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Description - Handwriting in America by Tamara Plakins Thornton

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.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780300074413
ISBN-10: 0300074417
Format: Paperback
(228mm x 152mm x 15mm)
Pages: 264
Imprint: Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publish Date: 25-May-1998
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions - Handwriting in America by Tamara Plakins Thornton

Book Reviews - Handwriting in America by Tamara Plakins Thornton

US Kirkus Review » A scholarly stroll through handwriting styles - the good, the bad, and the illegible - and how much we read into them. Thornton's (History/State Univ. of New York, Buffalo) focus is more on social trends and pedagogic approaches than individual practice. She begins her history in the 17th century, when gender, profession, and social standing dictated one's writing style(s) (indeed, what lady would write like a clerk?). Platt Rogers Spencer, creator of the 19th-century Spencerian style, showed himself a child of the Romantic age by looking to "the sublime and beautiful in nature" for the "true imagery of writing." Consistent with that period's new sense of the uniqueness of the individual was a corresponding sense of the uniqueness of handwriting, at least of important people. The masses were merely expected to copy what was put before them. The way the rest of us wrote didn't attract interest until later in the century, when graphologists sought a "scientific" approach to interpreting handwriting as a way of plumbing character. One might consult a graphologist to size up a prospective spouse, assess an employee, or even search for the hint of something that made oneself seem a little special in the Gilded Age's increasingly impersonal society. By the end of the century, Austin Norman Palmer, attuned to the period's "rush of business," was winning converts to his plainer writing style, the very one gracing many of our own classroom walls. To progressive-era pedagogues, especially those seeing people as "bundles of neuromuscular connections" and education as the process of training them, the Palmer writing method was a kind of precision student drill, offering a way to control the disorderly and Americanize the immigrant. As computer fonts begin to displace script, we look again to handwriting to express self, tinkering with calligraphy and toting ostentatiously pricey fountain pens. A history of the ordinary that should pique the interest of nonspecialists. (Kirkus Reviews)

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