Sorry Tiffany! It'd be a pretty odd thing for a historian to be confused on, what with the thousand years involved.
> this sort of caricature gets nowhere
What's nonsense is pretending they were the same, or that it doesn't matter.
Compare? Now we're getting somewhere. Let's compare the myth of the hero who defeated the three brothers by injuring them by different amounts, then running away, so they would catch up with him at different times, and he would have a chance to win by fighting them one at a time instead of all at once (and he succeeded). To the Greeks that was a brilliant idea, to the Romans, dishonorable. The Roman way would have been to fight all three at once (and die, no problem). The two cultures are repleat with telling "valorizations" such as this.
But exceptions? And variances? Well duh.
> look at Sparta
> Even in lettering, the Romans were perfectly pragmatic
Relative to who? Maybe the Bauhaus... Not relative to the Greeks, whose lettering was much more "loose" (and small) not least because they inscribed a lot more actual text: content, versus form. Greek lettering could even be called "sloppy"; as Catich points out a lot of times the strokes were single strikes of the chisel (and that's why they were more angular)! And take the famed Dipylon vase: is that ugly lettering or what?! Roman lettering is absolutist, Greek` pragmatic (that's a bit of Armenian punctuation there, sorry :-). And if you look at the example I posted, you can see the increase in severity, rigidity. This is exaclty absolutism at play. And OF COURSE I'm generalizing! Why? That's how the human brain works guys.
Furthermore, it's comforting to see pragmatism alive and well in contemporary Greece. Take the drive between Halkidiki to Thessaloniki, and note how many lanes the highway has in each direction along most of its distance: one and a half ! And when you drive either a bit fast or a bit slow (something Greeks are liable to do) you realize the supreme pragmatic elegance of that solution. Can you imagine that in modern-day Ancient Rome, Western Europe?! They would simply keel over from the -human- complexity!
OK. And I agree on the latinizing of some Greek inscriptions; Greek was originally so different partly because it had no baseline or cap-height along which serifs would make sense. But for the Romans the severe and rigid style was just one option, and one much less commonly chosen than others like rustic caps, which were anything but severe. And Sparta won in Greece at least.
While we're on the subject of history and language, one of my favorite words in grad school was "letteriturizazione," or "literaturization," referring to the transformation of rhetoric from an oral trade to a written discipline. Wonder how typography fits in there...?
Another fun word, and getting way off topic: "apocolocyntosis," or "pumpkinification." Title of a play by Seneca about the aftermath of Claudius' death.
> Greek was originally so different
While I see the Roman as different, in effect breaking from the Ancient world.
And you've actually pointed out the most clear case of absolutism in the transition between the scripts: Everything Must Fit Between The Lines. The tail of the "Q"? Vestigal pragmatism; to be eventually dispensed with by the descendants of Rome.
> for the Romans the severe and rigid style was just one option
While tellingly the Ancient Greeks didn't even have that at all.
> Sparta won in Greece at least.
What? Athens survived Sparta. Sparta was felled by
disease (some say due to weakened genes resulting
from inbreeding) if I'm not mistaken.
What's all this about absolutism and pragmatism?
Yin/Yang, baby. Display/Text, Deliberation/Immersion,
Legibility/Readability, Expression/Servitude, Body/Mind,
Individual/Society, Fovea/Parafovea, Sans/Serif, ...
Two is everything is two.
Kenneth Clarke got a sensational first by learning to automatically contrast by threes rather than twos, thus making his exam scripts 50% more complex than they would otherwise have been.
There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think there are only two kinds of people, and those who know there aren't.
Thanks to all your suggestions, I got what I thought was a doable proposal in on time.
The proposal would take the students to Frankfurt for around three weeks, with side trips of one or a couple days to Berlin, Weimar, Dessau, and maybe other locations as well. The topic of the course will be the history of blackletter and German nationalism as a case study in constructing and projecting cultural identity in a multicultural world.
I want the typography to give students a window into the nature of cultural identity and nationalist (and eventually totalitarian) movements, how large political questions get fought out in venues that people (including direct participants) might not immediately identify as "political," and how our ideas about design, technology, and standards of clarity and communication are tangled up with political and cultural assumptions.
The committee reviewing the proposals will announce their decisions early next month. In the meantime, I'll be piecing together information about locations and resources to start a preliminary itinerary, in case my proposal is accepted.
In that case, I'll post the final proposal for your criticism and ideas. In the meantime, if you're within an easy day's journey of Frankfurt (we'd come to you) and would like to speak to these students about what you know: about the history of typography, about German nationalism, about any of the specific relevant periods of history mentioned in the discussion--or introduce them to resources to which you have access, or can put me in touch with such folks--as always, I'd appreciate hearing about it, on- or off-list.
I didn't mention this in my e-mail to you, but depending on when your students will be in the area, announce your presence early enough and the Typostammtisch will schedule one of its meetings while you are in town.
Good luck! I hope it passes. No matter how you slice it, it sounds like a great trip and a great opportunity for your students!
50% more complex
Surely, three times as complex?
Yes, if you allow for three generations of contrasts made.
> Those who think there are only two kinds of people
Actually, I know that I don't know. :-)
I'm a Gorgias boy deep down.
>so I have to narrow it down pretty severely.
Assuming that your course is tuned to the western hemisphere, I would choose the universal, cyclical and individually relevant topics: the struggle against religious monopoly, which you know about and can study at the Plantijn-Moretus; the struggle against political monopoly, I don't know what's at the Bauhaus, but there is certainly a wealth of written material about the Nazis and type; and the struggle against technological monopoly, which though considerably less dangerous to type folk than the previous two, is current and fresh enough to see wherever the court of the eternal Europe vs. Microsoft suit is being tried, and on any windows OS.
The interesting thing to me about this program is that if you want to move it around the world, from W. Europe, to what we call the Middle East, or to the the Far East, you can find the same three struggle topics, but the cast changes in the earliest two issues, religion and politics, while the third topic is of universal protagonists. There are not many books on these topics, but rather you have to find the nuggets where they've fallen in more general writings, and connect the dots yourself. There is, e.g. a single section in "Guns, Germs and Steel" that makes the point that a better title would be "Guns, Germs, Type and Steel" if he had time.
Well, after they waited far too long, I heard today from the powers that be that they aren't interested in this course. Bummer. Adding further to my displeasure is that in my positon here I don't have the resources or the institutional support to follow the idea up on my own.
Thanks to everyone who responded to my initial email and request. The discussion led me to some pretty good books I hadn't discovered yet, which is one the benefits of hanging out on sites like this one. You all were very helpful, and if I have the chance to retool the proposal in the future, you may hear from me again.
Why the rejection? The gist seems to be that the idea for the course was too advanced for the student audience, and not "multicultural" enough. I did try to argue in the proposal that one aspect of multiculturalism is how people try to resist it or transcend it, but no go.
Ah, ya gotta love academe. Yes, I live there, too. The principles are often:
1. Assume the students are idiots, and treat them that way.
2. Cloak everything you do in the language of the latest pseudo-intellectual fad.
Could be you were just given a bogus rationale b/c somebody didn't want the money spent that way. Bogus rationales for short-sightedness and small-mindedness are what university administrations are all about!