CLASS DESCRIPTION
Discover the fascinating history of the written word—its invention, transmission from culture to culture, and its evolution. Learn the methodology of deciphering ancient scripts and languages and get a chance to crack some of the world’s most famous undeciphered scripts.

OUR APPROACH TO HISTORY
Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn history best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS
1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be in working order and turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Therefore, the minimum required age to register is 13 years. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

CLASS FORMAT
This class is designed to include lots of interaction and discussion.

[A lot of interaction in classes with more than 6 students can cause students’ computers to freeze and the video call to be dropped. Therefore, the class interaction level will be modified in classes with 6+ students because of the Zoom limitations. Larger classes will be taught in the format of an engaging lecture with moderate interaction.]

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-17

WEEK 1 – MESSAGE & MEDIUM
-Whether on papyrus, bamboo, clay, stone, or wood, writing shows an important relationship between medium and message. Explore the influence media have had on writing’s shape, direction, and use.
-Introduction to the five preconditions or “pillars” necessary for decipherment to be possible, paying particular attention to the first pillar, known as script type. Then we will turn to the typology of the three main categories of signs found across the world (logograms, phonograms, and semantic signs) and consider how these signs are combined in different writing systems.
-Runic Alphabet- Runes are often mistakenly thought to be a semi-magical system of signs used for divination and ritual, but nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the real history of the Runic alphabet—also known as the Fuþark. Explore its possible connection to Ogham.

WEEK 2 –THE ORIGINS & DEVELOPMENT OF WRITING
-Explore three popular beliefs or myths about where writing comes from and how it developed. Investigate the theories of monogenesis versus polygenesis (whether writing was only invented once or independently in locations around the world) and the reasons writing systems are resistant to change.
-Learn about the ancient practice of Turkish tamgas used for marking property and livestock and its use as a writing system.
-Learn about the Vinca signs that may be the oldest proto-European script.

WEEK 3 -A NECESSARY CORPUS
-Consider how epigraphers find a broad, accurate, and readily accessible corpus to examine and why it’s important.
-Walk through methods for recording inscriptions, and contrast early and modern illustrations of the Classic Maya site of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico, to see the evolution of epigraphic illustration.
-Mayan Glyphs, a new world logo-syllabary. Focus specifically on the hand glyphs of the ancient Mayans and explore the idea of ancient sign-language. Learn about Yuri Knorosov’s decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphic writing and how living in Cold War Russia both helped and hindered his work.

WEEK 3 – THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE
-Learn how scholars known as philologists or historical linguists use the comparative method of linguistic reconstruction to compare related languages and reconstruct their shared ancestor.
-Turn to the failures of decipherment and the lessons that can be drawn from them by focusing on the attempted decipherment of two scripts (Etruscan & Meroïtic) which recorded languages with no known relatives or descendants.
-Explore Hieroglyphic Luwian, an indigenous logographic script native to central Anatolia.
-Learn about the Luwian and Phoenician bilingual texts emanating from Cilicia (modern-day Turkey.)

WEEK 4 – PROPER NOUNS & CULTURAL CONTEXT
-See how most epigraphers’ efforts begin with the recognition of proper nouns. Then meet the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, and learn how he became the source of much of our information for the cultural context of Old World writing systems.
-Cuneiform Deciphered! Meet Georg Grotefend, a German high school teacher who made an incomparable contribution to the study of ancient writing and civilization. As you investigate the methods he used to decipher Old Persian cuneiform in the Achaemenid texts of Persepolis.

WEEK 5 – BILINGUALS, BISCRIPTS, AND OTHER CONSTRAINTS
-Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt is most celebrated for its discovery of the Rosetta stone, which contains ancient Greek writing, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and demotic script. Consider this icon of decipherment as the first and most famous example of a biscript, and discover just how common such artifacts are around the world.
-Egyptian- the great decipherment! Learn to read hieroglyphs that Champollion’s efforts helped to recover from oblivion. See how you can decipher this blend of phonetic signs, logograms, and semantic signs.
-Learn about the relationship between ancient Egyptian and the modern Coptic language.

WEEK 6 – SUMERIAN AND CHINESE ORACLE BONE SCRIPT
-Learn the story of the decipherment of ancient Sumerian, an early language of ancient Mesopotamia. Delve into a bit of history on this culture’s language and the foundation that was already established for the decipherment.
-Chinese Oracle Bone Script. In continuous use for almost 3,400 years, the Chinese script and its derivatives are used by more than 1.5 billion people around the world. Examine popular myths about Chinese writing as you discover the earliest origins and evolutions of Chinese characters.
-Practice decipherment

WEEK 7 – LINEAR B, LINEAR A, AND THE CRETAN HIEROGLYPHIC SCRIPT
-Learn about Michael Ventris, the man who deciphered Linear B.
-Why are epigraphers still perplexed by many Linear B spellings? Wade into the discovery, decipherment, and contents of this intriguing ancient writing system.
-Meet Linear A, one of two currently undeciphered writing systems used in ancient Greece (the Cretan hieroglyphic script is the other).
-Practice decipherment

WEEK 8 – INDUS SCRIPT, PROTO-ELAMITE, LINEAR ELAMITE, BYBLOS SYLLABARY, SOUTHWEST PALEOHISPANIC SCRIPT, & THE SITOVO INSCRIPTION
-Despite decades of effort by many qualified epigraphers, there are still dozens of undeciphered scripts.
-Meet the writing systems still needing to be deciphered and the challenges faced in deciphering them.

Thrilled by the opportunity to teach cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers, I leapt at the opportunity to teach classes online. I enjoy old, rare books and gardening in Colorado, where even the incompetent can have beautiful roses. In addition to teaching and gardening, I remain actively involved in competitive sports, and you are cautioned not to wager against me at the ping-pong table.

I teach ancient languages, human & political world geography, history, philosophy, economics, political science …and anything else that catches my interest.

 

HAVE DOUBTS, QUESTIONS, OR SUGGESTIONS?
Feel free to send me an email at crystal@polyhistoria.com

 

Come hang out with me on Twitter for more tidbits of interesting research, linguistic curiosities, and forgotten history.