Northwestern Events Calendar


"The Pixel and the Tessera: Towards a Theory of Graphic Resolution"

When: Monday, October 21, 2019
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM Central

Where: University Hall, Hagstrum - 201, 1897 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: FREE

Contact: Janet Hundrieser   (847) 491-3525

Group: Science in Human Culture Program - Klopsteg Lecture Series

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Speaker -Thomas Mullaney, Stanford University, History,

Abstract - What is resolution? What is low resolution versus high resolution, and what determines the boundary between them? Why, in the history of industrial-scale textual production, has resolution favored certain writing systems over others, none more privileged than the Latin alphabet, and none more disadvantaged than Chinese? In this talk, Stanford historian and Guggenheim fellow Thomas S. Mullaney outlines a theory of resolution that seeks to address these and related questions. He focuses on two genealogies of resolution, one derived from weaving and the other from mosaic art. Both genealogies operated in a shared condition of scarcity, operating within an economy of detail that is always limited as compared to the texts or graphics they seek to render, and yet each genealogy has achieved these ends in radically different ways. In the framework of weaving, a preexisting mesh determines the shape and size of the cells, establishing a uniformity that can be traced through to movable type and the modern-day pixel. In the mosaic framework, however, the cells determine the ultimate shape of the mesh, insofar as artisans are able to cut and arrange tesserae (tile, glass, ivory, or otherwise) according to the sizes, shapes, and orientations they need or desire. Mullaney will argue that, although current understandings and practices of resolution are almost entirely dependent on the weaving genealogy, only when we attend to both genealogies can we begin to understand the "politics of the pixel," and the reasons why industrial-age textual production has exhibited such profound asymmetries and inequalities when dealing with the world's different orthographic traditions.


Thomas S. Mullaney is Professor of Chinese History at Stanford University, a Guggenheim Fellow, and Curator of the international exhibition, Radical Machines: Chinese in the Information Age.

He is the author and editor of 7 books and special issues.

His writings have appeared in the Journal of Asian Studies, Technology & Culture, Aeon, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy, and his work has been featured in the LA Times, The Atlantic, the BBC, and in invited lectures at Google, Microsoft, Adobe, and more. He holds a PhD from Columbia University.

His most recent book, The Chinese Typewriter, winner of the 2019 John K. Fairbank Prize, examines China’s development of a modern, nonalphabetic information infrastructure encompassing telegraphy, typewriting, word processing, and computing. This project has received three major awards and fellowships, including the 2013 Usher Prize, a three-year National Science Foundation fellowship, and a Hellman Faculty Fellowship.

He directs Digital Humanities Asia (DHAsia), a program at Stanford University focused on East, South, Southeast, and Inner/Central Asia. DHAsia was recently the recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar fellowship.

He is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dissertation Reviews, which publishes more than 500 reviews annually of recently defended dissertations in nearly 30 different fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

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