The Futures of Handwriting (SoFCB Conference)

Date: 12 April 2019 – 13 April 2019
Time: Times vary
Location: University of Louisville
Presented by: Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections, The Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society, the Department of Comparative Humanities and the Department of English at the University of Louisville, and in collaboration with The Filson Historical Society

The reintroduction of cursive into elementary classrooms; the persistence of the stylus in digital reading practices and technologies; the dependence in law and history on handwritten documentary evidence; the changing modes through which consent is inscribed and recorded in official documents and elsewhere; the presence of the “handwritten” in poems, artist’s books and digital typeface plugins; the adoption of handwriting practices by recovery communities; the declarations of nostalgia for personal connection signified by the handwritten letter. These are just a few of the uses of handwriting that mark a time of digital media shift. But what is new or transformative regarding this “old” media practice?

The Futures of Handwriting brings together an interdisciplinary array of scholars working in media theory, book history, literature, history, library and information sciences, art history, and other fields in order to address four interrelated questions. The first entails a theorizing of the medium itself: what are the futures of handwriting’s meanings and affordances? The second pertains to lived experience: how do scribal practices contribute to the futures and/or foreclosures of various peoples and communities? The third is a matter of our own intermedial literacies: how does handwriting figure within larger media ecologies, and relatedly, what is the place of manuscript cultures for establishing communicative forms, from language, to codices, to the very idea of “writing”? The final question is a meta-commentary on the symposium: how does handwriting and allied forms of expression together contribute to a sense of time? If manuscript comes “after” print, as Peter Stallybrass has claimed, then where are we today?

While each of these questions are posed in the present tense, this symposium seeks to establish connections between present and past experiences of the “newness” and the “possibility” of handwriting. Thus, in addition to studies of the possible futures for handwritten forms and formats, this symposium features historical research into past scribal futures and futurities, which have marked contexts as varied as the rise of middle-class epistolary culture; the birth and death of the author; the adoption of printing, telecommunications, and phonography; the networking of Enlightenment science; the scenes of colonial encounter and contestation; the invention of the news; and the formation of scholarly disciplines. By developing a history of the future of handwriting, this symposium explores how a vital media practice has been and remains crucial to our understandings of communication, cultural difference, and social order.

Conference registration for general attendees is free and on-site at the Chao Auditorium in Ekstrom Library, which is located on the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Christopher Hager, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor, Department of English, Trinity College, Author of Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing (2013) and I Remain Yours: Common Lives in Civil War Letters (2018). Dr. Hager will deliver his talk, “Struck Out: The Illiterate Hand on the Literate Page,” at The Filson Historical Society. The lecture is free and open to the public. Attendees must register through the Filson’s site.

See the event website for full schedule and additional details.

Sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections, The Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society, the Department of Comparative Humanities and the Department of English at the University of Louisville, and in collaboration with The Filson Historical Society. Special thanks to The Wittreich Family and The Council of Graphological Societies.