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Scripts, Signs, and Notational Systems in Pre-Columbian America

Pre-Columbian Symposium, 11–12 October 2008, Elizabeth Boone and Gary Urton, Symposiarchs

Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to announce the annual Pre-Columbian Symposium will be held this year in the Music Room of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. Organized with Elizabeth Boone and Gary Urton, the symposium will focus on record-keeping in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andean region. Sessions will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, 11 October, and conclude on Sunday afternoon.

Long before Europeans came to the American shores, groups or classes of people charged with record-keeping in Mesoamerica and the Andes developed graphic and visual-tactile systems to record and pass on information concerning their understanding of the world they experienced. Indeed the Americas-along with Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China-was one of only four locales where writing developed independently. This conference is not concerned with identifying, defining, or separating out "writing" from other signing and communication systems within Pre-Columbian societies. Rather, the gathering is intended to gain critical and comparative insights into the types of sign, script, and notational systems devised by indigenous Americans for the purposes of recording and conveying knowledge and information. To these ends, speakers will address the relevant cultural categories of writing, recording, and notational systems; the intellectual and technical practices these systems comprised; how and for what purposes recording systems were employed (i.e., their relevance and social context within their respective societies); and the signing and recording strategies by which information was stored and communicated.

The symposium speakers include:
  • Elizabeth Boone (Tulane University),
  • Oswaldo Chinchilla (Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquín),
  • Tom Cummins (Harvard University),
  • Stephen Houston (Brown University),
  • Margaret Jackson (Stanford Humanities Center),
  • Alfonso Lacadena (Universidad Complutense de Madrid),
  • Federico Navarrete Linares (Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México),
  • Michel Oudijk (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México),
  • Frank Salomon (University of Wisconsin),
  • David Stuart (University of Texas at Austin),
  • Karl Taube (University of California, Riverside),
  • Javier Urcid (Brandeis University),
  • Gary Urton (Harvard University),
  • and R. Tom Zuidema (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Emeritus)

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