HC101H - Codes and Ciphers: The Cryptographic Imagination

Professor: Corinne Bayerl

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12401: Tuesday & Thursday, 10:00-11:20am @ CHA 201
  • CRN 12406: Tuesday & Thursday, 12:00-1:20pm @ GSH 131

In this class we will study how and why people across various cultures and centuries have invented ciphers and codes to communicate secret information. Class time will be spent on premodern as well as modern material, with the first weeks of class covering systems of encryption in ancient cultures (B.C.E.), the groundbreaking work of Arab medieval cryptographers, and Renaissance cryptography in the Western world. The second half of the course will be devoted to 20th- and 21st-century developments in cryptography, notably the shift from language-based forms of encryption to the mechanized, math-based encryption systems used during World War I and World War II. 
By both learning about, and practicing, various methods of making and breaking ciphers and secret codes, you will develop both language-based and math-based problem-solving skills, and gain insight into current methods and problems of data encryption. In addition to theoretical material, we will also read several pieces of short fiction and watch two movies that deal with encrypted messages, since many writers and artists were fascinated by the idea of secret communication.

[* A hint to help you decrypt the first sentence of this course description: an easy Caesar cipher was used, with left shift of three places, D in the plaintext substituted by A in the cipher text.]