1st Edition

A Material History of Medieval and Early Modern Ciphers Cryptography and the History of Literacy

Edited By Katherine Ellison, Susan Kim Copyright 2018
    298 Pages
    by Routledge

    298 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The first cultural history of early modern cryptography, this collection brings together scholars in history, literature, music, the arts, mathematics, and computer science who study ciphering and deciphering from new materialist, media studies, cognitive studies, disability studies, and other theoretical perspectives. Essays analyze the material forms of ciphering as windows into the cultures of orality, manuscript, print, and publishing, revealing that early modern ciphering, and the complex history that preceded it in the medieval period, not only influenced political and military history but also played a central role in the emergence of the capitalist media state in the West, in religious reformation, and in the scientific revolution. Ciphered communication, whether in etched stone and bone, in musical notae, runic symbols, polyalphabetic substitution, algebraic equations, graphic typographies, or literary metaphors, took place in contested social spaces and offered a means of expression during times of political, economic, and personal upheaval. Ciphering shaped the early history of linguistics as a discipline, and it bridged theological and scientific rhetoric before and during the Reformation. Ciphering was an occult art, a mathematic language, and an aesthetic that influenced music, sculpture, painting, drama, poetry, and the early novel. This collection addresses gaps in cryptographic history, but more significantly, through cultural analyses of the rhetorical situations of ciphering and actual solved and unsolved medieval and early modern ciphers, it traces the influences of cryptographic writing and reading on literacy broadly defined as well as the cultures that generate, resist, and require that literacy. This volume offers a significant contribution to the history of the book, highlighting the broader cultural significance of textual materialities.

    Introduction: Ciphers and the Material History of Literacy

    Katherine Ellison and Susan Kim

    1. Medieval Musical Notes as Cryptography

    Elsa DeLuca and John Haines

    2. Keeping History: Images, Texts, Ciphers, and the Franks Casket

    Susan Kim and Asa Simon Mittman

    3. Anglo-Saxon Ciphers

    Stephen J. Harris

    4. The Cryptographic Imagination: Revealing and Concealing in Anglo-Saxon Literature

    E.J. Christie

    5. The Printing Press and Cryptography: Alberti and the Dawn of a Notational Epoch

    Quinn Dupont

    6. "That you are both decipher’d": Revealing Espionage and Staging Written Evidence in Early Modern England

    Lisa M. Barksdale-Shaw

    7. Out of "their covert of words": Cipher and Secrecy in the Writing of Early Modern Algebra

    Lisa Wilde

    8. Limited by Their Letters: Alphabets, Codes, and Gesture in Seventeenth-Century England

    Michael C. Clody

    9. Deciphering and the Exhaustion of Recombination

    Katherine Ellison

    10. "What I write I do not see": Reading and Writing With Invisible Ink

    Karen Britland

    11. Real Life Cryptology: Enciphering Practice in Early Modern Hungary

    Benedek Láng

    12. Afterword: The Critical Legacy of Medieval and Early Modern Cryptography Before and After World War I

    Katherine Ellison and Susan Kim


    Katherine Ellison is Professor of English at Illinois State University, USA.

    Susan Kim is Professor in the Department of English at Illinois State University, USA.