Christopher Hager: The Illiterate Hand on the Literate Page
Apr 12, 2019
from 05:30 PM to 06:45 PM
|Where||The Filson Historical Society|
|Contact Name||Mark Mattes|
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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.
Christopher Hager is Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor at Trinity College, Hartford, where he teaches in English and American Studies and for three years directed the Center for Teaching and Learning. He is the author of Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing (Harvard Univ. Press, 2013), which won the 2014 Frederick Douglass Prize, and I Remain Yours: Common Lives in Civil War Letters (Harvard Univ. Press, 2018), which was supported by a grant from the NEH Public Scholar program. With Cody Marrs, he is co-editor of Timelines of American Literature (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2019). His recent work also appears in Literary Cultures of the Civil War (ed. Timothy Sweet), the Cambridge History of American Working-Class Literature (ed. Nicholas Coles and Paul Lauter), and the forthcoming Visions of Glory: The Civil War in Word and Image (ed. Benjamin Fagan and Kathleen Diffley).