Reading and Writing Space: New Approaches to the Study of Epigraphic Landscapes

Ancient inscriptions are normally studied as linguistic and scribal artifacts, providing insight into a language’s grammar, rendering feasible the study of spelling conventions and scribal habitus, and serving as indices of socio-political complexity. More broadly, epigraphic study is used to create totalizing narratives about history, religion, or languages. Yet, with the removal of these ancient writings from their larger natural and built environments—and now contained behind the glass of the museum case—these ancient writings have been irrevocably stripped from those spaces that initially infused them with significance and which they in turn imbued with meaning. Although the workshop will engage with the usual linguistic and grammatical content inherent to these ancient texts, we will consider additional aspects of epigraphs’ communicative modes. In the past decade, studies of visual media and literacy have increasingly considered the ways in which texts communicated in ways that are not purely linguistic. Thus, our workshop will curate analysis that considers not only the linguistic message of inscribed texts, but the spaces in and around the text as well. This line of inquiry necessarily extends the study of texts beyond their linguistic content and considers the ways in which inscriptions were embedded into natural or built environments.

This workshop seeks to facilitate interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration centered on new approaches to the study of pre-modern inscriptions. The corpora to be examined extend in geography and chronology from the ancient Near East and Indus River Valley, to the Classical and Late Antique Mediterranean and Africa, to the pre-colonial Americas. Our aim is to shift the study of ancient inscriptions from a focus on the text as a linguistic fossil or artifact to a broader analysis of the ways in which inscriptions were embedded in cityscapes and natural spaces and the social functions they acquired in those spaces. The homes, workshops, markets, gateways, temples, tombs, and rock cliffs where these texts were placed interacted with the texts themselves to create embodied, socialized meaning for ancient audiences, regardless of their level(s) of literacy. We will also examine the private and hidden use of inscriptions that reflect a very different set of variables from what is seen in public display. 

Upcoming Borghesi-Mellon Workshops and Events

Elizabeth Freeman

The Wedding Complex
Professor of English, University of California Davis
Jun 28
email: terra.incognita.art@gmail.com by June 1st
All Day Terra Incognita Art Series
View Events Calendar