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Technology&Media&Rhetoric

Why thaumatropes?
The Basics
First, a definition:1

A thaumatrope is an optical toy


made popular in the 19th century.
A disk with a picture on each side is
attached to two pieces of string.
When the strings are twirled quickly
between the fingers the two
pictures appear to blend into one.
This is due to the persistence of
vision.

Examples of common
thaumatropes include a bare tree
on one side of the disk and its
leaves on the other, or a bird on
one side and a cage on the other.
Many classic thaumatropes also
included riddles or short poems,
with one line on each side.

And, now, etymology:

The term translates roughly as “wonder turner.” From Ancient Greek: θαῦμα “wonder” and


τρόπος “turn.”

The Why
The thaumatrope—and, more precisely, the making and using of a thaumatrope—is the perfect
metaphor for this course and its work. First, it is technology: an assemblage of tools and techniques.
Second, it is a medium: a means by which something happens, is communicated or expressed. Third, it
is rhetoric: it moves so as to produce a specific effect. The word trope, which means to turn, is a key
term in rhetoric. Think, most simply, of the expression a turn of phrase. Rhetoric is that which turns,
moves, persuades, and shifts perspectives.

The thaumatrope is thus an embodiment of what this course explores: how technologies work as
media and how rhetoric sets them in motion.

1 Paraphrased from Wikipedia

Nathaniel A. Rivers | English1900 | Technology, Media and Rhetoric | Fall 2019