Thursday, January 17, 2013

Conference on Scribal Practice in the Ancient and Antique Mediterranean World


Call for papers (HT: Jennifer Cromwell, Papy-L):

Observing the Scribe at Work: Knowledge Transfer and Scribal
Professionalism in Pre-Typographic Societies
Macquarie University, Sydney
27-28 September 2013

Prior to the typographic revolution of the 15th century, the figure of the scribe was one of the keys by which civilisations were able to disseminate their power, culture and beliefs beyond their geographic, temporal, and even linguistic limits. Our access to the pre-modern world is mediated by the material and technological remains of scribal activity, the manuscript as an artefact of culture and administration. Every text preserved prior to the advent of printing bears witness to the activities of scribes. Yet
as a social and professional group they are frequently elusive, obscured by other professional titles, reduced to mention in a colophon, or existing within a private sphere into which our sources do not reach. While much attention has been given to the scribe as a literary figure, the manuscripts offer a unique point of access to
this group without the distortions of the literary tradition. This perspective, however, has frequently been restricted to a catalogue of errors, reducing the scribe to the transmission of an acceptable text, without recourse to the physical characteristics of the manuscript itself.

This workshop is built around the Australian Research Council funded project ‘Knowledge Transfer and Administrative Professionalism in a Pre-Typographic Society: Observing the Scribe at work in Roman and Early Islamic Egypt’. The project sets aside the often futile search for the historical figures of the scribe in favour of a focus on observable
phenomena: the evidence of their activity in the texts themselves. Recognizing that the act of writing can be a quotidian and vernacular practice, it explicitly includes the documents of everyday life as well as the realms of the copying of literature, seeking paths back to an improved understanding of the role and place of scribes in pre-modern

‘Observing the Scribe at Work’ will bring together specialists in pre-modern societies of the Mediterranean world and adjoining cultures, from the ancient Near East, through the Egyptian and Classical worlds to Byzantium and Renaissance Europe. The papers will contribute to a deeper understanding of the processes that drive
the operation of pre-printing cultures, and transmit knowledge and traditions forward in human societies.

The workshop will be held at Macquarie University on 27-28 September 2013. Macquarie University cannot offer full funding for all participants traveling to Australia from overseas, but partial financial assistance will be awarded to select abstracts which closely address the themes of the workshop. Decisions to this
effect will be made by the end of April.
We call for abstracts of up to 300 words that address the objectives of this workshop. These should be sent to by 31 March 2013.

Inquiries: Malcolm Choat (; Jennifer Cromwell (

Organising Committee
Malcolm Choat, Jennifer Cromwell, Korshi Dosoo, Rachel Yuen-Collingridge

Australian Research Council
Macquarie University
Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University
Macquarie University Ancient Cultures Research Centre


  1. sometimes we write a lot of nonsense don't we.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Peter, can you please articulate your thoughts? What does the nonsense exactly consist in?

  4. Good question. Don't take it personally. Firstly, I am all for 'observing the scribe at work'. But I think I reacted to the jargonistic mode of expression (typographic revolution, quotidian, etc.), the over-confidence (literary depictions of scribes are 'distortions', the assumptions as to what the papers will demonstrate etc., dismissive about actual historical scribes), and the whole is apparently predicated on finding similarities rather than differences between different scribal cultures, hence it looks like a quest for the Uber-scribe. It just comes across as the kind of thing we have to write to get grants from Research Councils.