Juliette Cezzar

Parsons School of Design, USA


Movable type, multiple scripts, changing alphabets: design, technology and literacy in the late Ottoman Empire

The transition of Turkish writing from Arabic script to Latin letters is often cited as a triumph of modernism. It comes up frequently as an example of strength in leadership, or the willingness of the Turks to put the old world behind them. The roots of this change, however, are more complicated. The presence and depth of Greek and Armenian learning cultures, a multi-script reading environment, and the slow adoption of the printing press in the Ottoman Empire all contributed. This last point, too, has spun several theories, the most prevalent being that lack of interest and religious piety impeded the adoption of the printing press in the empire. The difficulty of typesetting Arabic letterforms using movable type was also an important contributor to that slow adoption of the press, especially when faced with a well-developed calligraphic scribal culture. This paper proposes to place the reader at that time before the first world war to examine how print technology and the graphic/lettering landscape contributed to, and were not just derivative of, the cultural ideas that were carried forward.


Juliette Cezzar is a designer, writer, and educator based in New York City. She is Assistant Professor of Communication Design at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, where she was program director from 2011–2014. Her work with cultural clients has received awards from the Type Directors Club, D&AD, and AIGA’s 50 Books/50 Covers. She is the author of five books, and she served as president of AIGA New York’s board of directors from 2014–16. She holds an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University and a professional degree (B. Arch) in Architecture from Virginia Tech.