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Handwriting in America: A Cultural Historyby Tamara Plakins Thornton
Synopses & Reviews
In this engaging history, Tamara Plakins Thornton traces handwriting in America from colonial times to the present. Exploring such subjects as penmanship pedagogy, handwriting analysis, autograph collecting, handwriting experts, and calligraphy revivals, Thornton investigates the shifting functions and meanings of handwriting, showing, for example, how it came to be linked with individual identity and how in our times handwriting reflects a nostalgia for the past and a rejection of modernity.
"remarkable....Thornton writes what may be the first cultural history of penmanship. Dissecting its nuances, variations and implications, she teaches us what any penmanship master worth his blotter knew until recently; there is nothing trivial about the ways in which we shape our letters". — Edward Rothstein, New York Times
"Thornton's book is not only informative but also compelling". — David Nicholson, Washington Post Book World
"Filled with interesting and sometimes corrective information about penmanship and its prejudices... Thornton writes with a measured grace". — Thomas Mallon, The New Yorker
"Thornton's book, a swift and arresting history of handwriting, shows that the growing ubiquity of print lent handwriting meaning beyond the words it recorded.... In reading this wonderful book, I became completely convinced that handwriting, as Thornton maintains, is not only 'a phenomenon that reflects changing conceptions of self' but is 'one of the places where the self happened". — Katherine A. Powers, Boston Sunday Globe
"This elegant study again proves that, in the right hands, a narrow topic is an excellent window into broad issues of social structure, education and popularculture. Historian Thornton not only packs plenty of Americana into her history of handwriting but also relates trends in this country to European developments... Thornton's high-quality scholarship will satisfy exacting academic audiences, and her graceful prose will charm and entertain the general reader". — Publishers Weekly
Copybooks and the Palmer method, handwriting analysis and autograph collecting-these words conjure up a lost world, in which people looked to handwriting as both a lesson in conformity and a talisman of individuality. In this engaging history, ranging from colonial times to the present, Tamara Plakins Thornton explores the shifting functions and meanings of handwriting in America. Script emerged in the eighteenth century as a medium intimately associated with the self, says Thornton, in contrast to the impersonality of print. But thereafter, just what kind of self would be defined or revealed in script was debated in the context of changing economic and social realities, definitions of manhood and womanhood, and concepts of mind and body. Thornton details the parties to these disputes: writing masters who used penmanship training to form and discipline character; scientific experts who chalked up variations in script to mere physiological idiosyncrasy; and autograph collectors and handwriting analysts who celebrated signatures that broke copybook rules as marks of personality, revealing the uniqueness of the self. In our time, concludes Thornton, when handwriting skills seem altogether obsolete, calligraphy revivals and calls for old-fashioned penmanship training reflect nostalgia and the rejection of modernity.
In this engaging history, the author demonstrates handwriting in America from colonial times to the present. Exploring such subjects as penmanship, pedagogy, handwriting analysis, autograph collecting, and calligraphy revivals, Thornton investigates the shifting functions and meanings of handwriting. 57 illustrations.
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