Salisbury & Oriental Typography in the JAOS: Visualizing Scholarly Legitimacy through Script

By Roberta L. Dougherty
Submitted to Session P4952 (Arabic-script typography: history, technology, & aesthetics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
North America;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In 1841, Yale College appointed Edward Elbridge Salisbury (1814-1901) the first Professor of Arabic & Sanskrit Languages & Literature in the Americas. He was also among the earliest elected to membership in the American Oriental Society (founded 1842)—one of the oldest scholarly societies in the United States, and the oldest devoted to a particular field of study—and served the society in several capacities during its first half-century of existence. Among these was his role on the society’s Publications Committee, during which he energetically sought to obtain suitable fonts to print “Oriental” languages (in particular, Arabic, Syriac, Sanskrit, and Armenian) in their respective scripts in the society’s journal. He was driven by the notion that supporting these scripts was key to the journal’s—and ultimately the AOS’—favorable reception by a more established European academic readership. He was assisted in his quest by his contacts with European publishers, American missionaries such as Eli Smith and the typefounder Homan Hallock (who together created the “American Arabic” typeface used in the Bible translation of 1864), and his own students sent abroad to study, making it possible for him to source the best and most beautiful fonts then available from European typefounders. As a person of wealth, and as a member of a fledgling American scholarly community seeking to assert itself among European savants, Salisbury provided these fonts to the AOS at his own expense, with no expectation of compensation. In his will, he left his cases of Oriental type (then located in the basement of what is now called Dwight Chapel, the “Old Library,” of Yale) for the use of the AOS in perpetuity. These many cases of exotic font have now all completely vanished, as Linotype made it possible to publish even scripts like Syriac in the early 1900s. This paper is supported by evidence found in Salisbury’s own letters & journals as found in the Yale Manuscripts & Archives Department, the New Haven Historical Society, & the archives of the AOS.