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Leiden Lectures on Arabic Language and Culture (2019)

Where Have All Those Books Gone? Translocation and Provenance in Studying Medieval Middle Eastern Writerly Cultures

Thursday 16 May 2019
Leiden Lectures on Arabic Language and Culture
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden
Small Auditorium

On Thursday 16 May 2019, LUCIS organises the seventh Leiden Lecture on Arabic Language and Culture. 

Medieval Middle Eastern Writerly Cultures

Over the past years, our knowledge of medieval Arabic writerly cultures has rapidly grown. In particular, the manuscript has re-emerged as a central object of inquiry beyond the text(s) it carries. With scholarship increasingly turning towards the materiality of the hand-written medieval book, the different users engaging with this object have also come to the forefront: the scribe, the binder, the owner, the reader, the lender, the endower, the trader and the thief. The spaces where the concerns of these users overlapped and conflicted were book collections and libraries. They are thus prime sites of research in order to understand what the book meant for the individual user and what role the written word played in society.

Yet, the repeated dissolutions and continuous reconfigurations of book collections, in particular during the 19th century, have obliterated in many cases the shape and profile of what once sat on the shelves of the medieval library. In addition, books might have come out of fashion or were worn out so that individual books were discarded and pulped. The extant evidence that we have of medieval book collections and libraries is thus highly patchy and highly biased towards books in specific material formats and in specific genres. Scholarship has tried out various approaches in order to overcome these challenges, most recently with an emphasis on documentary sources, such as endowment lists, catalogues and estate records.

This lecture proposes a new angle on the fate of medieval books and their collections over the centuries. With the material turn and the focus on the book as a material object, the burgeoning field of translocation and provenance studies offer new perspectives. Considering the movement of books along with the movement of other objects allows identifying broader trends and crucial periods that need to be unlocked in order to get new insights into medieval Middle Eastern writerly cultures.

About the speaker

Konrad Hirschler has been Professor of Islamic Studies at Freie Universität Berlin since 2016 and was previously Professor of Middle Eastern History at SOAS/University of London. His research focuses on Egypt and Syria in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods (c. 1100-1500) with a particular focus on social and cultural history. Konrad Hirschler is the author of Medieval Damascus: Plurality and Diversity in an Arabic Library (awarded the Medieval Middle East Book Prize), The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands: A Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices (awarded the BRISMES Book Prize) and Medieval Arabic Historiography: Authors as Actors (awarded the Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize). Among his co-edited volumes are Alliances and Treaties between Frankish and Muslim Rulers in the Middle East and Manuscript Notes as Documentary Sources. His monograph Book Culture in Late Medieval Syria will be published in 2019 and the co-edited volume The Damascus Khazina: Towards a History of the Qubbat al-khazna is scheduled for 2020.

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This lecture is also part of the What's New?! Spring Lecture Series 2019 organised by LUCIS and the department of Middle Eastern Studies.

What's New?! Spring Lecture Series 2019
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