I probably misunderstood my assignment, but I always do. I thought I got to predict, which humanists rarely get to do, so here goes. Here is my prediction: The response of English departments across the country to the impact of unlimited information access will be the most reactionary, the least imaginative, the most ill-tempered, and the least cooperative of all the academic disciplines. Those of you who, as administrators or librarians, have tried to get English departments to try anything new know that such is our mode of operation under all conditions anyway. We usually find that by denying the future, refusing to cooperate, and holding our breaths until our faces turn purple, we tend to get our way in most things. Our experience with soothsayers serves to justify our behavior.
Twenty years ago, I participated in a conference at which one of the nation's foremost educators announced that within the very near future the three-year degree would be the norm in American higher education. There would no longer be time, we were told, for young people to read all those long novels and epic poems. I was young and credulous, so I started to look for ways to abridge Heart of Darkness and "Ode to the West Wind," but my older colleagues said, "Forget it; it will go away," and they kept on assigning Moby Dick and Ulysses and Paradise Lost.
Thompson is Professor of English, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana.