Struck Out: The Illiterate Hand on the Literate Page"
Christopher Hager, Trinity College
Digital-age scholars and commentators view handwriting from varying angles—as an old and still-evolving tradition (Anne Trubek), a modern medium for literary revision (Hannah Sullivan), a historical register of ideas about selfhood (Tamara Thornton), and, perhaps most frequently, a romantically expressive act (Kitty Burns Florey and Philip Hensher, among others). But even as wide a range of views as this has at least one common denominator: handwriting is something that formally educated, highly literate people do.
It may seem paradoxical to ask what handwriting means to illiterate and semi-literate people, but a facility looks different from outside its entrance than it does from within, and one of handwriting’s futures is its anticipated availability to someone who doesn’t yet know how to do it. To writers and would-be writers who experience pen and paper more as an exigency, or even a barrier, than as an opportunity, the meanings and uses of writing can be as different as longing and ire.
From illegible scribbles on blank pages to cross-outs and emendations on printed ones, the many kinds of handwritten marks made by relatively uneducated people reveal, obliquely, a hidden history of writing’s affective range—one in which the work of the hand can be estranged from even that which it aspires to resemble. This presentation charts that history (largely in 19th-century American contexts) and suggests what these uses of handwriting by non-fluent writers can illuminate about handwriting for the literate.
Panel 1: Scriptural Aesthetics
“Reading Dorothy Wordsworth's Manuscript Notebooks”
Michelle Levy, Simon Fraser University
This paper examines the notebooks into which Dorothy Wordsworth gathered her journals and poetry, over a period of several decades in the early nineteenth century. Wordsworth’s surviving manuscripts offer an ideal opportunity to study the temporality embedded in handwriting and to recover the rhythms of writing and its many allied practices. This paper will focus on two of Wordsworth’s notebooks: DCMS 120, her commonplace book used to gather multiple copies of her poetry as well as miscellaneous prose copied from a variety of sources; and DCMS 20, the first of her Grasmere journals. Both notebooks were used over many years, and demonstrate many of the affordances of handwriting: how Wordsworth used her handwritten notebooks as a means of collecting and archiving writing that unfolded over time. The notebooks also delineate the sociable nature of these practices, with their pages recording the collaborative processes of drafting, revising, copying and rereading. My presentation will also examine the materiality of these notebooks—how their shape, size and durability constrained and otherwise shaped how and what she wrote. DCMS 120 contains many examples of indeterminate textuality, as Wordsworth (like Emily Dickinson) engaged in “choosing not choosing,” that is, allowing variant readings, both within and between copies of poems, to co-exist without arriving at a final choice. DCMS 20, with entries written over time but not necessarily a day at a time, presents us with an opportunity to reconstruct the rhythms and aims of life writing—how regular habits of diarizing are disturbed by illness and social visits; and how even within a seemingly private form Wordsworth’s compositions are oriented to an audience. My analysis will support a larger thesis, recently advanced in my completed book project, Living Hands: Literary Manuscript Culture in Romantic Britain, that manuscript culture not only thrived after print, but that it did so for reasons distinctive to the media of script.
Deborah Lutz, University of Louisville
This paper considers acts of inscription by hand that move outside of the traditional boundaries of text composition. Building on Judith Fleming’s work on graffiti in the early modern period, “Victorian Graffiti” pays particular attention to the writing on cave, dungeon, and school walls done by Gondal characters in Emily Brontë’s poems. This sort of performance, which grounds the composer and the text in time and place, is in some ways similar to acts of defacing printed texts through doodling, composing one’s own work, or recording one’s diary in margins, on flyleaves, and other blank pages. The Brontë siblings were just such defacers of their own books, and Emily has her character Catherine Earnshaw scratch her name into the wood of a window frame and fill the blank spaces of religious books with complaints about family life. More broadly, this paper will look at other acts of graffiti or inscription poems by Victorian writers (especially in relation to tourism) that acknowledge the material foundation of the text, whether it be paper, stone, wood, or glass, as part of the creative act and meaning, something openly addressed in Brontë’s poems.
“Avant-Garde Handwriting: Scribal Materiality and Innovative Poetics in Bruce Andrews and Robert Grenier”
Alan Golding, University of Louisville
The closely associated contemporary poets Bruce Andrews and Robert Grenier have, in different ways, used handwriting, and notions of the “scribal” writ large, to rethink the category of “poetry” and, in Grenier’s case especially, the mechanisms of publication and distribution. One well-known feature of the Language writing movement with which Andrews and Grenier are associated is the redirection of readerly attention to the materiality of the word. This interest expressed itself in multiple forms, but one underdiscussed form involves the visual component of Language texts—including Andrews’ and Grenier’s use of handwriting, that venerable technology, in the service of the avant-garde project. In their handwritten works, and in the online remediation and re-presentation of those works, Andrews and Grenier raise questions about seeing and reading, the mark and the sign, circulation and distribution, and the meaning of “materiality” that in turn seem crucial to thinking about new media poetries.
This paper will discuss how these writers’ handwritten work proposes what I have called elsewhere “transitional materialities”: forms of visual text that interrogate the material limitations of the page-based, word-centered poem and look forward to the possibilities and achievements of digital poetics, and that often position themselves self-consciously as points of reciprocity between the print and digital environments. Andrews’ experiments with the asemic gesture and with the defamiliarizing effects of his machine-like handwriting, and the distribution online of Grenier’s barely legible one-of-a-kind handwritten poems rendered mostly in four different pen colors, force us to consider the electronic circulation of unique texts into instant availability and the consequent tension between reproducibility and aura, between current and earlier technologies of writing. In this interface between the most ancient and the most contemporary of text-producing technologies, as much as Grenier wants to return his work to the body, it cannot--if it is to be distributed--escape the machine. In reading Andrews’ and Grenier’s drawn and handwritten poems electronically, we are confronted with the extremes of hand-craftedness and technological mediation: extremes not immanent in the work but in the disjunction between its modes of production and distribution. From one point of view, Grenier’s recent hand-drawn (or scrawled) work seems the absolute antithesis of new media poetry. From another, its digital presentation highlights the (in this case literal) inaccessibility of any original: online, we experience the web presentation of slides of photographs of one-of-a-kind handwritten poems the originals of which most people will never see. Paradoxically, their online reproduction can be seen both as a fulfillment and a contradiction of the originals’ impulses towards personalized signature and fiercely specific attention to material texture: to “the gesture of writing,” in Vilem Flusser’s phrase, or in Johanna Drucker’s, “that materialization of gesture which makes the first line of demarcation against which meaning can be produced.”
Panel 2: Towards a Critical Bibliography of the Handwritten
“Messy Writings: Unraveling Korean Manuscript Books”
Hwisang Cho, Emory University
The historiography of premodern Korean books is mostly characterized by a series of technological breakthroughs in printing technology. The discovery of the world’s oldest extant xylographic imprint produced in the early eighth century, the Dharani of the Pure Immaculate Light, in 1966 places Korea as the outlier in global print culture. The 80,000 woodblocks of the Tripitaka carved twice on the state’s initiative firstly during the Khitan invasion at the turn of the eleventh century and later during the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century, in expectation of invoking Buddha’s power to repel foreign invaders, confirms how advanced the woodblock printing technology was. The Jikji (Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests’ Zen Teachings), published in 1377, is the world’s oldest existing book printed with metal moveable type, earlier than Gutenberg by several decades. A spate of improvements in metal moveable type filled the fifteenth century, which coincided with the invention of the Korean alphabet.
Despite all these magnificent feats by religious and state authorities, the shelves of educated elites were mostly filled with hand-copied manuscript books until the turn of the twentieth century. This presentation attempts to explicate this gap between the innovations in printing technology and the actual book culture. In particular, it will delve into manuscript books, whose messy pages made reading texts extremely strenuous, if not impossible. Drawing upon works of abstract calligraphy in contemporary art and their historical connection to the culture of scholarship in premodern East Asia, I will demonstrate how the emphasis on the embodiment of knowledge transmuted books into objects not simply for reading but also as intermediaries between knowledge and the scholars’ bodies.
“Citational and Citationless: Reading the Development of Indian Yunani Medicine in the Margins of Arabic and Persian Manuscripts”
Deborah Schlein, Princeton University
Marginalia represent the intermediary voices in a dialogue between a text and its environment. Not only do they speak to the usage of the text, but they also demonstrate reception, pedagogy, and the general transmission of knowledge. In the case of medical manuscripts, these notations further shed light on the theory, diagnoses, and treatment plans offered by the text. Add previous translations, commentaries, and famous glosses, and the conversations as represented in the margins reveal a network of sources, scholars, and languages across centuries. This is the macro-story of Yunani, or Greco-Arabic, medical manuscripts in India.
Through a close study of the marginalia in Arabic and Persian medical manuscripts, this paper aims to uncover the state of medical education in Mughal and colonial India as well as the developments of this form of medicine in terms of pharmacological practices. These aspects of Indian Yunani medicine will be explored specifically through a lens of inquiry represented by the dichotomy of citational and citationless marginalia, where the former is defined by the marginal notations that quote famous medical scholars and the latter is categorized by its lack of such citations. In addition to shedding light on Yunani pedagogical and medical practices, this paper also aims to bring discussions of language, curriculum, and environment to the fore of South Asian history of medicine. It, therefore, uses handwriting in the margins as a tool of intellectual inquiry for the various aspects of the history of Yunani medicine in India.
“Blanks, Paperwork, Racialization”
John Garcia, California State University – Northridge
This paper recovers the fragmentary experiences of free, indentured, and enslaved black laborers in the vicinity of early U.S. bookstores, presses, and paper mills. By examining the handwritten strategies embedded in indentures and receipts, my paper demonstrates that the paperwork of publishing offers a glimpse into the appropriation and exploitation of black lives, from two unnamed “Negroes” who pulled the printer’s float in the Grand Federal Procession of 1788, to fleeting traces of housekeepers, waggoneers, deliverymen, and bricklayers working for the book trade. As such, I contend that the vicinity of the book trade—the extended environs and not the printing office itself—is the site for recovering the presence of illiterate workers whose labors contributed to the rise of modern publishing. Particular attention is given to the bookseller Mason Locke Weems, who inherited slaves and emancipated them, solicited work for an illiterate black laborer in Philadelphia (ironically named “Samuel Johnson”), and authored racializing discourses in popular works like The Life of Gen. Francis Marion (1809). Set against the backdrop of black labor, Weems emblematizes the early national book trade as dependent upon, profiting from, and, ultimately, ventriloquizing blackness.
“Transcription of Early Modern Handwriting and the Slow Reading Movement: Notes from the Field”
Heather Wolfe, Folger Shakespeare Library
It is a scientifically proven commonplace that our brains have adapted to digital reading – hyper-linked and fragmented reading interrupted by the pings of multiple social media accounts. We self-select and skim and browse at a pace that has reduced our ability to concentrate, skipping over what we don’t understand. In the early 2000s, academia and social critics responded with the “slow reading” movement, a wide-ranging concept focused primarily on a return to the undistracted rumination of literary texts printed on paper, but which has also advocated for localizing and socializing the activity of reading, much as the slow food movement has done for food preparation.
Without explicitly realizing it until recently, my paleography classes – in which I teach people how to read English secretary hand, the predominant cursive script used by Shakespeare and his contemporaries – have turned into slow-reading sessions. One of our most traditional exercises is “reading in the round,” in which fifteen students look at the same copy of a manuscript page and take turns reading a line out loud, while the other students process the same line silently. The lines are read haltingly, with long pauses, and some words are read letter by letter, starting from the end of the word. You can feel people thinking, brains whirring. It is intense and exhausting, deciphering the unfamiliar cursive letterforms, spelling and punctuation conventions, and subject matter of the seventeenth century. We pause frequently to make sure we understand the sense of a passage. We re-read. We look up words in the Oxford English Dictionary. We wonder why someone spelled something three different ways in three different lines, and we wonder how the choice of a particular phrase or word reflects the sensibilities of the author. We look for context. We interpret. We make hilarious mistakes and spend a lot of time laughing. Unexpectedly, learning to read cursive handwriting as a group leads to social bonding as students support and encourage each other in an environment where everyone feels exposed.
This talk compares the benefits of reading together from handwritten primary sources, slowly and carefully, to the benefits of reading digitized and edited primary source material online, with a search engine. What is lost and what is gained?
Panel 3: Scribal Time of the Media
“Graphite Time: The Pencil’s Pasts, Presents, and Futures”
Blake Bronson-Bartlett, University of Iowa
Combining media history, media geology, and archival research on British and American manuscripts, I argue throughout this paper that the pencil after 1800, when compared with other writing media of the period, defined an emergent experience of the present tense for professional authors as well as everyday writers. From a media-historical vantage, the pencil was one of the writing instruments that made Romanticism possible in England, Germany, and America, where the aesthetics and philosophies of Coleridge, Goethe, and Emerson coincided with notable improvements in commercial pencil making. From a media-geological perspective, the difference between literary quality after 1800 in England and America paralleled the discourse on the quality of graphite from the Borrowdale mine and the lack of sufficient natural resources on the American continent. The Thoreau family only had a successful pencil business because they managed to find a good vein of “plumbago”—and because Henry David Thoreau figured out how to grind it up in the French style. The pencil as we know it—cheap, effective, ephemeral, disposable, and portable—was born in the same transatlantic tool-making network as modern English-language literature. The writing implement that resulted from these technical cross-currents and mining expeditions furnished scribblers of all stripes with the ability to write on the go and to improvise without interruption by an ink-pot. Thus, the graphite-inscribed documents, which increasingly come to our attention in the age of digital archives, disclose a layer in the history of handwriting: a present-tense writing with a background in geological time that I call “graphite time.” Graphite time yields new questions about why and how we continue to use pencils today, as well as how we remediate them for the digital present’s very own silicon time.
“Hawthorne’s Handwritten Newspaper as Future-Oriented Play”
Patricia Roylance, Syracuse University
When Nathaniel Hawthorne was a teenager, with his career as a writer still in the future, he produced eight issues of a handwritten newspaper called The Spectator. Working in “print script” (a form of handwriting employing detached, non-cursive lettering that mimicked type), Hawthorne created essays, news items, advertisements and poetry that mirrored nineteenth-century printed newspapers in both content and visual design. Handwritten news, an important element of news media ecologies since the rise of newspapers in the seventeenth century, had become by the nineteenth century a vehicle of social expression particularly for populations associated with an early stage of biological or cultural formation: children, especially boys; amateurs broadly defined; Native Americans supposedly on the path toward assimilation; and communities not yet possessing a printing press, such as those on the western frontier.
Although handwritten newspapers could thus be viewed as an evolutionary stage pointing toward a future supersession by print, the medium of mature cultural production, The Spectator suggests that handwriting served Hawthorne as a space of future-oriented play in which he could imagine potential futures for himself without necessarily having to evolve into them. Along with recurring existential meditations on lost youth, fallen soldiers, mortality, and the afterlife, Hawthorne adopts the persona of an editor overseeing not just The Spectator newspaper but also a whole printing office. He advertises job printing services, chastises his careless workmen, seeks journeymen to hire, and eventually retires from business. Print script handwriting allows him to project himself imaginatively into the world of print. It even allows him to contemplate being a thing, as he describes himself as his own “Printing-Press and Types” (37). Not reducible merely to a step in an evolutionary chain, then, handwriting gives Hawthorne a means of exploring fluid identities and alternative futures.
“The Diary of the Future: Handwritten Diaries in Contemporary Fiction”
Désirée Henderson, University of Texas – Arlington
The past, present, and future of handwriting is a story told not just though historical records and material practices but through fictional accounts of writing, reading, and interacting with handwritten texts. This is particularly evident in works of diary fiction: novels and short stories written in the form of diaries or in which diaries figure as prominent plot devices. Although twenty-first century diaries are as likely to be composed with computer software or digital applications as with pen and paper, contemporary diary fiction almost always portrays diaries as handwritten documents, even in stories set in the present or in speculative futures. My talk explores this phenomenon by examining the representation of handwritten diaries in texts as diverse as Ruth Ozeki’s magical realist A Tale for the Time Being, Gillian Flynn’s suspense thriller Gone Girl, Jeff Vandermeer’s dystopian science fiction Annihilation, and Helen Simpson’s post-apocalyptic “Diary of an Interesting Year.” I argue that the status of the diary as a handwritten text is crucial to its role within contemporary fiction, as authors use the imagined object and its material details (handwriting, paper, binding, etc.) to claim or to raise questions about the legitimacy, authenticity, and truthfulness of written texts. What is at stake in the perception that diaries are or should be handwritten documents? What does the association between diaries and handwriting tell us about the idea that writing by hand is inherently transparent and self-revelatory? In this talk, I also use the prevalence of diary manuscripts in contemporary fiction as a launching off point from which to consider current diary writing practices and how they have been impacted by the rise of digital technology. Is a decline in handwriting the motivating factor behind the literary nostalgia for handwritten diaries? Or, is the diary genre more compatible with digital technology and social media than these fictional works acknowledge?
“The Poet’s Hand: Digital Analysis and Reproduction of Literary Holographs”
Seth Perlow, Georgetown University
This paper draws upon digital archives of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts in order to develop a method for computer-aided handwriting analysis in literary contexts. Dickinson’s formally complex manuscripts have long fascinated her readers. Many critics have analyzed her script in order to date the poems and support claims about her health and emotional state. Online archives have made available high-definition images of her manuscripts, but so far, computers can do little more than display these images. Most software cannot decipher handwriting reliably, let alone parse the more nuanced characteristics of script that many scholars believe convey important information about the author—such as their age, social standing, health, mood, or personality. Digital humanities methods for bulk textual analysis offer limited help with manuscript collections. Most software for analysis of visual media, such as paintings or advertisements, does not work well with manuscript images. This project therefore uses vector graphics software and a robotic pen-plotter to analyze and reproduce Dickinson’s manuscript images. This process helps to dramatize the difficulties of digital manuscript analysis. It also opens deeper questions about the nature of handwriting. Does a person’s script truly convey information beyond the wording of the text? If so, digital humanities scholars face the difficulty of formalizing this information so that computers can decipher it. If not, literary critics should reexamine the belief that manuscripts bear some ineffable trace of their author. Alongside these questions about the hermeneutic limits and technical possibilities of digital handwriting analysis, this project takes Dickinson’s handwriting as a basis to reevaluate the visual imaginary of experimental American poets working in her wake. By attending to the formal complexities of handwritten poems—and to the role of handwritten marginalia—this paper questions the truism that modernist poets developed a visual poetics based upon the typewriter, not the signature.
Panel 4: Technologies of the Scribe
“‘The Pen at once joins Freedom with Command’: Student Handwriting in the English Enlightenment”
Lisa Maruca, Wayne State University
It wasn’t the keyboard that brought about the end of student handwriting, it was the book. Not through the invention of the press—by imitating scribal production, Gutenberg’s works honored it. However, by the late eighteenth century educational books flooded the market, changing techniques for acquiring knowledge. My larger study shows that across multiple domains, from universities, to children’s toys, to the novel, the somatic process of reading through writing was replaced with the idea of passive appreciation of genius. Enlightenment pedagogues dismissed the cognitive work of students physically interacting with their pens, and, in erasing the labor of the tooled body, reversed centuries of tradition celebrating the learning/learned pen-man. This paper will examine how the once sure future of handwriting swerved.
Elite literacy instruction in early modern England in schools and through tutors was a resolutely mechanical process including pens, paper, and posture. However, by the late seventeenth century, new engraving practices allowed writing masters to spread their craft beyond gentlemen and those who served them. George Bickham, quoted in my title, is especially interesting as he celebrates mediation itself in verses meant to be copied by his (virtual) students.
By the mid-eighteenth century, however, scholars concerned by the democratization of education solidified a hierarchy that disavowed the “mechanick” by mocking writing masters as pretentious fools. The emphasis on handwriting as an intellectual, artistic endeavor was seen as hopelessly backwards. By the early nineteenth-century, cranky professors even denigrated students taking handwritten notes in university lectures. Today’s complaints about student laptops are a continuation, not a reversal of this invective.
Of course, penmanship lessons did persist well into the twentieth century. But the seed of the attitude that students don’t learn with their hand-tools was sown much earlier. My paper counters the truism that new technologies are inherently disruptive, illustrating instead that practices and attitudes supporting specific ideological regimes create new futures.
“‘Imitation of Print’: Handwritten Performances and Intermedial Survival in Civil War Prisons”
James Berkey, Pennsylvania State University – Brandywine
During the American Civil War, imprisoned soldiers created handwritten newspapers in “imitation of print,” as one soldier-editor declared, usually composing only one copy that was read aloud to large gatherings, passed from cabin to cabin in the camp, and then returned once all had read or heard it. While the manuscript imitation of print seems to prioritize print as the vehicle of meaning, the material and social circumstances of these papers’ production, reception, and subsequent preservation unsettle the social relationships, material boundaries, and historical narratives undergirding the war’s broader media ecology. We can productively trace these tensions in the embodied material history of Camp Ford’s Old Flag newspaper, which was produced in the spring of 1864 by Union prisoners in Tyler, Texas. The reading aloud of the Old Flag was crucial for the meaning of many of its jokes and stories, as character names often echoed soldiers’ names, requiring the audience’s recognition to create the story’s humor. The paper’s semantic potential is thus achieved through an intermedial blurring of the lines between print, oral performance, and manuscript. Curiously, the Old Flag only survived the ravages of war because it was sewn into the epaulets of an exchanged prisoner and re-“printed” as a lithographic reproduction after the war. The lithographic reproduction includes a hand-outlined blank space—a kind of scar on its first page—with a handwritten inscription inside it denoting where the paper ripped during its concealment. The lithographic copy thus signifies another performance—a prisoner’s release—a performance made legible here only through the power of handwriting. Despite the reliance on print as both mimetic source and reproductive mechanism, handwriting as an embodied performance thus becomes a robust vehicle for encoding and decoding the social life and historical frisson of this intermedial material object.
“In the Doctor’s Hand: Graphic Performativity and the Medical Script in Fin-de-siècle France”
Antoine Lentacker, University of California – Riverside
“Grammar rules should be written illegibly so as to inculcate respect for them in the speaker, just as prescriptions do in the patient.”
- Karl Kraus, 1921
In the French press of the late-nineteenth century, by far the most advertised of all commodities were drugs and other medical goods and services. Lithographed pieces of medical advice rolled of steam presses in literally millions of copies every day. By 1900, therefore, French physicians were drawn into a uniquely explicit conversation on the nature and functions of the handwritten script. A shared sense that mass-printed medical advice threatened the traditional aura of the prescription made them particularly sensitive to the special affordances of handwriting—and to their problematic future as a result of the mass-production of the written word.
This paper would survey the changing functions of the medical script at this critical juncture in the history of both medicine and media. The focus will be on how handwriting mediates the work of authentication, reproducibility, and what I propose to call more broadly graphic performativity. The argument will rely on an analysis of the inherent indexicality of handwriting—i.e., of the unique ways in which the script creates, maintains, or destabilizes a connection to the particular context and set of relations in which it is originally emitted.
While grounded in a particular time and place (turn-of-the-twentieth-century France) and set of sources (court records, professional literature, press articles, laws and regulations, as well as two extensive prescription registers conserved at the Paris School of Pharmacy), this presentation will aim to outline concepts of broad relevance for an understanding of the special powers of the script. As a conclusion, I will apply these concepts to a discussion of the possible futures of the medical script as digital prescriptions take the place of paper ones.
“Service Economy Scribes: Collecting and Interpreting Manuscript Restaurant Short-Hand Tickets”
Jose C. Guerrero, California State Library
The embedding of information technology into everyday life—from social media to digitized library materials—evokes a simplistic narrative of digital media supplanting print, just as the press made obsolete the scribe. Short-order tickets offer an example of a thriving manuscript culture in the heart of post-industrial society, the food service work force, making manuscript print’s successor and contemporary. This presentation will offer a brief history of the manual transcription of food information, detail efforts to collect tickets, and suggest how they serve as evidence of visual and textual forms that both challenge and maintain the restaurant’s myth, culture, and “scriptural economy.” Eighteenth century short-order tickets appear as bills of fare with blank spaces for prices, and were replaced by ruled blank forms that made necessary a manuscript (rather than printerly) innovation: short-hand. These visual forms and grammars are a significant part of restaurant myth and culture as “diner lingo,” but less studied. A collection of short-order tickets will be used to illustrate linguistic, visual, and functional diversity, which frequently challenges the rules of both grammar and blank (fillable) forms. Thermal printing and point of sale terminals are information technology ensconced in a narrative of efficiency under whose regime restaurant scribal culture continues to proliferate. Following Lisa Gitelman’s reading of Michel de Certeau’s concept of the scriptural economy, I will argue handwriting upholds, rather than explicitly challenges, post-industrial “techniques of control” among an “increasingly dense overlay of institutions and institutionalized realms” (Paper Knowledge, 20). I will conclude by commenting on how new forms of collecting can lead to more capacious research into the futures of handwriting.
Panel 5: Alternative Scripts
“Preparing a Plate of ‘Poisonous Fox Slobber’: Zen Master Hakuin’s Use of Media to Enlighten the Masses”
Brandon J. Harwood, University of Louisville
In an appendix to a biography of Zen Master Hakuin, his most treasured disciple writes about a lay student named Satsu. Satsu was a bright young woman, but defiant. In Torei’s telling, she thought that Hakuin’s handwriting could have been “a bit better” and “When this was reported to Hakuin, he told Satsu's father to bring her to the temple. Hakuin asked some questions. She responded easily with no hesitation. He gave her some koans. She pondered them, and a few days later penetrated their meaning” (CD 237). What we might be able to take away from a story such as this, when read with other writings regarding Hakuin, is that Hakuin was able to tell that Satsu would be a worthy student of Zen purely on her assessment of his handwriting. The sharpness of Satsu is first ascribed to her ability to see through his creative working, for in Japanese writing, both the meaning of the words and their composition are of interest and polysemic.
Hakuin was and is a well-respected Zen mystic; that is, he had achieved great insight into the Zen understanding of reality, which requires dedication to practices designed to develop such insight. Hakuin’s influence was so great that all of the Rinzai Zen masters practicing today trace their lineage back to Hakuin (Kasulis 112). More than that, Rinzai Buddhism was on the decline in the 18th century, and might have even shrunk into obscurity, but because of a charismatic, artistic, technologically aware mystic like Hakuin, it became a very important religious order. Japan during the Tokugawa Period was arguably the most literate country in the world, but Hakuin’s success is owed in large part to his incorporation of writing infectious songs in a popular style, telling original folk tales, wood block printing his teachings as displayable certificates, and his energized sermons along the tourist crowded super highway, the Tōkaidō.
“Writing from Home: Native Writers and Translators in Seventeenth-Century New England”
Julie Fisher, American Philosophical Society
New England’s prodigious collections of letters from the seventeenth century is well known, less known is that a small, but by no means insignificant, number of these letters were on behalf of Native leaders. The literacy rate of Native communities beginning in the mid-seventeenth century has long drawn historical attention: beginning with interest by puritan contemporaries, later as a point of curiosity to Victorian historians, and finally today as a point of inquiry into nascent literary forms within Native communities. Scholarly focus, however, has centered on two types of Native literacies: materials written or translated into the indigenous language (in this case, primarily the Wôpanâak language) and recorded conversion narratives. Less appreciated have been the letters by Native leaders themselves, particularly, those penned by Native translators. These letters ranged from informal messages that English writers tucked into their correspondence, to letters written entirely on behalf of the sachems, to formal petitions addressed to the King of England himself.
While often these petitions appear as an “oddity” in the archive, when gathered together the role of letter writing in the churning world of seventeenth century Indian and English politics becomes clear: Native leaders were well on their way to carving out a future that leveraged the written word. In light of these letters, speculation that Native leaders at this time were suspicious of handwriting proves unfounded. Additionally, the extant letters by Native translators from New England, while rare, suggest an additional layer of complexity in the colonial world. A careful study of the letter speaks to handwriting instruction and education. The folds, ink, and seal speak to a familiarity of Native scribes with New England’s world of letters. The more familiar petitions by Native people from the eighteenth and nineteenth century were the realization of a future envisioned by earlier community leaders centuries before.
“Handwriting and Intimacy in Black Girls’ Nineteenth-Century Autograph Albums”
Nazera Wright, University of Kentucky
Scholars such as Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Ellen Gruber Garvey and Jasmine Nichole Cobb explore how nineteenth-century scrapbooks and friendship albums circulated among free black women in the North to showcase their middle class status and close networks. However, little is known about how black girls participated in this sentimental practice. This paper explores the often un-catalogued signatures and inscriptions written in two autograph albums from the second half of the nineteenth century that were owned by two black girls who were sisters. Miranda and Sallie Venning were raised in an elite African American Philadelphian family in the 1880’s.
Their autograph albums are archived at the Library Company of Philadelphia in the Stevens – Cogdell – Sanders– Venning Collection. Those who signed albums upheld the polished graces of elegant handwriting, proper penmanship, and correct spelling. While the signatures convey refinement and discipline, they also reveal evidence of intimate relationships. People touched the album, flipped through its pages, read messages from others, and decided, carefully on their own written expressions. Thus, the Venning autograph albums help us think in recuperative, productive ways about touch and intimacy among black girls in the 1880’s that move beyond associations of touch with acts of sexualized violence in the antebellum era.
“‘They Don’t Teach That In School Any More, You Know’: Handwriting in Living History Contexts”
Benjamin Bartgis, Independent Scholar
Witnessing the act of writing in living history settings often engenders strong reactions from visitors, including nostalgia, shame, and anger in older visitors, and curiosity and regret from younger ones. These reactions spark conversations about self-expression, gender roles, the nature of communication, and societal anxieties in the face of new technologies, timeless concerns which help visitors bridge the gap between the past and present.
This paper will review living history programs at 18th and early 19th century historic sites and museums that incorporated writing by hand into their interpretations and interactive demonstrations, and analyzing visitor reactions and avenues for further discussion. As is amply demonstrated by the emotional reactions and curiosity of visitors, the presence of writing by hand in the context of old buildings and clothing links it even more closely in the minds of the public to an imagined past free from the ill effects of modernity.
These situations give living history educators the opportunity to help visitors address their thoughts by learning more about literacy’s place in the past and recognize that, as Tamara Thornton phrased it, “since the purpose of writing is to communicate, handwriting must be regarded as a tool, not an end in itself.” By better understanding handwriting’s past, visitors can better consider its role in their own lives and recontextualize their anxieties about its future, while reminding historians of the romantic appeal of the ‘lost’ manuscript world to the public.