Review: Scribbling through History

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Scribbling through History: graffiti, places, and people from antiquity to modernity
Chloé Ragazzoli, Ömür Harmansah, Chiara Salvador, Elizabeth Frood (eds)
Bloomsbury, £85
ISBN 978-1474288811
Review by: Lucia Marchini

For thousands of years, people have been leaving their mark on their surroundings through informal but intentional inscriptions. Graffiti today are both revered and reviled; the practice is considered to be vandalism by some and art by others. The marks can be political, personal, and playful, and can carry a lot of information about religion, cultural tastes, and more, as this book demonstrates through an abundance of well-discussed examples from across the world.

The book examines marks left in a variety of spaces, both physical and digital, from the stucco walls inside Maya palaces at Tikal to the margins of medieval manuscripts and e-documents. It is from 19th-century studies of Pompeii that we get the term ‘graffiti’ and in this Roman city we encounter friendly, abbreviated greetings and quotations (and misquotations) of poetry. In medieval China too, people wrote verses on the whitewashed walls, while in the desert rocks of Arabia between the 1st century BC and 4th century AD the non-literate nomadic community left behind ancient ‘tweets’, recording their everyday lives in much greater detail than the settled literate community in the region. Today these nomads, unlike their settled counterparts, are known only through their Safaitic inscriptions, which highlights the huge value of studying graffiti like these.

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