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Program in Early Cultures Events


Hidden Writing
Organized by John Bodel and Stephen Houston

Monday, April 11, 2016
Petteruti Lounge (75 Waterman Street)

This full-day workshop explores "hidden writing" -- scripts intended by form or placement to challenge, puzzle, and present difficulties of access, yet, with effort and skill, meant eventually to be legible by human and, at times, supernatural "readers." Examples would include Maya full-figure glyphs, "insect" or "bird script" from the Warring States period, puzzle-writing, "wild calligraphy" from China or Japan, and Arabic script so stylized as to be difficult to fathom.

"Hidden writing" contrives additional obstacles and challenges through formal embellishments or what might be called "sign involution" -- that is, by taking a perfectly lucid system of script and expanding, embellishing, adding extraneous elements for design reasons or reasons of ideology. Additional training or knowledge (or at least effort) is required. It is writing with self-conscious, deliberate impediments built in. Or it may be script whose aesthetic or formal component outweighs any impulse to "efficient" parsing. Other writing might be of abridged access, placed in hidden locations, not intended for human eyes, and possessed of magical efficacy that departs from any conventional notion of reading.


9:10 am: Welcome by John Bodel (Brown University, Latin epigraphy, history, and Stephen Houston (Brown University, Maya text & image,

9:30 am: Andréas Stauder (EPHEE, Egyptian writing & civilization,

10:15 am: Haicheng Wang (U of Washington, Chinese art, early periods,

11:15 am: Graham Oliver (Brown University, Greek epigraphy,

12:00 pm: Jeffrey Moser (Brown University, Chinese art, later periods,

2:30 pm: Scott Redford (SOAS, U of London, Islamic art & archaeology,

3:15 pm: Stephen Houston (Brown University, Maya text & image,

4:15 pm: Rachel Saunders (Harvard Art Museums, Japanese art,

5:00 pm: Discussion

View Full Schedule and Speaker Biographies


Making a Mark: Graphs, Signs, and Contextual Writing in Early Cultures
Organized by John Bodel and Stephen Houston

Fall 2016
Location and Dates TBA



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