Opening in November 2014

The Renaissance was the first great age of mass communication, but it was also the period when the art of secret writing came into its own. The new science of codes and ciphers produced some of the period’s most brilliant inventions, most beautiful books, and most enduring legacies. It left its mark on virtually every aspect of Renaissance culture, including the development of diplomacy and the waging of war, the creation of a postal system, the invention of sign language, and the search for hidden meanings in literature and the visual arts.

The Renaissance, in turn, provided the inspiration for the pioneering modern code-breaker, William F. Friedman—chief cryptanalyst for the U.S. government from the 1920s to the 1950s and regular researcher at the Folger. Friedman led the team that broke the Japanese code in World War II, wrote many of the field’s foundational texts, and coined the very term “cryptanalysis.” His introduction to ciphers came through his early work on Sir Francis Bacon, and he drew directly on Renaissance techniques throughout his cryptographic career.

Decoding the Renaissance explores the history of secret communication, revealing the surprising connections between Renaissance texts and modern methods of cryptanalysis.