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Cryptography: Nby Bcmnils uhx Gunb iz Wixym uhx Wcjbylm

Posted by on Monday, November 8, 2010 in News.

CFT assistant director Derek Bruff is teaching a new first-year writing seminar this fall.  The course is titled “Cryptography: The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code-Breaking.”  Topics include:

  • military cryptography, like the efforts of British cryptographers at Bletchley Park during World War II to figure out the German Enigma Machine codes;
  • cryptography in popular culture, including ciphers found in movies like The Da Vinci Code and in the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and
  • the role of encryption in national security, such as the recent efforts by Saudi Arabia and India to gain access to encrypted communications sent via Blackberry devices on those countries.

This course is designed to provide an understanding and appreciation of the ways in which codes and code breaking have impacted history, technology, and culture.  Students are learning a few concepts and techniques from abstract mathematics used in cryptography and are developing some real proficiency in breaking classic ciphers.

Social media is an important component of the course.  See the course blog for the latest course news and student thoughts on the reading assignments, the course Delicious feed for the latest websites bookmarked by the students, and a timeline of the history of cryptography the students are building collaboratively during the semester.  Derek has also blogged about how he’s using classroom response systems (“clickers”) to teach about academic integrity and plagiarism and to facilitate peer review.

Image: “Kryptos” by Flickr user Ritchie Rozelle, Creative Commons licensed.

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