The Futures of Handwriting

The reintroduction of cursive into elementary classrooms; the persistence of the stylus in digital reading practices and technologies; the dependence in law and history on handwritten documentary evidence; the changing modes through which consent is inscribed and recorded in official documents and elsewhere; the presence of the “handwritten” in poems, artist's books and digital typeface plugins; the adoption of handwriting practices by recovery communities; the declarations of nostalgia for personal connection signified by the handwritten letter. These are just a few of the uses of handwriting that mark a time of digital media shift. But what is new or transformative regarding this “old” media practice?

The Futures of Handwriting brings together an interdisciplinary array of scholars working in media theory, book history, literature, history, library and information sciences, art history, and other fields in order to address four interrelated questions. The first entails a theorizing of the medium itself: what are the futures of handwriting’s meanings and affordances? The second pertains to lived experience: how do scribal practices contribute to the futures and/or foreclosures of various peoples and communities? The third is a matter of our own intermedial literacies: how does handwriting figure within larger media ecologies, and relatedly, what is the place of manuscript cultures for establishing communicative forms, from language, to codices, to the very idea of “writing”? The final question is a meta-commentary on the symposium: how does handwriting and allied forms of expression together contribute to a sense of time? If manuscript comes “after” print, as Peter Stallybrass has claimed, then where are we today?

While each of these questions are posed in the present tense, this symposium seeks to establish connections between present and past experiences of the “newness” and the “possibility” of handwriting. Thus, in addition to studies of the possible futures for handwritten forms and formats, this symposium features historical research into past scribal futures and futurities, which have marked contexts as varied as the rise of middle-class epistolary culture; the birth and death of the author; the adoption of printing, telecommunications, and phonography; the networking of Enlightenment science; the scenes of colonial encounter and contestation; the invention of the news; and the formation of scholarly disciplines. By developing a history of the future of handwriting, this symposium explores how a vital media practice has been and remains crucial to our understandings of communication, cultural difference, and social order.