Readings Online
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Readings Online: A Virtual Common Place marks the beginning of exciting innovations in English anthologies. As cyberspace becomes more ubiquitous in our daily lives, it is important to have a resource for students that allows them to explore the themes and concerns of cyberspace. It is also particularly important for writing students to come to grasps with the kind of writing cyberspace promotes. Readings Online intends to be that resource, providing readers with an introduction to the subjects, literacies, communities, and forms of cyberspace. Instead of presenting a traditional print-based collection of readings, however, Readings Online seeks to unify the experience of studying and understanding cyberspace by matching the form of the anthology to its content. Students pursue their reading and writing activities within the very medium they are studying, which both makes the content of the anthology immediately relevant and encourages students to actively apply what they learn.

The subtitle of this collection, A Virtual Common Place, makes reference to both the content and physical presence of this reader. In ancient Greek and Roman times, "commonplaces" or "topics" (topoi is the Greek term) were established lines of argument that provided orators and writers with material to begin an argument and guiding principles to develop a complete argument. The themes of Readings Online fulfill this function of commonplaces by presenting eight of the topics of greatest importance to cyberspace users in the effort to encourage students to develop their own positions on the issues through writing. It is important to note the qualification "to begin" in the definition of "commonplace" mentioned above. As the Greeks and Romans never intended the commonplaces to stand as arguments on their own, the thematic commonplaces of Readings Online are intended to be starting points for new arguments, whether composed by individual students or groups of class members.

This anthology also represents mental and physical "common places." Some Greek and Roman writers refer to commonplaces as the "sites" in memory where the material for arguments are stored. Later, especially in the Renaissance, writers would further develop this concept of the commonplaces by keeping commonplace books, written collections of aphorisms, quotations, daily thoughts, stylistic aids—in short, any kind of material that could be used in a later composition. Readings Online functions as both a kind of virtual "memory" and an actual physical site for the storage of arguments important to cyberspace users. Additionally, the Reader's Forum at the end of each chapter, the Faculty Lounge, and the sample student essays all provide further opportunities for students and teachers to discuss the common topics of the reader in common electronic spaces. By creating a virtual representation of a classroom environment, Readings Online provides a space for students and teachers to explore their reflections on the common topics of cyberspace.

Readings Online: A Virtual Common Place has been organized around eight commonplaces, major subjects of interest and concern to cyberspace users, including Internet communities, electronic literacies, hypertext fiction, gender and identity, intellectual property, censorship, politics on the Internet, and the new millennium. Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the theme, including a brief summary of the chapter readings. Each reading includes a Guidepost question, designed to prime student discussion of the reading to follow; two discussion questions; one Thinking Critically question (more involved and advanced than the discussion question); and a writing topic related to the reading. Each chapter concludes with two to three substantial writing projects; a Reader's Forum, in which students from classes across the country can discuss the contents of the chapter; and a Related Links section.

The Related Links are intentionally eclectic, providing just a few beginning links to related reading material, links that should generate discussion and further investigation. Students are encouraged to find additional links and post them for other students in the Reader's Forum section of each chapter. (Some of these links might make it into the Related Links section of the chapters in future revisions.)

Readings Online also offers a substantial Resources section, which includes, for instructors:

  • advice on teaching an online course
  • sample syllabi
  • composition links
  • a Faculty Lounge discussion forum in which instructors can discuss their use of this anthology in composition courses

and for students:

  • links to composition resources
  • a glossary of Internet terms
  • links to research and documentation advice
  • web publishing resources

One of the hard facts about the Internet is that web pages disappear or are moved on a daily basis, but we will try our best to keep the links in this anthology as up to date as possible.

Readings Online is not intended to be static, either in subject matter or virtual form. Students and instructors are invited to discuss the content of the textbook with others across the country. Student essays appear in the text. Readings Online will respond in future editions to readers' concerns about the selections contained in the collection and the overall format of the anthology. Each participant's voice in the community of Readings Online is important. Subjects and virtual locations in cyberspace are not really "common places" unless they offer the reader a chance to participate in conversation and debate.


I would like to thank everyone who helped make this online reader possible. In particular, I am grateful to Melanie Peterson for her invaluable research assistance and Frank Perez for contributing to the Resources section of the anthology. Thank you to the reviewers whose feedback was invaluable in shaping the final version of this anthology:

Robert Friedman, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Dan Holt, Lansing Community College

Nicholas Mauriello, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

John David Moore, Eastern Illinois University

Gian Pagnucci, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

I would especially like to thank Rebecca Moore Howard for her early encouragement and her subsequent support during my preparation of the reader. Finally I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Houghton Mifflin editorial and production staff for their diligent work on this project, especially Suzanne Phelps Weir, Jennifer Roderick, Bonnie Melton, Rebecca Bennett, and Janet Young.

Paul Amore
Texas Christian University

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