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CFP: Sensual Texts, Material Histories: Language in the Long Eighteenth Century (CAA, Chicago, 13–19 Feb 2020)

Writing in 1781, English antiquarian Horace Walpole reflected on the Inka custom of knotted record-keeping known as the khipu, professing himself “so pleased with the idea of knotting verses…that if I were to begin life again, I would use a shuttle instead of a pen.” Going on to explore the linguistic implications of both the khipu’s feel and scent, Walpole’s discussion draws attention to concerns over the materiality of language in the eighteenth century. Over the course of the century, a burgeoning trade in encyclopedias, scientific atlases, and technical treatises gradually reordered the unruly logic of physical experience into a more systematized and largely textual form. In this context, the sensory capacity of language came increasingly under scrutiny. While a growing body of literature has sought to investigate this problem through the images that often accompany such texts, this panel explores the material form of the text itself. How did individual letter forms function as repositories of material knowledge? What can a material history of the word tell us about the relationship between language’s abstractions and sensory knowledge in the long eighteenth-century? Drawing inspiration from Walpole’s notion of the khipu as a “soft language,” this panel seeks contributions that explore the range of material practices through which text was produced in the eighteenth century—from the casting of type to the threading of needles. Papers that examine this notion of a tactile language from outside or in contact with the West are particularly encouraged.

Panel chair: Elizabeth Bacon Eager, Southern Methodist University (

To submit a paper proposal, please email the following (with subject: “APS CAA 2020 submission”) to the session chair before July 23, 2019:
- Completed proposal form (Click 'External Link' below to download)
- A shortened CV (close to 2 pages).

All session participants must be CAA members. Please note that a paper that has been published previously or presented at another scholarly conference may not be delivered at the CAA Annual Conference.

Please visit the 'External Link' below for more information.

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