Making a Mark: Graphs Beyond Language

Sponsored by the Program in Early Cultures at Brown University

4–5 November 2016
Smith-Buonanno Hall, Room 106 (95 Cushing Street, Providence, RI)
Making a Mark

Humans have an urge, even a compulsion, to mark meaning through visible graphs. These signs range from coats of arms to emojis, potter’s marks to gang signs, and Paleolithic graphs to ISOTYPE or other cross-linguistic vehicles for communicating ideas. All can project meaning directly, without necessary recourse to language. For all their importance, however, there is little of a comparative nature to probe their use, meaning, makers, setting, and variance, or what they share as an expressive potential of all humans. In this conference, specialists in diverse scriptural and semiological systems explore semasiography, the phenomenon of non-linguistic forms of graphic communication organized into patterned, often codified ways. Talks address the techniques and systems employed in such mark-making, the media and modes of representation, and the uses and limitations of symbols and graphemes. The overall objective is to underscore the vitality of such visible signs at all times and periods, and to delight in their wondrous variety.


Friday, November 4

Smith-Buonanno 106

4:00 p.m.:  Welcome and Introduction to Conference (John Bodel and Stephen Houston)

Session 1: Marking Meaning  (John Bodel presiding)

4:30:    “Making the First Marks: Early Homo sapiens and the Development of Graphic Mark-making during the Late Pleistocene Period”
                        Genevieve von Petzinger (University of Victoria, British Columbia)  

5:15:    “Explaining the Curious Ubiquity of Graphic Numeration”
                        Stephen Chrisomalis (Wayne State University, Detroit)

6:00:     Reception


Saturday, November 5

Smith-Buonanno 106

Session 2: Making Marks in Early Civilizations (Jeffrey Moser presiding)

9:00:    “Marking and Writing in an Egyptian Workmen’s Community (ca. 1450-1070 BCE)”
                        B. J. J. Haring (University of Leiden)

9:45:    “Primordial Signs and Inscribed Bodies: Reading Images of Script in Late Assyrian Scholarship”
                       Matthew Rutz (Brown University)

10:30-10:45: Coffee Break


Session 3: Makers’ Marks and Manufacturing (Steve Houston presiding)

10:45:  “The Semiotics of Signa or the Significance of Symbols in Roman Stamps”
                        John Bodel (Brown University)

11:30:  “Where Credit’s Due: Andean Makers’ Marks and a Theory of Bureaucratic Games”
                        Howard Tsai (University of Michigan)

12:15-2:00:       Lunch


Session 4: Divine Signs  (Matthew Rutz presiding)

2:00:    “Early Medieval Monograms (c. 300–900 CE): From Producers’ Marks to Liminal Graphic Devices”
                        Ildar Garipzanov (University of Oslo)

2:45:    “Bolivian Marks in 3D: Inscribing Daily Life into Catholic Prayers”
                        Berenice Gaillemin (LabEx TransferS, Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale,
                        LAS, Paris)

3:30-3:45: Coffee Break


Session 5: Marking Identity (Sheila Bonde presiding)

3:45:     “Family Crests and Family Identity in Warrior Japan”
                        David Spafford (University of Pennsylvania)

4:30:     “Chicano/a Placas: Aestheticizing and Politicizing Territorial Demarkation”
                        Stefano Bloch (Brown University)

5:15:     Concluding Discussion and Final Remarks


View Full Schedule and Speaker Biographies

View Video of Each Session*:

Making a Mark - November 4, 2016: Session 1
Making a Mark - November 5, 2016: Session 2
Making a Mark - November 5, 2016: Session 3
Making a Mark - November 5, 2016: Session 4
Making a Mark - November 5, 2016: Session 5

*Videos can also be viewed by clicking on the session titles in the Schedule above