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Nele Diekmann - Talbot's Tools: Scientific Notebooks as a Laboratory of Victorian Scholarship

The dissertation examines the question of how handwritten notes functioned in the context of the humanities, particularly through philological notation and research. Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877), known today primarily as a pionier in the field of photomechanical methods, was a typical Victorian "gentleman of science", interested in diverse fields including mathematics, physics, chemistry as well as English etymology, Greek myths, and Egyptology. After the rediscovery of the Ancient Near Eastern cultures of Mesopotamia in the middle of the 19th century, Fox Talbot also took a strong interest in the decipherment of the complex cuneiform writing system. He devoted the last 25 years of his life almost exclusively to cuneiform. This pursuit produced around 120 hand-written notebooks devoted to Assyriological questions ranging from the attempts at deciphering the writing system and philological and lexical discussions of Akkadian to cultural essayson the literature and religion of the Babylonians. These works by Henry Fox Talbot have, however, so far been marginalized. The dissertation thus attempts to describe Talbot's work and place it in the contemporary context of Victorian science. In addition, Talbot's papers will serve as a case study for the operationalization of writing in the epistemic process of writing. The study focuses on the ways in which Talbot used his notebooks as an "operation room" or "laboratory", which in turn allowed him to approach the foreign system of cuneiform writing. This process included "meta-linguistic" tools such as corrections, additions, and commentaries. The dissertation is written as part of the DFG-supported research cluster "Schriftbildlichkeit".


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum, Prof. Dr. Eleanor Robson