Stephanie Ann Frampton is a scholar of classics and of the history of media in antiquity. Her research focuses on the intersections of material and literary culture in ancient Rome and the Mediterranean. Her first book, Alphabetic Order: A History of the Book in Augustan Rome, will be published with Harvard University Press next year. She has been a recipient of numerous awards, including a “Rome Prize” from the American Academy in Rome and a Mellon Fellowship in Critical Bibliography from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. She is an associate professor of literature at MIT.


Learning to Write in the West

Of 6000 world languages, fewer than one third are written. Of that third—some 2000 languages—nearly a quarter are written in the Roman alphabet, which is only one of fifty global writing systems. This talk will chart the alphabet that would later come to dominate the inscriptional culture around the globe from its origins in the late Bronze Age Mediterranean, where it emerged out of the intense exchange among a variety of cultures. In particular, the talk will argue that from its first appearance the Roman alphabet—our alphabet—was a deeply multicultural and historical technology, tying the Romans in visible ways to the communities that surrounded them. This represents a continuity with our own experience of the alphabet as an instrument of change in the increasingly globalized modern world, from Gutenberg’s press to the QWERTY keyboard, but it is also evidence of the profoundly local meanings made by even the most common writing systems across time and space.

Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs
Robert A. Jones 59 House
148 Hillcrest Road
Middlebury, VT 05753