Abstract: Circa 1900, the typewriter began to circulate the globe. Keyboard designers, letterform artists, and salesmen at Remington and elsewhere found themselves trafficking in Arabic, Burmese, Devanagari, Hebrew, Mongolian, Siamese, and over one hundred others scripts, with language becoming a “feature” of the machine alongside color and shape. As the QWERTY typewriter stretched to encompass most of the world’s scripts, however, one remained frustratingly outside its ostensibly universal embrace: Chinese. Remington’s failure, alongside its competitors, was not interpreted as a limitation of the typewriter-form, however, but as incontrovertible evidence of the essential alterity and anti-modernity of Chinese writing itself.
Thomas S. Mullaney is Associate Professor of Chinese History at Stanford University. He is the author of Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (UC Press) and principal editor of Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation and Identity of China’s Majority (UC Press). His current book project, The Chinese Typewriter: A Global History, examines China’s development of a modern, nonalphabetic information infrastructure encompassing telegraphy, typewriting, word processing, and computing. This project has received three major awards and fellowships, including the 2013 Usher Prize, a three-year National Science Foundation fellowship, and a Hellman Faculty Fellowship. A recent publication from this project, "The Moveable Typewriter: How Chinese Typists Developed Predictive Text during the Height of Maoism,” was awarded the 2013 Abbott Payson Usher Prize. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Dissertation Reviews (www.dissertationreviews.org), which publishes five hundred reviews annually of recently defended dissertations in more than 20 different fields in the humanities and social sciences.
Free and open to the public.
This lecture is part of the Thursday Series of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies. It is made possible by a generous contribution from Kenneth and Frances Aftel Eisenberg.