The first cultural history of early modern cryptography, this collection brings together scholars in history, literature, music, the arts, mathematics, and computer science who study ciphering and deciphering from new materialist, media studies, cognitive studies, disability studies, and other theoretical perspectives. Essays analyze the material forms of ciphering as windows into the cultures of orality, manuscript, print, and publishing, revealing that early modern ciphering, and the complex history that preceded it in the medieval period, not only influenced political and military history but also played a central role in the emergence of the capitalist media state in the West, in religious reformation, and in the scientific revolution. Ciphered communication, whether in etched stone and bone, in musical notae, runic symbols, polyalphabetic substitution, algebraic equations, graphic typographies, or literary metaphors, took place in contested social spaces and offered a means of expression during times of political, economic, and personal upheaval. Ciphering shaped the early history of linguistics as a discipline, and it bridged theological and scientific rhetoric before and during the Reformation. Ciphering was an occult art, a mathematic language, and an aesthetic that influenced music, sculpture, painting, drama, poetry, and the early novel. This collection addresses gaps in cryptographic history, but more significantly, through cultural analyses of the rhetorical situations of ciphering and actual solved and unsolved medieval and early modern ciphers, it traces the influences of cryptographic writing and reading on literacy broadly defined as well as the cultures that generate, resist, and require that literacy. This volume offers a significant contribution to the history of the book, highlighting the broader cultural significance of textual materialities.

chapter |29 pages


Ciphers and the Material History of Literacy
ByKatherine Ellison, Susan Kim

chapter 1|18 pages

Medieval Musical Notes as Cryptography

ByElsa De Luca, John Haines

chapter 2|17 pages

Keeping History

Images, Texts, Ciphers, and the Franks Casket
BySusan Kim, Asa Simon Mittman

chapter 3|15 pages

Anglo-Saxon Ciphers

ByStephen J. Harris

chapter 4|15 pages

The Cryptographic Imagination

Revealing and Concealing in Anglo-Saxon Literature
ByE.J. Christie

chapter 5|23 pages

The Printing Press and Cryptography

Alberti and the Dawn of a Notational Epoch
ByQuinn DuPont

chapter 6|19 pages

“That You Are Both Decipher’d”

Revealing Espionage and Staging Written Evidence in Early Modern England
ByLisa M. Barksdale-Shaw

chapter 7|24 pages

Out of “Their Covert of Words”

Cipher and Secrecy in the Writing of Early Modern Algebra
ByLisa Wilde

chapter 8|19 pages

Limited by Their Letters

Alphabets, Codes, and Gesture in Seventeenth-Century England
ByMichael C. Clody

chapter 9|28 pages

Deciphering and the Exhaustion of Recombination

ByKatherine Ellison

chapter 10|15 pages

“What I Write I Do Not See”

Reading and Writing with Invisible Ink
ByKaren Britland

chapter 11|18 pages

Real-Life Cryptology

Enciphering Practice in Early Modern Hungary 1
ByBenedek Láng

chapter 12|25 pages


The Critical Legacy of Medieval and Early Modern Cryptography before and after World War I
ByKatherine Ellison, Susan Kim