Held Thursday 14th – Saturday 16th March 2019.
Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge
Writing systems are not just abstract systems to be deciphered and analysed but an important part of culture, integrated into a multiplicity of other facets of human life, practice and material culture. The study of writing systems is not just a question of epigraphy, palaeography or linguistics but a matter of cultural history. Yet this aspect of early writing often receives less attention. How are writing systems embedded in society and culture? How are they shaped by human practice and agency, and how in turn do they affect these things? What is their relationship with material culture and what would an ‘archaeology of writing systems’ look like?
This conference brought together researchers utilising a wide range of approaches to address these questions, including archaeology, anthropology, cultural history and sociology, and going beyond the traditional epigraphic, philological and linguistic approaches. We were particularly interested in exploring and establishing methodologies for approaching these sort of questions, rather than concentrating only on specific case studies. The conference focused on historic writing systems, but does not have a specific chronological or geographical restriction: on the contrary, diversity and comparative approaches were encouraged.