Visible Language

While technologies of writing, from cuneiform clay tablets to electronic media, have changed dramatically over time, the underlying human processes of adapting forms and functions to various media and to the social needs of the time are nevertheless comparable. The Visible Languages Course Thread emphasizes the multi-disciplinarity and the historicity of issues related to writing. It investigates writing and reading as cultural practices that follow rules dictated both by the social environment and by the technical constraints and possibilities of the medium. It addresses issues of textuality and technologies of communication, using the historical to reframe modern experiences of literacy and the modern to reframe our ways of understanding ancient practices...

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For at least five thousand years, people have used conventionalized signs and symbols to communicate across separations in space and time. These signs and symbols have been used to express, create, and notate languages, mathematical concepts, administrative records, music, and dance, among other things.

While technologies of writing, from cuneiform clay tablets to electronic media, have changed dramatically over time, the underlying human processes of adapting forms and functions to various media and to the social needs of the time are nevertheless comparable. Common to all systems of visible language is their social conventionality, which determines what gets represented explicitly, and what must be inferred by the reader. Furthermore, social conventions determine the uses to which texts are put.

This course thread emphasizes the multi-disciplinarity and the historicity of issues related to writing. It investigates writing and reading as cultural practices that follow rules dictated both by the social environment and by the technical constraints and possibilities of the medium. It addresses issues of textuality and technologies of communication, using the historical to reframe modern experiences of literacy and the modern to reframe our ways of understanding ancient practices.

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