Theses Doctoral

The Hands of Johannes Whisler: a Historical Study of Handwriting and Drawing

Capezzuto, Matthew

The Book of Arithmetic Problems of Johannes Whisler (1814-1815), a mathematics exercise book in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, is the central object of this study. This handwritten and illuminated book, created by a young Pennsylvania German man in the early 19th century, prompts a reevaluation of handwriting and doodling, with implications for the present era. The author documents the biographical and sociocultural circumstances surrounding the creation of Whisler’s cyphering book through primary and secondary historical research and applies Glăveanu’s theory of distributed creativity to describe the book as a creative process that emerged among people and objects, and across time.

As direct indices of immediate actions, handwriting and doodling emerge in moment-to-moment action, even as these actions are embedded in longer periods of developmental and historical change; the author documents Whisler’s handwriting flourishes and doodles and describes the particular qualities of these mark making activities with reference to the sociocultural context in which they appear, Werner’s theories regarding the physiognomic perception of symbols, and Stern’s theory of vitality forms.

The dissertation concludes with educational implications of the research, which include considerations of the use of handwriting as a component of art education and the future of handwriting as an affective and cross-modal medium.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Burton, Judith M.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 22, 2021