Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture

Explaining prolific writers

  • Dr. Sarah Bowen Savant
Date
Thursday 20 April 2017
Time
Series
KITAB LUCIS lectures
Location
Lipsius
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
Room
228

About "Explaining prolific writers"

In the second lecture of the KITAB LUCIS lectures, Sarah Savant focuses on prolific authors within the Arabic tradition. The Arabic tradition is populated by extremely prolific authors who wrote dozens or even hundreds of works filling many volumes. The historian and exegete al-Ṭabarī, for example, wrote a history totalling about a million words and a Qur’an commentary totalling about 1.6 million. These were only two of his many works. Whatever assumptions one makes about rates of work, it is hard to understand how a man could be so prolific – and he was much less productive than authors of later times.

With text reuse methods, we now can see that authors copied past works, often extensively, and also copied themselves. It is possible to now reconsider the picture of a solitary author producing works and to entertain other possibilities, including for example, something like workshops producing works under the guidance and name of an author. Sarah Savant will consider a handful of cases and explore possible ways that works may have come into existence. She will also consider what materials got reused in each case and possible reasons why. Al-Ṭabarī’s History and commentary, for example, contain numerous precisely quoted passages of poetry. The data for the chapter is chiefly one-to-one text comparisons.

About Sarah Bowen Savant

Sarah Bowen Savant is a cultural historian, focusing on early Islamic history and history writing up to 1100, with a special focus on Iraq and Iran. She is the author of The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran: Tradition, Memory, and Conversion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), which won the Saidi-Sirjani Book Award, given by the International Society for Iranian Studies on behalf of the Persian Heritage Foundation. Her other publications include The Excellence of the Arabs: A Translation of Ibn Qutaybah’s Faḍl al-ʿArab wa l-tanbīh ʿalā ʿulūmihā (with Peter Webb; The Library of Arabic Literature; Abu Dhabi: New York University Press, 2016), as well as articles and edited volumes dealing with ethnic identity, cultural memory, genealogy, and history writing. Her current book project focuses on the history of books in the Middle East. With a team, she is developing digital methods to study the origins and development of the Arabic and Persian textual traditions. Please see kitab-project.org.

About the KITAB LUCIS lectures

In April and May 2017 LUCIS Spring Fellow Sarah Savant will deliver five public lectures on the transmissions of text in the Middle East in the period of 750-1500 C.E. This series explores the literary culture of the medieval Arab world. How and why did authors copy past books ? The main goal of the lectures is to document the extent of copying that went on in the Arabic tradition and to consider the types of research questions that can now be addressed with text reuse methods, among them the nature of authorship in medieval times, the cultural meanings assigned to copying, the ways that canons came into existence and passed out, how history was filtered, and the networks through which texts passed.

Besides these lectures, Sarah Savant will also offer several masterclasses that give students the opportunity for a hands-on experience with digital humanities methods for studying medieval texts. In these classes, students will read a variety of medieval Arab texts, and work with several new methods to analyse their contents. The masterclasses will be given on April 11, 21 and 28; and May 3 and 12. Third year BA students, MA students and PhD students are encouraged to register at lucis@hum.leidenuniv.nl. More information will soon follow.

Thousands of texts pertaining to all aspects of cultural history survive for the period from 750 to 1500; these are widely available in open-access digital formats on the internet. Hundreds or perhaps thousands more survive in manuscript collections across the Middle East. This storehouse of memory can now be studied in completely new ways using digital technology that measures text reuse (i.e., the repetition of textual units) and that can reveal the form of the Arabic textual tradition as well as its development, priorities, and blind spots. Arabic authors frequently made use of past works, cutting them into pieces and reconstituting them to address their own outlooks and concerns. Texts and fragments of texts thus flowed within profoundly intertextual circulatory systems that can be reconstructed and analysed.

The lectures will be based on nearly two years of research and development work on KITAB, a research project led by Sarah Savant, which studies text reuse across the Arabic and Persian textual traditions.

Find more information here: KITAB LUCIS lectures

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