Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium
Kathryn Piquette, University of Pennsylvania
Copyright Year: 2013
ISBN 13: 9781909188242
Publisher: Ubiquity Press
Conditions of Use
This edited volume is a collection of 14 scholarly essays with an introduction and epilogue that are all around the central issue of writing as a material practice. Each essay is a distinct case study that explores this topic from different angles... read more
This edited volume is a collection of 14 scholarly essays with an introduction and epilogue that are all around the central issue of writing as a material practice. Each essay is a distinct case study that explores this topic from different angles with different foci. The structure of these in depth academic essays means that it is not “global” in its discussion, but rather deep in several key discussions. However, while these case studies are limited by their topic selection to be studied, they should not be viewed as exceptional – the theory and technique of application of that theory of each study could be applied to different contexts if the reader so chose to do so. Therefore, this works as an introduction into the field of writing as material practice, but it does so inductively rather than expansively. While this might limit the use of this book as the sole textbook for a course due to a lack of complete breadth, the value is that it illustrates the depth of analysis necessary in this field. Because each case study is its own unit, there is no central index or glossary, but instead each essay functions as a near independent unit. There is, however, a very useful list of abstracts of each essay at the beginning of the study which carefully explains each essay in a concise form all in one section.
I found no obvious errors or major biases in the text. Of course, each academic essay does have an argument in it, they are very reasonable and measured arguments that seek to best explain and frame the data they are considering.
These essays are of high quality and will be of value in their present form for some time due to the careful consideration of the primary source material upon which they are based. Because these are academic essays, they will be part of the field to be then built upon and used in new ways. Some of the secondary literature might become out of date, but only insofar as new major studies appear that by definition these essays could not address in 2013. Also, because these are articles, they are not as easily “updated” as a textbook chapter might while still maintaining the integrity of the argument, it would not be at all difficult to simply add an “addendum” at the end of them to discuss the articles’ reception and its shifting space in the world of scholarship.
These are academic essays written for those ready to dialogue with academic research. While I do not believe they are inaccessible, some of the essays might be difficult for a true novice. However, for anyone who is invested in the field even to a minor extent, the essays should be accessible. Each essay is written with a very specific context in mind and they do use some technical language. However, each term is defined carefully. Further, the primary discussion centers around primary texts and artifacts and the book is very good at having images and transcriptions of those artifacts and thereby bringing the reader into direct dialogue with the main elements of the book.
Because this is an edited volume, there is some variation in writing styles and topics; however, generally the central issue of writing as material practice consistently remained the primary focus of the book. Some terminology shifted simply because some case studies were covering such different cultural artefacts that context demanded said shifts.
This book is set up to be taken into sections. Because these 14 essays are independent pieces, each chapter can be taken and inserted n syllabi as one would need without a problem. The first footnote of each chapter, in fact, provides the citation one would need if you were to read it outside of the context of the whole book and thereby indicates some intent for these to be read independently.
This book is structured roughly chronologically essay by essay. While one chapter is not dependent upon the last, there is a rough structure that does make sense. However, as pointed out above, the value is that these chapters are independent of each other and thus the connections from one chapter to the next are relatively minimal.
This was very clear in both texts, images, and diagrams. The only thing that could be confusing was that the pagination of the .pdf was different from the official pagination of the book as the front matter did not count as “pages.” This is not a problem for a careful reader, but it could be confusing for some students who are citing too quickly.
I could not find any style or grammatical errors.
This book is a book about varieties in culture and backgrounds in a respectful academic tone which only celebrates and teaches respect to individual cultural traditions.
This is a very valuable book which I highly recommend.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1. Introduction: Developing an approach to writing as material practice (Kathryn E. Piquette and Ruth D. Whitehouse)
- Chapter 2. The Twisting Paths of Recall: Khipu (Andean cord notation) as artifact (Frank Salomon)
- Chapter 3. Writing as Material Technology: Orientation within landscapes of the Classic Maya world (Sarah E. Jackson)
- Chapter 4. Writing (and Reading) as Material Practice: The world of cuneiform culture as an arena for investigation (Roger Matthews)
- Chapter 5. Re-writing the Script: Decoding the textual experience in the Bronze Age Levant (c.2000–1150 bc) (Rachael Thyrza Sparks)
- Chapter 6. The Function and Meaning of Writing in the Prehistoric Aegean: Some reflections on the social and symbolic significance of writing from a material perspective (Helène Whittaker)
- Chapter 7. Form Follows Function: Writing and its supports in the Aegean Bronze Age (Sarah Finlayson)
- Chapter 8. Materiality of Minoan Writing: Modes of display and perception (Georgia Flouda)
- Chapter 9. Saving on Clay: The Linear B practice of cutting tablets (Helena Tomas)
- Chapter 10. Straight, Crooked and Joined-up Writing: An early Mediterranean view (Alan Johnston)
- Chapter 11. “It Is Written”?: Making, remaking and unmaking early ‘writing' in the lower Nile Valley (Kathryn E. Piquette)
- Chapter 12. Written Greek but Drawn Egyptian: Script changes in a bilingual dream papyrus (Stephen Kidd)
- Chapter 13. The Other Writing: Iconic literacy and Situla Art in pre-Roman Veneto (Italy) (Elisa Perego)
- Chapter 14. ‘Tombstones' in the North Italian Iron Age: Careless writers or athletic readers? (Ruth D. Whitehouse)
- Chapter 15. Different Times, Different Materials and Different Purposes: Writing on objects at the Grand Arcade site in Cambridge (Craig Cessford)
- Chapter 16. Writing Conservation: The impact of text on conservation decisions and practice (Elizabeth Pye)
- Chapter 17. Epilogue (John Bennet)
About the Book
Writing as Material Practice grapples with the issue of writing as a form of material culture in its ancient and more recent manifestations, and in the contexts of production and consumption. Fifteen case studies explore the artefactual nature of writing — the ways in which materials, techniques, colour, scale, orientation and visibility inform the creation of inscribed objects and spaces, as well as structure subsequent engagement, perception and meaning making. Covering a temporal span of some 5000 years, from c.3200 BCE to the present day, and ranging in spatial context from the Americas to the Near East, the chapters in this volume bring a variety of perspectives which contribute to both specific and broader questions of writing materialities. The authors also aim to place past graphical systems in their social contexts so they can be understood in relation to the people who created and attributed meaning to writing and associated symbolic modes through a diverse array of individual and wider social practices.
About the Contributors
Kathryn Piquette earned a double BA in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her MA and PhD (“Writing, “Art’ and Society: A Contextual Archaeology of the Inscribed Labels Late Predynastic-Early Dynastic Egypt”) in Egyptology from the University College London (UCL) Institute of Archaeology, where she is also an Honorary Research Associate. Kathryn Piquette is a Research Associate at the University of Oxford on the project “Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) Systems for Ancient Documentary Artefacts”, an AHRC-funded collaboration with the University of Southampton. Her research centres on the study of script and image from a phenomenological perspective. With the aid of RTI (CSAD Newsletter No. 14), she is exploring ancient Egyptian script and image and the ways in which materials, techniques, and associated material practices inform both linguistic and non-linguistic meanings. Kathryn Piquette has also been conducting research on modern analogue and digital reader/writer experience as a Research Associate for the Canadian SSHRC funded Implementing New Knowledge Environments project at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and is bringing these more recent perspectives to bear on questions of ancient reader/writer experience and practice.