Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Department ofClassics and Ancient
Mediterranean Studies

CAMS 109Y: Writing Systems of the World

CAMS 109Y: Writing Systems of the World

This course aims at providing students with a thorough understanding of the role played by writing systems in the development of civilizations and the articulation of polities. The emphasis will be placed on historical, cultural, economic & religious matters. In order to fully comprehend the nature of these issues, the lion’s share of the course will focus on the functions & the development of early writing in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and the Americas. Additional attention will be given to the history of early writing systems. We will examine how the writing systems in the Near East and East Asia originated and developed orthographic strategies & conventions to record the linguistic realities for which they were designed; what processes & mechanisms facilitated the creation of the first alphabet in the Ancient Near East; how modern scholars have been able to decipher scripts lost long ago (such as Egyptian hieroglyphs & Mesopotamian cuneiform), and how some decipherment processes are advancing & improving our knowledge of other civilizations (such as Maya hieroglyphs). The study of the social & cultural aspects of writing will be grounded in a diachronic approach. In that regard, the course will engage with a variety of historical concerns: the possible reasons for which certain cultures may have started to use writing for bureaucratic & economic reasons, whereas others (such as early China) would seem to have started to use it for rather more symbolic realms of life; and the relation between writing, identity, and script in different areas.


Gonzalo Rubio
Associate Professor of Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies