Lectures & Conferences

10th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

Intertwined Worlds

November 2-4, 2017

Symposium Abstracts

(in program order)


Phyllis Granoff, Yale University

The Mystery of Mistakes: Reflections on Indian Illustrated Manuscripts

In this paper I look at manuscripts from Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. All the manuscripts I discuss have errors; some of the errors are in the written text, while others are in the images that accompany the texts. I speculate on the nature of the errors that frequently occur in pre-modern Indian manuscripts and ponder what they can tell us about the process of manuscript production and reading practice.


Ayesha A. Irani, University of Massachusetts-Boston

From Manuscript to Print: Islamic Bangla Literature in the Politics of Literary History

This paper surveys three historical phases in the journey of Islamic Bangla literature from manuscript to print. The first phase, from roughly 1550 to 1800, saw the emergence and efflorescence of this literature produced by East Bengali Muslim intellectuals in Bangla. The key regions where this literature flourished were Śrīhaṭṭa (or Sylhet) in northeast Bengal, and the Chittagong-Arakan region under the Theravāda Buddhist rulers of Arakan. Whether in courtly circles or in rural Chittagong and Sylhet, Islamic Bangla texts participated in an oral-literate culture: these texts were transmitted to literate and unlettered audiences alike via oral recitation and song; and in tandem with oral transmission, these texts harnessed multiple scripts and the technologies of the early modern book (puthi, ketāb) for their circulation and preservation.

The second phase, from 1800 onwards, is marked by the emergence of print and its concomitant material culture in Bengal, the first region in India to develop a robust publishing industry that was constituted by and constitutive of the colonial public sphere. I examine the transition of Islamic Bangla literature from the first phase into the second, from manuscript into print, exploring the reasons for the breakdown of the old literature's transmission and the success of the new in the competitive, communalized worlds of language, print culture, and the poetics of translation.

The third phase in the history of Islamic Bangla literature is characterized by the formulation of the Bangla literary canon through the efforts of literary critics, anthologists, translators, editors, historiographers, publishers, and, last but not least, manuscript collectors, all of whom were sustained through the medium of print and the cultural marketplace it generated. This paper will trace the initial exclusion, and eventual recognition, of the contributions of Muslim authors to Bangla, in the context of nationalist literary historiography and the communalization of the archive.


Tyler Williams, University of Chicago

Notes of Exchange: Scribal Practices and Vernacular Religious Scholarship in Early Modern North India

What happens when a vernacular language like Hindi begins to be committed to writing, entering the realm of a manuscript culture that was formerly monopolized by "cosmopolitan" languages like Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian? How did the pioneering vernacular intellectuals of Hindi adopt, adapt, combine, or challenge conventions and practices from existing Indic and Islamicate manuscript traditions? This paper examines manuscripts containing works of religious scholarship produced by two Hindu sects in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North India in order to map intellectual networks, glean information about the training of religious scholars, reconstruct performative contexts, and refine our understanding of what distinguished "religious" scholarship in this time from other areas of enquiry, such as literary theory or philosophy.

Although mostly neglected by modern scholars, the large number of manuscripts produced by monks (both ascetic and householder) of the Dadu Panth and Niranjani Sampraday, two religious communities that coalesced in the region of modern-day Rajasthan in the late sixteenth century, graced the palms of many scholars, religious and otherwise, during the era in which they were copied (the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). Aspects of these text artifacts' impagination, binding, paratexts, and marginalia reveal the extent to which their copyists emulated and adapted existing scribal practices and invented new ones appropriate to the pedagogical and liturgical contexts in which they were to be used. They also bear signs of having circulated between members of the religious communities themselves and members of more "secular" intellectual spheres, like those of royal and sub-royal courts. Consequently, they force us to reconsider long-held assumptions regarding the supposed social and ideological distance between the popular religious movements and the elite, courtly cultures of the period.


Gila Prebor & Maayan Zhitomirsky-Geffet, Bar-Ilan Unversity

A Large-Scale Data-Driven Analysis of Censorship of Hebrew Manuscripts in Italy

Our study aims to investigate the historical phenomenon of censorship of Hebrew manuscripts performed by the Catholic Church in Italy during the 16th -18th centuries. This is the first large-scale quantitative analysis of historical Jewish manuscript data. Thus far, all the studies on the censorship of Jewish manuscripts and books during this period were done in a qualitative and focused manner, for example, a study of a specific censor or a specific manuscript/book, or on a relatively small number of censored items.

In the context of the Counter-Reformation, during the 16th -18th centuries, the Catholic Church closely supervised written and printed literature. Jewish lobbying of the Pope and Church leaders to ease directives regarding confiscation of books led to the introduction of external censorship. The collected Hebrew books were examined by censors; when the expurgation of the book was completed, the censor wrote a short approval note. We identified about 2500 censored manuscripts in the catalogue of the Department of Manuscripts and the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in the National Library of Israel (http://web.nli.org.il) which represent the largest collection of Hebrew manuscript metadata in the world. The availability of a relatively large censorship database on the one hand, and the ability to apply to it modern analysis and visualization techniques, on the other hand, lead us to discover new insights into the censorship activity over the years and thus better appreciate its impact on Hebrew literature, and its different manifestations. We performed a systematic quantitative analysis of the manuscript corpus. In addition to the descriptive statistical analysis of the censored manuscript corpus, we propose a new multi-dimensional methodology for large-scale quantitative analysis of the historical manuscript data. We examined the temporal, geographic and subject dimensions of the censored manuscripts compared to a non-censored manuscript sample.

Our findings demonstrate that there was a substantial decrease in new manuscript production in the periods of increased censorship activity. We also found that the distribution of subjects is not the same for the censored and for the non-censored manuscripts. The two most popular subjects in the censored corpus were the "Kabbala and Mysticism" and the "Philosophy and ethics" which together cover almost 40% of the censored manuscripts. Another interesting finding is that 40% of the censored manuscripts are currently stored in archives in the territory of Italy, while only 4% of the entire corpus of Hebrew manuscripts are currently located in Italy.


Paul Dilley, University of Iowa

From Textual to Ritual Practice: Written Media and Authority in Shenoute's Canons

According to the standard narrative of book history, Christians championed the codex over the roll, and the ???triumph??? of Christianity in the later Roman empire led to its adoption as the paradigmatic book form in the Mediterranean world (and eventually in the Islamic world). Yet this approach focuses on raw numbers of surviving manuscripts, rather than a close analysis of sources--both textual, visual and archaeological--for particular communities. My talk will explore the variegated evidence for textual culture in the fifth-century writings of Shenoute, the most famous author of the Coptic language, and abbot of the White Monastery, a community of several thousand monks on the edge of the desert in southern Egypt. Shenoute lived apart from his disciples for most of the year, communicating to them through letters, often quite lengthy, on waxed tablets and papyrus rolls. These letters, which conveyed orders and strenuously urged the confession of sins, were composed and recited to the assembled congregation during the White Monastery's four yearly rituals of collective repentance. They were then stored in an archive, and sometimes copied as dipinti painted inscriptions on the walls of the monastery. Towards the end of his life, Shenoute supervised the copying his letters from roll and tablet to codex, gathering them in nine volumes of Canons, and directing that they be read aloud at the collective repentance ceremonies, especially as a textual legacy after his death. This transfer to codex format was a literal canonization of his own writings: the adoption of a new material form corresponded to their authoritative position in the monastery's ritual calendar. Indeed, Shenoute's Canons have survived because they were copied in the medieval period at the White Monastery; yet the longevity of the codex should not obscure the importance of other written media formats, each with a specific role in the complex textual culture of this early Christian monastery.


Shazia Jagot, University of Surrey

Un/Binding Chaucer's Sufism

Hidden away in one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, we find the canonical English poet implicitly engaging with the essential metaphysics of Islamic mysticism, folded into a tale that delves into the murky world of alchemical transmutation. The relationship between Sufi thought and the development of alchemy, and its eventual transmission into Middle English poetry has garnered little attention since it was first explored by literary critics in the twentieth century. Yet, when considered from the viewpoint of the manuscript tradition that informed this complex religious transfer, I contend there is much more to be uncovered. In this paper, I suggest that we can further unbind Chaucer's Sufism through an examination of not only Latin manuscripts that the poet may have had to hand, but the Arabic textual culture that informed the intellectual history encapsulated in Chaucer's call for a code of secrecy in the Canterbury Tales. By doing so, we can explore how faith and ritual converged with technology not only in the development of early chemistry in the Islamic world, but as it was transferred into the Latin West. Manuscript copies of Chaucer's Sufi authority in the Canon's Yeoman's Tale, Muhammad ibn Umail al-Tamimi's Risala al Shams al- Hilal (France, Bibliotheque Nationale MS Arabe 2610), in addition to the wider integration of the esoteric/exoteric philosophy that can be witnessed in the pseudo-Aristotelian Kitab Sirr al-Asrar (Pennsylvania, Schoenberg Institute LJS 459) and Philip of Tripoli???s Latin translation, the Secreta Secretorum (London, British Library MS Additional 47680) can help us uncover how an Islamic spiritual experience was so seamlessly adapted into an esoteric cosmology inflexed by Christian theology. So fluidly in fact that by the fourteenth century an English poet could unwittingly engage in a metaphysical Sufi discourse that intertwined and crossed religious, geographical, linguistic, and aesthetic worlds.


Ellen Gough, Emory University

The Yantras of the Jain Bhaktāmara Stotra

One of the most commonly found manuscripts in Jain collections, both Digambara and Śvetāmbara, is the Sanskrit praise poem the Bhaktāmara Stotra (ca. 6th century CE). Bhaktāmara Stotra manuscripts remain popular in part because of the association of this poem with a set of either forty-four or forty-eight geometric diagrams (yantra) thought to grant miraculous results if properly used in ritual. Today, a particular set of forty-eight yantras has formed the basis for an increasing number of Śvetāmbara and Digambara temples dedicated to the Bhaktāmara Stotra, but other sets of yantras exist, and little research has been done on how particular yantras became associated with the verses of this poem. This paper thus compares the yantras depicted in about a dozen early modern illustrated manuscripts of the Bhaktāmara Stotra from collections in Varanasi, Ahmedabad, London, and Indore to examine how different mantras and geometric figures became associated with the verses of the Bhaktāmara Stotra. Ultimately, we will see how one Digambara set of 48 yantras promoted by the sixteenth-century Digambara Bhaṭṭāraka Śubhacandra became the standard set for Jains of both sects. Because of this adoption of Digambara yantras, Śvetāmbaras today have promoted the lay use of a mantra that they in other contexts understand as an esoteric spell only to be recited by ācārya's -- mendicants who have undergone the highest level of initiation. Jains have thus "domesticated" an originally "tantric" practice.


Saymon Zakariya, Bangla Academy

Contemporary Manuscript Culture in Bangladesh

This essay focuses on various facets of contemporary, Bangladeshi hand-written manuscript culture, their secrecy and use. Initiatives for preserving medieval manuscripts of Bangladesh via Microfilm and Digitization both inside of Bangladesh and internationally are well documented. Along with these technological innovations is seen a focus on traditional scholarly methods of defining, editing, and contextualizing texts. However, this presentation will look at a neglected element of Bangladeshi manuscripts culture: The history of contemporary use and preservation of "living" manuscript culture. It is positive that Bangladesh is recently experiencing the availability of technology on a wide scale -- use of computer and mobile phones with internet access spread across even remote rural areas. An informed population can easily take the opportunity of going through manuscripts made available through digitization. Despite this availability, people still love the experience of hand-written, ritualistic manuscripts, considering them to be sacred resources. Access to sacred manuscripts, however, is limited to a few "Boi Master" (Manuscript Reader). Hand-written manuscripts are preserved in secret locations, the entrances to which are restricted to a few, select people. There are various prejudices, cultural practices, and ritual performance surrounding manuscript writing and preservation. This is especially true of manuscripts connected to ascetic practice and performance. Following traditional rural culture, most of the hand-written manuscripts are preserved by lead performers in their own confidential manner. Generation to generation, Guru to disciple, the manuscripts are believed to be sacred sources and are never given to outsiders. This "living" culture may be unbelievable and strange to contemporary researchers. If we can address this verity, I think, we will be able to open new avenues towards collection, preservation and editing Bangladeshi manuscripts.


Iqbal Akhtar, Florida International University

Anatomy of an East African Khōjā Manuscript

The merchant Khōjā communities of East Africa consumed and produced remarkable religious manuscripts that circulated the Indian Ocean littoral. This vernacular Western Indic tradition, as a historical archive, provides remarkable perspectives on how Indic cosmogonies were transported to Khōjā settlements and reimagined in new contexts. Drawing on the French anthropological and textual traditions, this paper will examine the characteristics, content, materiality, and social place of Khōjā manuscript circulation in the 19th century.


Jinah Kim, Harvard University

Intersections of Indic and Chinese Manuscript Cultures: On Hybrid Manuscripts from Nepal and Dunhuang

In the context of trans-cultural interactions and exchanges, a manuscript's format is an important marker of a cultural identity. Introduction of new material resources and new technology does not change a manuscript's format immediately. Establishment of Islamic ruling houses in South Asia brought paper manuscripts in codex format by the thirteenth century, but it took centuries for this format to gain some acceptance among indigenous circles of manuscript production, that too, after many creative interventions and innovations, and the horizontally long Indic manuscript format remained an important marker of the Indic cultural identity well into the nineteenth century. This paper looks to the east of the South Asian sub-continent and considers a few unique examples that bear out the interactions between the Indic manuscript culture and the Chinese counterpart. A ninth century Dunhuang manuscript used for healing rituals demonstrate the multi-lingual and multi- cultural context in which such a manuscript was produced and used, while an undated xylograph manuscript of a dhāraṇī collection and its seventeenth century hand written copy may indicate shifting political dynamics and creative experiments with available formats and technologies for manuscript making in Nepal. Regardless of their unique formats, these manuscripts of spells and magical diagrams were not only important apotropaic tools but also powerful insignia for ritual specialists. This study underscores the importance of manuscripts as essential vehicles for empowerment and selective knowledge transmission in pre-modern cultures.


Columba Stewart, Hill Museum & Monastic Library and Saint John's University

New opportunities in Comparative Manuscript Studies: The Work of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library in Digitization and Online Access

In its first fifty years, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) microfilmed 93,000 manuscripts from hundreds of libraries. More than 90% were from European collections, almost all of them consisting of western manuscripts. The great exception was a trove of some 8000 manuscripts filmed in Ethiopia in the turmoil and aftermath of revolution in the 1970s, a harbinger of HMML's work in the digital era, which has been largely focused on endangered manuscript collections in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Since 2003, high-resolution color images of more than 50,000 manuscripts from Eastern Christian and Islamic libraries have complemented the earlier European focus of HMML's image collections. This range of material offers an opportunity for comparative manuscript studies across regions, languages, and religious traditions. To make these resources as widely available as possible, HMML has created vHMML, an online platform that includes tools for manuscript studies as well as access to tens of thousands of born-digital images and scanned microfilm. This presentation will briefly describe the scope of the digitization project and the features of vHMML before turning to the opportunities these initiatives provide for comparative manuscript studies.


Justine Walden, University of Toronto

Religious Pluralism Avant la Lettre in Florentine Manuscripts

This paper examines some of the insights made possible by my SMDB project to digitize and quantify a corpus of Florentine manuscript records. An analysis of the manuscript patrimony of Europe's most dynamic fifteenth-century city reveals the existence of several vernacular manuscripts for which there is evidence of wide circulation among the literate popolo classes of fifteenth-century Florence and which provide insight into the contradictory ways in which Europeans negotiated the customs and cultures of the peoples, ideas, and beliefs they classed as "other".


Samantha Kelly, Rutgers University

Ge'ez Manuscripts as Vectors of and Witnesses to the Exchange of Catholic and Ethiopian Orthodox Religious Knowledge in 16th-Century Rome

This talk will focus on a sample of Gə'əz manuscripts that belonged to the Ethiopian Orthodox pilgrim community of Santo Stefano "degli Abissini" ("of the Abyssinians") in the sixteenth century. In addition to bringing liturgical and devotional manuscripts from Ethiopia or from one of the Ethiopian diasporic communities scattered around the eastern Mediterranean, the Ethiopian pilgrims also copied Gə'əz manuscripts in Rome itself. The content of these freshly-produced manuscripts remained Ethiopian Orthodox, but marginal notes and images added to the main texts bear witness to the pilgrims' engagement with Latin Christian culture: its languages, saints, calendar, and religious rites and formulae. Conversely, other Gə'əz manuscripts produced by the pilgrims attest to Catholic prelates' interest in Ethiopian Orthodoxy, particularly as a potential window onto the primitive church and as a weapon against Protestant critique. In both ways, these Gə'əz manuscripts attest to a sort of golden age of Catholic-Ethiopian ecumenical relations and cross-cultural exchange, before a more staunchly anti-heretical Catholic stance and Jesuit missionary activity in Ethiopia led to disaffection on both sides.


Michael Pregill, Boston University

BL MS Or. 8419: Anti-Judaism, Prophetic Mythology, and Early Fatimid Propaganda

British Library manuscript Or. 8419 is catalogued as a qisas al-anbiya' or collection of Islamic "Tales of the Prophets." However, closer examination reveals that it is actually a work of Shi'i ta'wil or figurative-symbolic exegesis in which the Shi'i community of its day is presented as heir to the legacy of the biblical prophets, Muhammad, and the early Shi'i imams. The text, anonymous and seemingly otherwise unknown outside of this unicum, represents a complex intersection of biblical-qur'anic prophetology, anti-Judaism, anti-Sunnism, and apocalyptic ideology. Various indications in the text suggest that it was produced as propaganda supporting the claims of the early Fatimid empire, possibly as part of their extensive preparations to invade Egypt after consolidating their power in the Maghrib at the beginning of the tenth century CE. In my presentation, I will discuss the text's unique approach to Fatimid imperial propaganda, its possible relationship to other texts in its milieu, and conclude with some remarks on its conjectured provenance.


Thibault d'Hubert, SALC, University of Chicago

Rethinking Vernacular Literacy through Arabic in Chittagong

The history of literacy in precolonial Bengal was largely written on the basis of early British accounts of "vernacular education," but seldom on the basis of the existing written archives preserved in the region. The study of the voluminous amount of manuscripts collected in Bengal, mostly in rural areas, provides a picture of the complex and varied ways to acquire and transmit vernacular and non-vernacular texts before the standardization of languages, scripts, and pedagogy in colonial times. With this paper, I offer a tangential perspective on vernacular literacy by approaching it through Bengali manuscripts written in Arabic script in Chittagong. The story of this minor tradition in the cultural landscape of Bengal remains virtually untold. The editing of Muhammad Shafi's Nurnama (The Book of Light) afforded me the chance to explore debates around script, language, and religious discourses from the seventeenth century up to the late nineteenth century, and further into modern times with debates about language and national identity. The study of Bengali manuscripts in Arabic script puts into perspective the relation of Middle Bengali with the classical linguistic epistemes of Sanskrit and Arabic. In addition to the discourses on language and script, the close analysis of orthography and modes of encoding the vernacular through systems designed for other languages shows a more self-aware engagement of copyists with Sanskrit and Arabic literacy than what existing scholarship on the topic seems to reflect. This corpus of texts problematizes vernacular literacy by highlighting the copyists' understanding of script as a religious marker, a ritually significant medium, and a pragmatic tool to record the vernacular literary idiom.


Zsuzsanna Gulácsi, Northern Arizona University

The Sideways Images of Eastern Christian Gospel-books and Manichaean Service-books

Manuscripts that feature their illustrations systematically sideways, that is, at a direct angle in relation to the overall make of their codices, are unusual in the history of medieval book art. The forty-four known Christian examples are Armenian and Syrian gospel-books that date from between the 8th/9th and 15th/16th centuries--the vast majority from the 11th century. An analogous approach to religious book design is attested by the remains of forty-one Iranian service-books produced by the Manichaeans, all of which date from between the 8th and 11th centuries and derive from Central Asia. Since these Manichaean and Eastern Christian books share Syro-Mesopotamian scribal and book-making practices, and also simultaneously started to feature their illustrations (including scenes from Jesus' life) sideways in vertical codices, a comparative cross-cultural study of their respective corpuses is well justified. Based on decades of codicological analysis of these manuscripts scattered today among various collections in Europe, North America, and West Asia, this paper aims to outline the typology of their book design.


Michael Stanley-Baker, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

Digital Workshop on Religious and Medical Sources

This workshop introduces a suite of tools for large-scale analysis of digitized, searchable textual corpora. Initially designed for Chinese, Japanese and Korean scripts, it is usable for, or can be adapted to other languages. I will first introduce three ways in which the toolset provokes new questions and reveals new knowledge, and then demonstrate specific features. The studies are: 1) The geographic movement of materia medica knowledge from India to China as visible in Buddhist codes and the critical questions it raises about translation and transmission 2) geographic distributions of plant name traditions in excavated drug recipe manuscripts 3) new text discovery and analysis through word studying vocabulary concentrations.

The tool set enables individuals to easily generate their own database from *.txt files, and significantly, enables attachment of complex meta-data to those texts. Once the set is created, and meta-data attached, you can perform corpus-level searches for the distribution of large term-sets (i.e. 11,000 drug names); analysis of said results by genre, period and region; visualizations to establish proximity or distance between vocabulary used across multiple texts; semi-automated tagging of the texts; GIS visualization and comparison of place-names across multiple texts. We are currently also beginning methods to analyze and distinguish multi-layered texts (i.e. with textual addition, or commentarial layers).

This toolset is conceived by and designed for philologists, to enable a refined situating of texts and facilitate the situating of texts within macro-scale patterns as well as to reveal textual features at the close-reading scale.