Leiden - Lecture on Arabic Language and Culture

Academy Building Leiden, the small auditorium

LUCIS has invited Konrad Hirschler for the seventh Leiden Lecture on Arabic Language and Culture. 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.

Abstract of the Lecture
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.

For more information on the lecture, visit the website or Facebook
Free entry and the lecture is followed by drinks in the Academy Building.

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