Who knew what when about the origin and development of the alphabet? Answers to this question take us into a history of bibliographical antiquities, paleographical investigation, and graphical modes of knowledge transmission. The various “histories” that emerge from this record have distinct chronological foundations that embody belief systems about the age of the earth and the human record that have changed over time. Examining the analogue evidence of textual and visual information, as well as reflecting on the meta-level of historical process, offers insights and challenges for the ways we use digital humanities tools to visualize knowledge. This talk draws on the rich inventory of printed texts, manuscript records, inscriptions and evidence of antiquities to look at various alphabet histories in light of traditional and digital tools.
Johanna Drucker is the Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies at UCLA. She has published and lectured widely on topics related to digital humanities and aesthetics, visual forms of knowledge production, book history and future designs, graphic design, historiography of the alphabet and writing, and contemporary art. Her recent titles include SpecLab: Projects in Digital Aesthetics and Speculative Computing (Chicago, 2009) and the jointly authored Digital_Humanities (MIT, 2012) with Anne Burdick, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp. A collection of her essays, What Is? was published by Cuneiform Press in 2013, and Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (2014) appeared in the Harvard University Press MetaLab series. In addition to her academic work, Drucker has produced artist’s books and projects that were the subject of a retrospective, Druckworks: 40 years of books and projects, initiated at Columbia College in Chicago. Her artist’s books are represented in museum and library collections throughout the United States and Europe. In 2014 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.