E637 – History of Writing
Description: Beginning with the moment in Plato’s Phaedrus where Socrates complains that writing “will implant forgetfulness,” this graduate class will study several theories and narratives about the development of writing. We will explore writing systems and scribal practices as they are conceived over time, across cultures, and during periods of different constructions of the self, author, body, audience, social context, and technology. Topics under consideration in this class will include epigraphical writing, writing on papyri and other early surfaces, writing and mnemonics, digital compositions, body inscriptions, literacy, non-alphabetical notation systems, economics and writing, writing within (and outside) different social systems, writing and gender, and auto-ethnographies of writing practices. The texts we will use to understand writing and its larger contexts are historical, cultural, and theoretical in emphasis. However, more than a traditional history of orality and literacy, authorship, the book, or the printing press and other technologies, this study of writing emphasizes the ways in which the histories of scribal cultures are informed by their larger contexts of power, material constraint, and social availability. In essence, this course examines who gets to write, what gets written, and how that writing gets disseminated in different cultural contexts over the last 5000 years.