Date of Graduation
This dissertation traces the history of the discursive construction of the alphabetic letter in English. Perceived by Anglo-Saxon literati as the â€œatomicâ€ unit of text, and the â€œcustodian of history,â€ individual letters were imbued with essential existence that ranked them, like numbers and physical atoms, as fundamental units of matter. In later technological remediations of Anglo-Saxon texts, like the Early Modern production of AElfric's â€œEaster Sermonâ€ using specially made Anglo-Saxon typefaces, or the digital facsimile of the Beowulf manuscript similar transhistorical properties are imputed to the letter. In the first case, the form of Anglo-Saxon letters becomes the locus of a nationalist identification with a pure English past, while in the second case the letter becomes the focus of a technological recovery of the authentic text of the poem. Examining Old English representations of the letter in grammatical and literary texts, the role of typography in work of Early Modern Anglo-Saxonists, and the development of typographical and photographical â€œways of seeingâ€ in the twentieth century, this dissertation argues that, despite the technological and historical differences in these situations, they nonetheless reveal a strikingly parallel perception of the letter as technology that provides unmediated access to history.
Christie, Edward J., "Quid est littera? The materiality of the letter and the presence of the past from Alcuin of York to the "Electronic Beowulf"." (2003). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 8632.