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Radical Machines: Chinese Computing and the Future of Writing

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DePaul McGowan South 108

1110 W Belden Ave

Chicago, IL 60614

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Event Agenda:

5:00-5:30pm Registration

5:30-6:45pm Lecture, Q&A

6:45-7:30pm Reception

Lecture Sketch:

Whether in terms of keyboards, screens, printers, encoding schemes, optical character recognition algorithms, or otherwise, Chinese script has constantly pushed to the world of computing far beyond its familiar alphabetic ecologies. Early in the history of computing, Western engineers determined that a 5 x 7 dot matrix grid offered sufficient resolution to print legible Latin alphabetic letters. To do the same for Chinese - a writing system with no alphabet, and whose graphemes present greater structural nuance, variation, and complexity - required engineers to expand this grid to no less than 18 x 22. In the 1960s, the development team behind ASCII (the American Standard Code for Information Interchange) determined that a 7-bit coding scheme and its 128 addresses offered sufficient space for all of the letters of the Latin alphabet, along with numerals and key analphabetic symbols and functions. Chinese characters, by comparison, in theory demanded no less than 16-bit architecture to handle its more than 70,000 characters. And of course, long ago Western computer engineers piggy-backed on the preexisting typewriter keyboard, using the two-dimensional SHIFT key to toggle between lower and uppercase letters. By comparison, Chinese keyboard designers from the 1970s onward experimented with what might be termed “hyper-SHIFT” - 15-level SHIFT keys which transformed “flat” touchpad surfaces into hyper-dimensional Chinese character interfaces. In this talk, Thomas S. Mullaney charts out the ecologies of Chinese computing, an unfamiliar terrain that remains unmapped despite China’s present-day status as a global I.T. powerhouse.

Speaker Bio:

Thomas S. Mullaney is Associate Professor of Chinese History at Stanford University, and Curator of the international exhibition, Radical Machines: Chinese in the Information Age. He is the author of The Chinese Typewriter: A History (MIT Press 2017), Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (UC Press, 2010), and principal editor of Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation and Identity of China’s Majority (UC Press, 2011). 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 new book, The Chinese Typewriter, 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. The sequel to this work – The Chinese Computer: A Global History of the Information Age – will be released on MIT Press later, and will be featured in the Weatherhead Asian Series.

He also 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.

Co-sponsors:

DePaul Studio Chi

DePaul Department of History

DePaul Department of Modern Languages-Chinese Studies Program

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DePaul McGowan South 108

1110 W Belden Ave

Chicago, IL 60614

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