Languages and Scripts in China: New Directions in Communications and Information History

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“Languages and Scripts in China: New Directions in Communications and Information History.” Workshop at Columbia University on April 19, 2019.


This workshop aims to articulate a new path in studying the history of languages and scripts in China. Although this inquiry has been part of a long historiographical tradition, the past decade has seen an unprecedented growth in revisionist scholarship. New perspectives on the making of Mandarin as a national language, transnational histories of script reforms, and the significance of media technologies as well as large-scale infrastructures have been some of the major themes that animated recent literature on languages and scripts in China. How can we critically reflect on this contemporary interest in the history of linguistic technologies? What does it mean to study languages and scripts in the twenty-first century? What are the possibilities and pitfalls in pondering the multi-lingual and multi-scripted landscape of China?


This workshop will bring together advanced doctoral, postdoctoral, and early career researchers in an effort to rethink Chinese history as part of the nascent scholarship on the global history of communications and information. As the workshop is designed to explore the multiplicity of scripts and languages in China, researchers whose work engages with non-Han scripts and comparative/transnational perspectives are especially encouraged to apply. Fields of inquiry include but are not limited to the following topics:


- The impact of new media on scripts and languages (from brush and pen to 3D printing)

- Instruments of information management (e.g., indices, databases, library catalogues, lexicographical innovations)

- Historical interfaces between Han and non-Han scripts and languages

- Issues of “dialect,” “topolect,” and “language”


This workshop will take place on April 19, 2019, at Columbia University, and will be open to the public. Participants will be asked a few weeks in advance to pre-circulate an article or chapter draft. On the day of the event, each participant will give a brief five-minute introduction to his/her work, followed by an in-depth response by a discussant. The majority of the time in each panel will be devoted to group discussions.


With generous support from Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, travel to/from New York City and accommodation expenses for two nights will be covered.


Please send an abstract (max. 300 words) and a short bio to Ulug Kuzuoglu ( by November 15, 2018, with the subject line “Application for Languages and Scripts at Columbia.” The decisions will be made by December 15. Questions about the event may be directed to Ulug Kuzuoglu.