Research on History of Handwriting Wins Ben Kafka Fellowship from American Council of Learning Societies

Ben Kafka, an assistant professor in Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, has been awarded a Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

The fellowship enables Kafka to complete a manuscript under contract with Yale University Press on the history and theory of graphology, or handwriting analysis. The field of graphology dates back to the Italian Renaissance, when the physician Camillo Baldi published the first tract on the pseudo-scientific practice. Adherents of the discipline over the years have included Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Hungarian émigré Klara Goldzieher Roman, who was the first to offer courses on the subject at the New School in the 1940s.

Part of what interests Kafka about graphology’s long history is the unshakable belief, shared by many, that one can intuit meaning from the idiosyncrasies of a person’s handwriting.

“If graphology has managed to survive for several centuries without any actual evidence to support its validity, this must be in part because it makes a kind of intuitive sense to most people. Our handwriting must tell us something about ourselves, our loved ones, the people we want to know, the people we don’t. Writing the history of this intuition is no easy task, which is part of what attracts me to it,” explains Kafka.

The Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship supports assistant professors in the humanities who have demonstrated both a marked contribution to the field and a plan for compelling future research.  Recipients receive a stipend of $64,000 and $2,500 for travel and research for one academic year.