COURSE TUTOR: Prof Bill Sherman (Director and Professor of Cultural History)
The purpose of this short course will be to offer a systematic introduction to secret communication—in theory and in practice—stretching from the birth of printing to the advent of the computer. Through a combination of illustrated lectures and close examination of primary texts, we will learn how the field of cryptography was one of the great achievements of Renaissance culture. The 16th- and 17th-century books on the subject—by Johannes Trithemius, Gustavus Selenus, John Wilkins, Athanasius Kircher and others—put the study of codes and ciphers onto solid footing. And many of the technical inventions involved in encryption—including the Alberti disk, the Cardan[o] Grille, the Vigenère table and Bacon’s biliteral cipher—carry the names of leading Renaissance figures. But we will go deeper to see how the field left its mark on many aspects of Renaissance culture, including the development of diplomacy and the waging of war, the creation of a postal system, the birth of short-hand and sign-language, and the search for hidden meanings in art and literature. We will end by exploring the surprising role played by Renaissance ciphers in the making of modernity.
The course will be taught across five two-hour classes online via the Warburg Institute’s Zoom platform. Each session will have time for discussion. Reading lists will be made available to registered students.
SCHEDULE: 4-8 July 2022, 15:00-17:00
4 JULY 2022: HOW TO MAKE ANYTHING SIGNIFY ANYTHING
- An introduction to the field, its terminology and historiography
- A case study on Francis Bacon’s ‘biliteral cipher’ and its implications for the history of communication
5 JULY 2022: THE BIRTH OF THE CRYPTOGRAPHY AND THE INVENTION OF PRINTING
- A survey of the early books that made the field, with an overview of key authors, printers and subjects
- Is the fact that the beginning of the field coincides with the printing revolution mere coincidence or might there be some kind of causal relation?
6 JULY 2022: FROM CRYPTOGRAPHY TO STEGANOGRAPHY
- Key techniques involving codes and ciphers
- The art and science of steganography (which hides one message inside another)
7 JULY 2022: THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT
- The longest text in a script/language that has never been deciphered
- A survey of attempts and issues
8 JULY 2022: THE REBIRTH OF RENAISSANCE CRYPTOGRAPHY
- The influence of the pioneers on the people who relaunched the field in the 20th century
- The enduring implications of early modern cryptography on modern philosophy, iconography and technology
- Warburg Staff & Fellows / external students / unwaged £110
- SAS & LAHP-funded students £95
- Warburg Students £60 [NB: current Warburg students and offer holders for Warburg programmes starting in 2022/2023 should choose this rate]
A limited number of fee-waiver bursaries are now available. Please conplete and return a bursary form by 5pm on Monday 20 June 2022.