literature. Readings include selections from Henry Petroski, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance; Friedrich Kittler,Gramophone, Film, Typewriter; Anson Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity; Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology; Bruno Latour, Visualization and Cognition: Thinking with Eyes and Hands; and Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods. Students are asked to obtain a pencil before the first class session.