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Knitting Code: A Tale of Two Very Different Disciplines

Recently I had the opportunity to sit-in on a lecture of Dr. Rebecca Nesvet’s for her class “The English Novel: 1850’s to the Present.” The reason why this lecture was particularly interesting was because it covered the topic of binary knitting, or knitting code – an idea of two very different disciplines fusing together. Professor Alison Gates, Chair of the Arts program and well-versed in the world of textiles, assisted in the lecture by discussing her knowledge about different types of knitting around the world and the commonalities between knitting and writing codes. A way that this can be done is by simply using a pattern between knitting and purling.

We have all heard a variation of the phrase “Knit one, purl two.” When it comes to knitting a code, it isn’t very different than using a pattern of ones and zeroes as we would for computer coding. Even more interesting that this strategy was discovered long before the first computer. How this ties together with Dr. Nesvet’s English Novels class is in the interest of Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Madame Defarge was introduced as the wife of a shopkeeper, knitting in the corner, as that was a common activity for women of that time period to be doing. What was not immediately prevelant, however, was the fact that she was knitting code. As if the idea of an old woman knitting a secret cipher was not interesting enough, the message that she was knitting was what we would, by today’s standards, call a hit list.

Madame Defarge seated with her knitting in the wine shop.  Courtesy of Wikipedia / Fred Barnard

Madame Defarge seated with her knitting in the wine shop.
Courtesy of Wikipedia / Fred Barnard

The interest revolving around this topic has not been limited to just Dr. Nesvet’s class; here are some additional sources to look at:

Madam Defarges Cypher – Montgomery Bell

Steganographic Knitting – Sky Fish Knits



Aldrete-Guided Linothorax Project in the News

The Discovery Channel recently reported on Professor Greg Aldrete’s linothorax faculty/student collaborative research project.  The poster referred to was designed by UWGB graduate Scott Bartell (history and humanistic studies) and last week won the Best Poster Prize at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. More info, including the poster and video, can be found on the project’s website.

New Course: Great Works

Professor Coury is offering a special opportunity for Humanistic Studies majors (and minors if they like) to meet one of the requirements for the Humanistic Studies Major.  The requirement is to take either Hum Stud 350: Interdisciplinary Study of Great Works or Hum Stud 351: Interdisciplinary Themes in the Humanities, neither of which is offered very often, unfortunately.  Professor Coury has offered to direct an Independent Study (Hum Stud 498) that will meet the same requirements of Hum Stud 350.

The basic requirement of this opportunity is to attend and participate in the Great Books Discussion Group held once each month at the Brown County Library.  The list of books being discussed this semester and the individuals leading the discussion of those books is available here.

If you are interested, you should contact Professor Coury to work out the details of the Independent Study.  But, you need to do so immediately; the first discussion, with Professor Derek Jeffreys on Thomas Aquinas, will be held Tuesday, September 9.

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