A Material History of Medieval and Early Modern Ciphers: Cryptography and the History of Literacy (Hardback) book cover

A Material History of Medieval and Early Modern Ciphers

Cryptography and the History of Literacy

Edited by Katherine Ellison, Susan Kim

© 2018 – Routledge

286 pages | 22 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138244641
pub: 2017-09-21
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315267449
pub: 2017-09-14
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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.

Table of Contents

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

About the Editors

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.

About the Series

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

This series provides a forum for studies that consider the material forms of texts as part of an investigation into early modern English culture. The editors invite proposals of a multi- or interdisciplinary nature, and particularly welcome proposals that combine archival research with an attention to the theoretical models that might illuminate the reading, writing, and making of texts, as well as projects that take innovative approaches to the study of material texts, both in terms the kinds of primary materials under investigation, and in terms of methodologies. What are the questions that have yet to be asked about writing in its various possible embodied forms? Are there varieties of materiality that are critically neglected? How does form mediate and negotiate content? In what ways do the physical features of texts inform how they are read, interpreted and situated? Consideration will be given to both monographs and collections of essays. The range of topics covered in this series includes, but is not limited to:

-History of the book, publishing, the book trade, printing, typography (layout, type, typeface, blank/white space, paratextual apparatus)

-Technologies of the written word: ink, paper, watermarks, pens, presses

-Surprising or neglected material forms of writing

-Print culture


-Manuscript studies

-Social space, context, location of writing

-Social signs, cues, codes imbued within the material forms of texts

-Ownership and the social practices of reading: marginalia, libraries, environments of reading and reception

-Codicology, palaeography and critical bibliography

-Production, transmission, distribution and circulation

-Archiving and the archaeology of knowledge

-Orality and oral culture

-The material text as object or thing

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Renaissance