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In the digital age of instant communication, handwriting is less necessary than ever before, and indeed fewer and fewer schoolchildren are being taught how to write in cursive. Signatures--far from John Hancock's elegant model--have become scrawls. In her recent and widely discussed and debated essays, Anne Trubek argues that the decline and even elimination of handwriting In the digital age of instant communication, handwriting is less necessary than ever before, and indeed fewer and fewer schoolchildren are being taught how to write in cursive. Signatures--far from John Hancock's elegant model--have become scrawls. In her recent and widely discussed and debated essays, Anne Trubek argues that the decline and even elimination of handwriting from daily life does not signal a decline in civilization, but rather the next stage in the evolution of communication. Now, in The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, Trubek uncovers the long and significant impact handwriting has had on culture and humanity--from the first recorded handwriting on the clay tablets of the Sumerians some four thousand years ago and the invention of the alphabet as we know it, to the rising value of handwritten manuscripts today. Each innovation over the millennia has threatened existing standards and entrenched interests: Indeed, in ancient Athens, Socrates and his followers decried the very use of handwriting, claiming memory would be destroyed; while Gutenberg's printing press ultimately overturned the livelihood of the monks who created books in the pre-printing era. And yet new methods of writing and communication have always appeared. Establishing a novel link between our deep past and emerging future, Anne Trubek offers a colorful lens through which to view our shared social experience.


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In the digital age of instant communication, handwriting is less necessary than ever before, and indeed fewer and fewer schoolchildren are being taught how to write in cursive. Signatures--far from John Hancock's elegant model--have become scrawls. In her recent and widely discussed and debated essays, Anne Trubek argues that the decline and even elimination of handwriting In the digital age of instant communication, handwriting is less necessary than ever before, and indeed fewer and fewer schoolchildren are being taught how to write in cursive. Signatures--far from John Hancock's elegant model--have become scrawls. In her recent and widely discussed and debated essays, Anne Trubek argues that the decline and even elimination of handwriting from daily life does not signal a decline in civilization, but rather the next stage in the evolution of communication. Now, in The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, Trubek uncovers the long and significant impact handwriting has had on culture and humanity--from the first recorded handwriting on the clay tablets of the Sumerians some four thousand years ago and the invention of the alphabet as we know it, to the rising value of handwritten manuscripts today. Each innovation over the millennia has threatened existing standards and entrenched interests: Indeed, in ancient Athens, Socrates and his followers decried the very use of handwriting, claiming memory would be destroyed; while Gutenberg's printing press ultimately overturned the livelihood of the monks who created books in the pre-printing era. And yet new methods of writing and communication have always appeared. Establishing a novel link between our deep past and emerging future, Anne Trubek offers a colorful lens through which to view our shared social experience.

30 review for The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I'm disappointed I bought this book, which I found both narrow and unfocused. On one hand, the author seems to readily wander off-topic. For example, after describing a project to transcribe handwritten historical documents, she devotes equal space to the NYPL project to transcribe menus--which aren't handwritten anyway. She also talks equally irrelevantly about how computer analysis confirmed J.K. Rowling as the author of Robert Galbraith's "first novel." It's unclear whether she wants to discu I'm disappointed I bought this book, which I found both narrow and unfocused. On one hand, the author seems to readily wander off-topic. For example, after describing a project to transcribe handwritten historical documents, she devotes equal space to the NYPL project to transcribe menus--which aren't handwritten anyway. She also talks equally irrelevantly about how computer analysis confirmed J.K. Rowling as the author of Robert Galbraith's "first novel." It's unclear whether she wants to discuss handwriting on its own merits or handwriting as its role has changed due to various competing methods over the history of communication; this leads to tepid presentations about the oral tradition or the invention of printing and typewriters. And yet, on the other hand, she leaves out all kinds of things I thought would be covered here, especially non-Western writing traditions and the actual hands (i.e. fonts) used by early modern secretaries and correspondents (mentioned only in passing). She doesn't even cover the contemporary teaching of writing very thoroughly--I'm no closer to knowing what D'Nealian is than when I started. On top of that, the book contains some brow-furrowing missteps. "Hieroglyphs were used for formal purposes: writing on diplomas and wedding invitations, for example," we read, leaving it unclear whether the author is actually glossing the word "formal" or believes the Egyptians wanted us to choose between the chicken and the fish. "Monks were not allowed candles to keep them warm, for fear of fire," a statement that raises questions about, well, the nature of fire. And, as one final example, "There is no convincing empirical evidence that handwriting is cognitively superior to keyboarding"--but maybe the book went to press before this widely publicized study was released, which would be too bad. So, this book made me impatient, which isn't to say it might not find its readers. If you follow my reviews you know that I read a lot of books about the history of printing and whatnot. If you don't this book may contain a more satisfying ratio of new facts and interpretations to digressions.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek   After a slow couple of months my reading has picked up again: I'm finishing more, and I'm enjoying what I'm reading. The sad aspect of this is that I keep finishing books that I want everyone else to pick up, and mostly no one does. This is an exception. It belongs on the odd shelf I don't have specifically, but can't resist reading from, called "History of a Thing". While it isn't funny exactly, there is a lightness of tone that mak The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek   After a slow couple of months my reading has picked up again: I'm finishing more, and I'm enjoying what I'm reading. The sad aspect of this is that I keep finishing books that I want everyone else to pick up, and mostly no one does. This is an exception. It belongs on the odd shelf I don't have specifically, but can't resist reading from, called "History of a Thing". While it isn't funny exactly, there is a lightness of tone that makes this a pleasant break from heavier reading, like say, about Nixon and Mao, to pick a topic out of thin air and not off the cover of another book lying around the house. It's fascinating to learn at some depth about a very narrow topic. Not surprisingly, this book is a distillation of a topic Trubek has been teaching in college for years. Specialization is awesome: I've never thought about all the different kinds of writing together until now. I love this post-book feeling of erudition. Two days after I finished the book I can't recall anything specific that I learned, which isn't really the point. I've grasped the gestalt. I've placed my own flirtation with calligraphy (highly recommended as a means to achieving a legible handwriting) into the appropriate context. There are a number of people worried about the fact that schools aren't teaching cursive. I'm not bothered. I've done my share of handwriting and it hurts and it's slow, and I'm one of only two people I know who can write a cursive others can read. Admittedly, the time spent learning keyboarding will no doubt also become wasted time at some point in the Offspring's lives, in favor of something newer and easier for more people. That's fine. Favorite bit: seeing all the different types of clerks/scribes/copyists there were a fairly short time ago. Poor Bartleby and Bob Cratchit! Library copy

  3. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    It upsets me to no end that schools are dropping cursive writing. I personally still enjoy writing notes and letters. And I enjoy looking for writing paper and pens. Too bad my penmanship is not as graceful as I'd like. Anyhow, the title of this book caught my eye. It wasn't what I expected...I was hoping for a nice forceful argument on how and why it's important. But the author did write a thorough history from the earliest inscriptions on rocks and clay, to the monks copying, typewriters, the It upsets me to no end that schools are dropping cursive writing. I personally still enjoy writing notes and letters. And I enjoy looking for writing paper and pens. Too bad my penmanship is not as graceful as I'd like. Anyhow, the title of this book caught my eye. It wasn't what I expected...I was hoping for a nice forceful argument on how and why it's important. But the author did write a thorough history from the earliest inscriptions on rocks and clay, to the monks copying, typewriters, the development of cursive and even the science of handwriting. All quite interesting. When I did finish the book. My computer was out for repair. I made myself upset at the realization I was unable to "TYPE" thoughts about the book! How do you like that....I was and am dependent on the darn keyboard!! :) I did make a note to check out National Handwriting Day (January 23rd) and may check out books on the Palmer Method. I wonder if it's not to late to improve my handwriting.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ietrio

    The present is ****, and remember the good old times. Another loser that might have been a great person if only...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This was a really enjoyable set of interconnected essays covering the history of writing [by hand] in the West, with somewhat of a focus on the USA. In a broad sense, the author is trying to explain what historical phases the Western world has gone through with "writing", and she looks at the move away from teaching cursive long-hand as merely another technological shift in a long series of transitions. I suppose the controversy is neither more nor less than what one would expect when various fa This was a really enjoyable set of interconnected essays covering the history of writing [by hand] in the West, with somewhat of a focus on the USA. In a broad sense, the author is trying to explain what historical phases the Western world has gone through with "writing", and she looks at the move away from teaching cursive long-hand as merely another technological shift in a long series of transitions. I suppose the controversy is neither more nor less than what one would expect when various factions of society interact; some trying to protect or preserve tradition while some others press forward to embrace newer technologies. A few of the chapters seem more whimsically or tangentially related to the core topic than others, but all of them are interesting. Overall, this felt to me like it's supposed to be an accessible and light-hearted treatment, not a hard-core academic tome for experts. The author has long taught a course on "Technologies of Writing: From Plato to the Digital Age", which I totally would have taken if I were a student at Oberlin. I read the e-book of this, and spontaneously laughed out loud when I got to the index, which has links back into the main book text, but instead of indicating page numbers, each of the links is named "here". The book contains several appropriate color plates. There seems to be one (obvious) typo in the Conclusion chapter, and another typo in the notes to Chapter 9, but I'll leave finding them as exercises for the reader.

  6. 4 out of 5

    E. Kahn

    A better title for this book would be "Development of Vocational Penmanship in the United States of America 1850-1978." It contains some complete howlers (no, the Greeks did not invent the alphabet) and what little discussion there is of script before the American Revolution or outside the USA is worse than useless. You'll be better served by reading the Wikipedia articles.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Reviewed together: The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek and The Missing Ink, the Lost Art of Handwriting (and Why It Still Matters) by Philip Henshaw, see https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/04/07/t... Reviewed together: The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek and The Missing Ink, the Lost Art of Handwriting (and Why It Still Matters) by Philip Henshaw, see https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/04/07/t...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    Not scholarly or comprehensive but quite engaging, informative, and insightful.

  9. 5 out of 5

    James Crabtree

    An interesting book, Handwriting talks about the first forms of writing and how it evolved into the cursive style we use today. Ms. Trubek's writing style is good and she discusses some of the ideas and opinions people have about handwriting in an age when the computer and the internet seems to be making it obsolete. She does a great job of explaining how lower case and upper case letters evolved and the creation of illuminated manuscripts. Overall, very enjoyable.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    Absolutely scathing review on my blog.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Neil Pierson

    In the late 1990s, our daughter, who was then in middle school, asked me why schools taught cursive writing. It wasn't something I had ever questioned. To me, it was just part of a normal, elementary education. I did my best to answer her ("Do your homework and shut up."), but the question hasn't gone away. In fact, schools are gradually moving away from teaching longhand. Instead, children are learning keyboarding at a younger age. Young children still learn to print, and my daughter's "handwrit In the late 1990s, our daughter, who was then in middle school, asked me why schools taught cursive writing. It wasn't something I had ever questioned. To me, it was just part of a normal, elementary education. I did my best to answer her ("Do your homework and shut up."), but the question hasn't gone away. In fact, schools are gradually moving away from teaching longhand. Instead, children are learning keyboarding at a younger age. Young children still learn to print, and my daughter's "handwriting" is a modified form of printing. Is this frightening? Are we moving toward a society where no one is able to write or to read cursive writing? This book answers those questions by tracing the history of handwriting with lots of anecdotes and hand-wringing quotes. In fact, many, many written scripts have come and gone since the Sumerians developed symbols for words. Socrates thought writing was just a crutch for people who were poor at memorization. Later, people thought handwriting was doomed when the Gutenberg Bible was published, when typewriters became popular, and so on. Actually, what we fear losing is our ability to draw conclusions about the writer from the handwriting. Over the years, writing has been an indicator of religion, social class, wealth, and occupation. More recently, it has been considered a clue to character and intellect. (Neat handwriting demonstrates a well-ordered mind? Doctors and other really smart people have terrible handwriting?) In straightforward prose that feels like bullets being fired, the author disposes of these associations. While an expert may be able to tell if two samples were written by the same person, there is almost no evidence that we can determine anything about a person's character from his/her writing. In fact, machine-produced text may eliminate a source of prejudice. So yes, cursive writing probably is fading away, and schools will continue to drop it from their curricula. But it's unlikely to disappear completely. (For one thing, letters from jail are always hand written. And there will always be interest in lettering and calligraphy for personal expression as a form of art.) Elementary schools are going to have to find something other than the Palmer Method to tape above the blackboard, though. Excuse me, the whiteboard.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    Handwriting is something we seldom think about. Nevertheless it is an indication of who we are. In this brief treatment of aspects of handwriting, Trubek offers some very insightful observations. She begins with cuneiform, which is the earliest regular handwriting. Quite often non-specialists don't realize that handwriting is evident in cuneiform for those who spend a long time with it. Even poking wedges into clay can convey individuality. Becoming a scribe was hard, but lucrative work in antiq Handwriting is something we seldom think about. Nevertheless it is an indication of who we are. In this brief treatment of aspects of handwriting, Trubek offers some very insightful observations. She begins with cuneiform, which is the earliest regular handwriting. Quite often non-specialists don't realize that handwriting is evident in cuneiform for those who spend a long time with it. Even poking wedges into clay can convey individuality. Becoming a scribe was hard, but lucrative work in antiquity. One would preserve one's imprint, as it were. Moving on to the Romans and then the Middle Ages, fonts become an issue. Writing was in all caps for the longest time. Only approved fonts were used. Even here, copyists and scribes found ways of asserting their individuality. The description of the development of the major fonts is very interesting. I learned a great deal in this section of the book. Moveable type did not murder handwriting. Those who practiced penmanship, in fact, became great stylists. Some of us remember learning some of these cursive techniques in grade school. I still recall being told to make the motions with my arm, not my hand and wrist. Selective, yes, but Trubek's account here is fascinating and informative. She ends up by discussing keyboarding. Individuality has had to shift to the way a person expresses her or himself in words, rather than the form of words. Or so it would seem. Trubek does not believe handwriting is at an end. Nor individuality. Some of the rest of us worry, however. Something has indeed been lost in this age of cheap and easy words. This is a fun book and I wrote a bit more about it here: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alysa

    As an artist who studied typography at school and a mother of three children who have not been taught cursive at school I kind of hated this book. She lost me at “So should Ellie learn cursive? Probably not. It will only really prepare Ellie for third grade, not life.” Studies DO show that handwriting helps you retain information better than typing. I have seen younger students in courses I have taken struggle to take notes quickly or be able to read what other students have written on the board. As an artist who studied typography at school and a mother of three children who have not been taught cursive at school I kind of hated this book. She lost me at “So should Ellie learn cursive? Probably not. It will only really prepare Ellie for third grade, not life.” Studies DO show that handwriting helps you retain information better than typing. I have seen younger students in courses I have taken struggle to take notes quickly or be able to read what other students have written on the board. My daughter’s high school teachers all still write cursive notes on the board as well. Children learn so many things that might not be useful in later life, why not learn something that will make their lives better and allow them to create art in their day to day existence? No knowledge is wasted. I’d rather have them learn cursive than watch a Disney movie on a rained our recess. I taught all my kids cursive myself, I felt it was a way for kids who don’t know how to do so to be discriminated against. The author clearly has experience with this with her own son and I do feel badly for her about that but as someone whose kids did not learn this in school, I’m here to say that not learning how to write in cursive will not make this discrimination go away. I have a passion for this subject and was disappointed in the book. It seems strange for someone with a seeming contempt of handwriting to have written a history of it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Deirdre

    I was enjoying this until I hit p.50 "The most beautiful of these hands may well be Insular, developed in Ireland by Saint Patrick, who had learned half-uncial in Europe and brought it to Ireland in the latter half of the fifth century." the small postits came out and there's a "citation please" note on it. Because, even though she annotates almost everything else this one came out of nowhere.  Having studied Early Irish Script in college this is unfounded.  Patrick brought Christianity and Lat I was enjoying this until I hit p.50 "The most beautiful of these hands may well be Insular, developed in Ireland by Saint Patrick, who had learned half-uncial in Europe and brought it to Ireland in the latter half of the fifth century." the small postits came out and there's a "citation please" note on it. Because, even though she annotates almost everything else this one came out of nowhere.  Having studied Early Irish Script in college this is unfounded.  Patrick brought Christianity and Latin to Ireland and from that came the Insular script; Irish scribes are also supposed to have introduced spaces and some of the common abbreviations.  Plus, while the Book of Kells is in Insular Script and resides in Ireland, common scholarship attributes it to somewhere in Scotland.   So after this I took a lot of what she said with a grain of salt. It misses the modern calligraphy revival, the proliferation of calligraphy on Pinterest, the use of pseudo calligraphy in a lot of places and the new discoveries about things like journalling by hand, like Bullet Journals and the resurgence in fountain pens.  It's an interesting read but lacks a certain amount of true depth.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I'm conflicted about writing, cursive in particular... BUT I still think it needs to taught! If for no other reason than love letters in e-mail just don't cut it...! Wait! And graffiti! Poor calligraphy! Our world would be poorer without it... I know children who are no longer being taught cursive in school, who are being taught by their parents and caregivers now. It is going to be useful in the future if only to provide well-paying jobs to interpret out writings in the future! Just think, we w I'm conflicted about writing, cursive in particular... BUT I still think it needs to taught! If for no other reason than love letters in e-mail just don't cut it...! Wait! And graffiti! Poor calligraphy! Our world would be poorer without it... I know children who are no longer being taught cursive in school, who are being taught by their parents and caregivers now. It is going to be useful in the future if only to provide well-paying jobs to interpret out writings in the future! Just think, we write a letter to a grandchild and they can't read cursive! They pay someone to read it to them. Don't think it can happen? Germany has had this problem for several decades due to their alphabet change... Every post office needed someone to translate letters, even envelope addresses for children and grandchildren, etc... who were not taught the old alphabet. But I digress, Anne Trubeck's book is a wonderful read. Very well researched, in my opinion, and well written. Love the history of writing. I suppose schools can't teach everything, but if one reads, their education continues. And handwriting may well come to an end, but I think it would be sad. Great book!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting introduces the topic in a second grade class with a student who writes with a pencil or with a computer. She has mastered printing by hand; next year she will be taught cursive, but why? Other than for her signature, will she ever use cursive handwriting outside of school? From cuneiform to QWERTY, Trubek offers an interesting history with delightful episodes in handwriting analysis, document verification, and the crowd-sourced work of keying the t The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting introduces the topic in a second grade class with a student who writes with a pencil or with a computer. She has mastered printing by hand; next year she will be taught cursive, but why? Other than for her signature, will she ever use cursive handwriting outside of school? From cuneiform to QWERTY, Trubek offers an interesting history with delightful episodes in handwriting analysis, document verification, and the crowd-sourced work of keying the texts of digital manuscripts.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fred Fisher

    This book was not what I expected when I picked it up from the "Too Good to Miss" table at the library. I expected to be a diatribe against the loss of cursive writing. It's not that at all. It is the history of writing from Cuniform to texting. A fascinating overview of how writing developed in the west and how it related to society. I found it quite fascinating. The author talks about how each form goes about recording our thoughts and the attempts to make it more easy to capture to capture ou This book was not what I expected when I picked it up from the "Too Good to Miss" table at the library. I expected to be a diatribe against the loss of cursive writing. It's not that at all. It is the history of writing from Cuniform to texting. A fascinating overview of how writing developed in the west and how it related to society. I found it quite fascinating. The author talks about how each form goes about recording our thoughts and the attempts to make it more easy to capture to capture our thoughts.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andi

    Although I disagree with the author's final analysis on whether handwriting should continue to be a part of a whole education, this book ventures into interesting territory before those final highly and personally specific statements are made. The history of handwriting is not as droll a subject as one might presume. On the contrary, it was most interesting, and the correlations between past and present civilizations are fascinating. This book is both succinct at a mere 154 pages and brimming fu Although I disagree with the author's final analysis on whether handwriting should continue to be a part of a whole education, this book ventures into interesting territory before those final highly and personally specific statements are made. The history of handwriting is not as droll a subject as one might presume. On the contrary, it was most interesting, and the correlations between past and present civilizations are fascinating. This book is both succinct at a mere 154 pages and brimming full of history and contemporary analysis.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey McAllister

    Pretty neat! This book throws some cool historical and scientific surprises at common assumptions about handwriting, more recent text-driven communication techniques, and even human language and cognition. Spoiler-free samples include: the Egyptians were even cooler than you knew, John Hancock's birthday, and the different neural pathways wired by different ways and means of language transcription.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    A nice look at the history of "writing" -- using quotes because all varieties of textual marking and impressions seem to be covered. I appreciated the split between contextual footnotes and citations relegated to endnotes. My take-away: An evolution of "writing" experience could make for a good educational (school) project. (I do hope the falsehoods of historical fact called out by other reviewers are, somehow, a matter of opinion and not a failure of research/editor's fact checking.)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This was interesting, although perhaps a bit muddled at points (still a quick read). I write in cursive, and people are often confused by it, so I really identified with a lot of what the author talked about. I also was so unaware of just how many different types of scripts there were. I wish there had been more time spent on the development of writing, but overall a really interesting look at the history and future of writing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This book is a brief and entertaining survey of the history of the written word and of handwriting which provides a starting point for pursuing further study of some topics that were particularly interesting. I would have appreciated in-chapter pictures to help aid in understanding of the languages and styles described.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Linda "The Book Lady" Warner

    It is sad to see handwriting going away. It is fun to read old letters from my mom and my grandma both gone from this earth. My grandchildren will not be able to read them. I like the history Trubek went through. as a genealogist, I appreciate handwriting since old census records are all handwritten.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    A brief (Considering 3000 B.C.E.to present) history of writing including technology, reasons and views of the changes that have happened in our past to what is currently happening. It brings up both sides of the debate on whether handwriting is in our future. Packed with information, this book is a fun read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Charles Dull

    This was an intriguing exploration of handwriting. Being ever the poor penman as noted by parent and school the book provides insight and history on connections between penmanship beliefs and historical context.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    The perfect length, and oddly funny at times, I enjoyed Trubeck's writing style. She doesn't go crazy with jargon which is great for a curious layman reader but also informative enough for an interested academic with little time to read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    actually pretty interesting! could have been more focused, and used a bit more detail in some areas and less in others, but despite any unevenness it covers a lot in a short span and is very balanced in its assessment of writing as a technology. 3.5 rounded up to 4.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karl

    Certainly not exhaustive, but a quick enough read to feel a little informed and a little entertained. I gotta believe this book would benefit from more visual aides, and the focus does wander off a bit in the final 3rd but overall it's an enjoyable, if not hugely recommendable, few hours.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sheila Dee

    A good summer read. A review of the history of written communication provides needed context for the today's decline in handwriting. We have been here before. Technology changes, and we adapt.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Anne Trubek writes a creative review of Handwriting. I like her sense of humor

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