DOT conference in Jena, Germany (September 18-22 2017)

Following the good experiences at our panel at the School of Mamluk Studies Conference in Beirut, Christopher Bahl and me have submitted another, larger panel on the transmission of manuscripts at the (unaptly named) Deutscher Orientalistentag in Jena this year.

Throughout Tuesday, 19 September, we are going to have a total of eleven papers on manuscript transmission, ranging from the 15th to the early 20th century. As the last time, this announcement begins with our CfP, before I elaborate on some of the themes we aim to elaborate on in that day. Again, this is a joint production of Christopher and me.

Reading the social world of medieval manuscripts: Cultural practices of transmission and their sociabilities

Scholarly practices in the premodern Islamicate world were geared towards a diverse set of transmissional frameworks and articulated through a variety of social encounters. Scholarship over the years has pointed out the centrality of everyday-life practices intended to preserve and transmit knowledge (Berkey, 1992; Chamberlain 1994). More recent studies have emphasised processes of textualisation and textual perusal (al-Musawi, 2008; Hirschler, 2012; El-Rouayheb, 2014). It is well established by now that written transmission did not only complement oral traditions but also transformed and competed with it (Blecher 2013, Burak 2015).

In this panel we will focus on the social contexts and preconditions of manuscript use and production, thus exploring connections between reading and writing practices and their specific sociabilities across the medieval and early modern Islamicate world. This will be conducted in two steps: firstly, we aim to differentiate between different modes of manuscript transmission. We generally distinguish between practices of reproduction and preservation. Under reproduction, on the one hand, we group teaching (including the creation of students’ copies), commercial copying, note-taking, and citation and discussion in other works (e.g. in/of biographical works or the sharḥ and mukhtaṣar genres). Preservation, on the other hand, is concerned with practices of book collection (libraries), book compilation (binding in majāmīʿ), restoration, and, arguably, indexing and catalogisation. Both had important implications for the synchronous circulation and the diachronic transmission of ideas, texts, and manuscripts. How were different genres circulated? What do manuscripts tell us about these contexts and the intended use or audiences?

Secondly, we ask how these modes were related to social contexts of transmission. How can we make use of readers’ notes, colophons, handwriting, or the format and layout of manuscripts to trace trajectories of texts within different social sites, such as book markets, mosques, madrasas, courts and their libraries as well as domestic settings? How did these sites relate to each other? Finally, how did the social and cultural significance of manuscripts and their use change across these sociabilities?

Since the day will consist of four sessions, each of those will highlight one theme. The first session emphasizes contexts of circulation, with presentations by Nir Shafir on early modern pamphleteers, Astrid Meier on court dealings with books, and Gülfem Alici, who focuses on Sufi manuals.

The second session moves the discussion towards preservation, namely in libraries. Stefan Knost investigates a waqf library in Aleppo. In combination with Christopher Bahl’s exploration of a royal library in Bijapur there should arise some interesting contrasts and points of comparison. Konrad Hirschler begins from the perspective of a donor in his presentation on a rather large-scale book endowment in 15th-century Damascus.

Hirschler’s vantage-point will be taken up again in the first afternoon session, which concentrates on scholar’s corpora and personal libraries during the Early Ottoman period (as understood from the “Arab Lands” perspective). Mustafa Altug Yayla will investigate modes of reproduction with regard to translations from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish in the 16th-century. Zacky Khairul Umam draws on al-Musawi to unearth the wide networks of 17th-century Hijazi scholars which rested to a high degree on the exchange of writings. Geographically, Torsten Wollina’s subject is located between those two. The talk concentrates on Damascene multiple-text manuscripts as a mode of publication, preservation, and possibly reproduction.

The final session addresses the transmission – and often remediation – of manuscripts in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Print is obviously the elephant in the room here, and Kathryn Schwartz approaches it through investigating the impact of commissioners of print runs on autochthonous perceptions of written heritage. This offers itself for obvious comparisons with Simon Leese’s presentation on Arabic book production in Bhopal.

The day will be closed by an additional half-hour discussion to draw together the different approaches and perspectives that have been raised during the sessions.


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