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Philology and Archaeology. On Manuscript Collections Unearthed by Archaeology

mardi 24 mai - 9 h 00 min - mercredi 25 mai - 17 h 00 min +01

Lieu : CJB- Hybride

Début : mardi 24 mai - 9 h 00 min

Fin : mercredi 25 mai - 17 h 00 min

Catégorie : ,

This workshop will be held in hybrid form:
– To attend in person, registration via :
– To attend via Zoom click on the links below:

Link for may 24th:

Link for may 25th:

Philology and Archaeology
On Manuscript Collections Unearthed by Archaeology

Since the nineteenth-century, there have been numerous examples of eminent findings of manuscript collections in archaeological contexts. Some of these have necessarily captured the attention of philologists, starting with the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts from the genizah of Cairo, unearthed in 1896, which have since produced a refined social history of the medieval city. A few years later, the caves of Dunhuang yielded thousands of manuscripts from multiple traditions, especially Buddhist, allowing a recasting of historical studies on its diffusion along the silk road during the first millennium. Similarly, the manuscripts of Qumran, found from 1947 in clay jars on the edge of the Dead Sea, revolutionised biblical studies, offering direct access to texts hitherto uniquely available at the end of a long chain of transmission. Likewise, the Qur’anic manuscripts discovered at the Great Mosque in Sanʿāʾ and the multi-lingual manuscripts found at the Qubbat al-Khazna at the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus have invigorated philological and historical research. Alongside these outstanding discoveries, how many more manuscripts were found through archaeological explorations and away from institutions crafted to preserve them, such as libraries or archives? These fortuitous manuscript discoveries do not exhaust all the intersections between philology and archaeology, but they stress the need to rethink their relation. Building on case studies of textual corpora uncovered by archaeology, this workshop aims to reinterrogate the common history, and explore a few missed epistemological encounters between the two disciplines. Whether in biblical studies or classical studies, for instance, archaeology and philology share common topics and periods of the past that specialists can grasp, either through texts that have been transmitted by the traditions of preservation and copying, or through the material assemblages that have been uncovered by archaeologists. Archaeology and philology also share a common discipline – epigraphy – which mobilises material and textual registers in various ways. Nevertheless, the history of epigraphy illustrates the chronological gap between the institutionalisation of philology and that of archaeology. In the Western tradition, nearly three centuries separate their recognition as fields of knowledge of the past.

In Europe, academies of inscriptions go back to the 16th century, in the wake of the scientific triumph of philology, while archaeology had to wait until the 19th and even the 20th century to be endowed with scientific institutions. Even though complementary, their respective histories consist of gaps, of competition, of dominant and auxiliary positions, of the wish for autonomy and independence. Although philology and archaeology regularly intersect over topics, periods, and even disciplines such as epigraphy, they continue to be suspicious of one another, ready to declare themselves epistemologically irreconcilable. For instance, the notion of context, rather than representing a common heuristic vocabulary, often divides the two knowledge systems. While philology’s ideal has long appeared as the establishment of an original text capable of definitively freeing itself from all that it does not contain, and from the different contexts that it has passed through or that have passed through it, the practice of archaeology gives context a unique place in knowledge production when the objects unearthed have meaning only through their exact situation and localization, and through their link to the external context. One also finds many similarities from the point of view of techniques of knowledge. Stemmatology on the one hand, stratigraphy on the other; both seek an original item and meaning, recalling the similarities of the two approaches. Their complementarity is rarely examined besides a clear ‘chiasmatic’ relation. Philology aims towards materialising meaning; archaeology towards semanticising materiality. In recent years, the developments in textual studies, such as material bibliography, have clearly confirmed the possibility of a convergence. Manuscripts found in an archaeological context highlight particularly well the need for a material science of textual supports.

Provisional programme :

Tuesday 24th, Morning

Introduction and welcoming, Adrien Delmas (CJB) & Islam Dayeh (Freie Universität Berlin)

On Archaeological Discoveries of Manuscript Collections

  1. Jianing Li (King’s College London), The Accidental Treasure: A Case Study of Manuscripts inside Dunhuang Cave 
  2. Judith Schlanger (EPHE) & Laurence Gillot (Université Paris Cité, UMR 8210 ANHIMA), Les manuscrits de Figuig, découverte et conservation 
  3. Avinoam J. Stillman (Freie Universität Berlin), The Safed Geniza: Buried Manuscripts and Kabbalistic Editors in Seventeenth Century Palestine 
  4. Jakob Wigand (Universität Hamburg), Unearthed and Concealed: Hamburg’s „Acta Pauli“, the Egyptian Antiquity Market and Practices of Colonial Collecting

Tuesday 24th, Afternoon

Archaeology and Philology: The Making of Disciplines

  1. Richard Salomon (University of Washington), Buddhist Canons Revealed by Archaeology in India and Beyond 
  2. Mohammed Maraqten (Münster University), Decolonizing Biblical Archaeology: Reading Linguistics and Archaeological Artifacts in Ancient Palestine 
  3. Shamil Jeppie (University of Cape Town), Writing on stone, writing on paper: West African epigraphy 

Wednesday 25th, Morning

Manuscript Collections: Towards a Historical Approach

  1. Duygu Yıldırım (European University Institute), Collecting Ottoman Collecting Practices: Making an Oriental Library in Seventeenth-Century Europe (check)
  2. Taymaz Pour Pour Mohammad (Northwestern University), Drawn Forth from the Library Dust: British Philological Studies of Persian Manuscripts in Colonial India (1771-1801) 
  3. Natalie Kraneiß (Münster University), Manuscripts and their Copyists as Witnesses to Translocal Networking – A Study of the Library of the Sufi Brotherhood al-Nāsiriyya in Tamgrūt, Morocco 

Concluding remarks, Islam Dayeh

Download the workshop poster