Alphabet Historiography: Analogue Artifacts and Digital Projects – The 2016 Sol. M. and Mary Ann O’Brian Malkin Lecture

Date: 3 August 2016
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: UVA Special Collections
Lecturer: Johanna Drucker - Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies, Department of Information Studies, UCLA

Edmund Fry’s Pantographia (1799) is a comprehensive compendium of specimens of the all the known scripts that the typographer and punch-cutter Fry could locate. One dimension of this volume is the evidence it provides of the colonial reach of Britain’s empire. But it also provides a view into the state of knowledge about the history of writing at the end of the eighteenth century, just as the models of chronology and methods of historical inquiry are about to change radically. Because of the date of its production, the book provides a useful reference point for contrasting past and future technologies of knowledge production, and the ways these constitute their objects—in this case, written language and its history. Fry presents biblical, cosmological, political, and general temporalities in his many glosses, and includes equally varied concepts of locations of origin for the scripts he has copied. Fry’s scripts are almost all alphabetic, though he could not be aware, at that moment, of the archaeological methods that would demonstrate this in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Fry’s bibliography and citation methods provide access to his sources, and make it possible to situate his remarkable project within the longer historiography of the alphabet, writing, and methods of historical knowledge production.