Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Book History - and Digital Humanities

I will be giving two papers at the 2015 SBL Annual Meeting in Atlanta. Here are the abstracts.

For the Book History and Biblical Literatures Consultation:

Do paratexts matter? Transmission, re-identification, and New Philology

The last decade has seen a rapidly growing interest in the reception of (biblical) writings and the transformative impact transmission processes might have on the textual contents of these writings. Thus, micro and macro level changes of narrative contents, as well as the scribal and reader practices that produced them are finally receiving the attention they deserve.

This paper will address another, related, aspect of the transformation that might take place when writings circulate which has still not attracted the same level of interest: circulation of writings not only leads to changes in textual contents, transmission processes may also lead to a re-identification of the writings themselves. In other words, narrative contents are not the only thing that changes – cultural perceptions of what a given text unit is may change too. Traces of these transformations are still available to us in the form of paratextual features in extant manuscripts.

Inspired by the perspective of New Philology, and in order to discuss the relevance of studying paratextual features, I will explore the Syriac transmission of the so-called Epistle of Baruch. This epistle is known to most scholars as the final 10 chapters of 2 Baruch. 47 Syriac manuscripts contain a copy (complete or excerpted parts) of this epistle, and with one exception (a single Arabic codex), the Syriac tradition is to my knowledge the only manuscript tradition that preserves it. In contemporary scholarship these manuscript copies of the epistle are commonly applied as 'text witnesses' to the epistle attached to the apocalypse in 2 Baruch. However, a closer study of titles and postscript titles, as well as the location and contextualization of the epistle in Syriac codices show that while the textual contents of the epistle remains relatively stable, 46 of these 47 manuscripts identify the epistle with a different title, associate it with a different biblical figure, locate it in a different context of text units than the context of 2 Baruch, and suggest other contexts of cultural usages than the apocalypse. Is the epistle in these copies, then, the same or a different composition than the epistle attached to 2 Baruch, and how does this paratextual information challenge the default use of these copies as text witnesses to the epistle integral to 2 Baruch?

And for the Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, and Christian Studies Consultation:

Digitization and manuscripts as visual objects: reflections from a media studies perspective

During the last decade, libraries and collections worldwide have digitized their manuscript collections, making photos of manuscripts available for scholars online. Due to this ongoing digitization of manuscripts, and assisted by a constant sharing of images of manuscripts in various online (social) media, scholars in the relevant academic fields are now regularly exposed to, and are becoming familiar with, manuscripts as visual objects. Hence, manuscripts, which were formerly seldom seen, being engaged with only by the few, are now increasingly visually available - they are only “a click away”. Due to the ongoing digitization, thus, manuscripts are now accessible for new and broader groups of scholars. 

In this proposed paper, I will engage theoretical perspectives from Media Studies in a discussion of the hypothetical effects of the digitization of manuscripts. I will see the resulting transformation of the representation of the manuscripts as an important media shift and ask how this shift in media technology and format will affect the ways scholars engage with their source material. As has been pointed out at several occasions in the fields of Sociology of Knowledge and Media Studies, change in technical media will typically change the perception, communication, and social practices surrounding the mediated object.

Thus, seeing scholarly practices basically as social and cultural practices where technology and media culture play decisive parts, this paper will pose three questions. First, (how) is it likely that the increased visual presence of manuscripts online will change editing practices? Second, how will the increased availability and the visual presence of manuscripts online change scholarship on ancient texts? And third, what new and different studies may result from this innovation in digital humanities?



Friday, 6 March 2015

Trolls at my door: reflections on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2015 (8 March)

When I started blogging one and a half year ago I was well aware that there were trolls in the digital woods. I knew very well that women who blog or otherwise take part in online public debate experience various kinds of unwanted attention. I also knew that a large part of this unwanted response is gendered in nature, in the sense that its content is responding to the fact that the blogger is a woman. However, since I was planning a research blog, with purely academic contents, I assumed that this would protect me from at least parts of the most aggressive trolling that we all know is taking place in online sharing culture.

Now, looking back, I guess that in part I was in fact right. I have never been threatened, nor have I received explicit hate mails. But still, as I was soon to discover, I was wrong as well. Less than 24 hours after publishing my first post a troll was at my door. Ever since, each and every time I have posted something I receive “responses” (let’s call them that) via Gmail, Google+, and Messenger/Facebook messenger service.

The responses fall into two categories:

1.Responses that in various ways call for my attention, but not as a scholar. Some respondents ask, quite discretely, if they can be in touch with me privately or have my phone number. Others share pictures of themselves dressed in army uniforms. Curiously, I receive these army uniform messages again and again, each time from a different respondent.

2.At times I receive messages of a far more aggressive kind. These are the messages I would categorize as trolling, defined elsewhere as “recreational abuse”. Out of concern for the fainthearted I will not summarize them here, but simply share one short quote to illustrate their general contents and style. That first troll knocking at my door back in 2013 claimed, among other things, that I “obviously needed to be ****** by a real man.” No need to go into detail – you get the picture.

These two categories of responses are in many ways two different types of responses. The first category may be described as ill-informed and uninvited, but probably rather innocent per se, while the second is obviously offensive. Upon receiving them, I have tended to react differently to them. The first type has left me somewhat puzzled, but otherwise has not affected me much. The second type is disturbing and my initial reaction has been accordingly.

However, the two categories also have something important in common: they are both completely off the point in the sense that they are not responding to the contents of my posts. They are responses, but they are utterly irrelevant to the contents of my blog - they respond to my online representation, my digital avatar, and that avatar is female. My name and the picture on the blog give away that I am a woman and that is what these messages are all responding to.

And upon further reflection, I have come to think a bit differently about the respective graveness of the two types of responses. Although the messages I categorize as trolling are clearly the most disturbing, the other category displays a tendency that might be seen as equally grave, just in a different way. The fact that so many individual respondents approach me in ways that are completely irrelevant to what I have posted suggests that it is considered alright and comme-il-faut to approach women online in this way: responding to the fact that she is a woman, not her utterances. 

Sure, you might say that I asked for it. I knew about the trolls, but I still decided to put my blond head out there. You might say that there is nothing special about my experiences. Rather, this is common, and many women have worse stories to tell. You might say that I knew what I was entering into. What I have experienced is simply an integral part of contemporary cultural practices online. No reason for whining!

But I am not whining. I am analyzing.

And here is the analytical point of this post: The very fact that trolling and other off-the-point responses are highly common practices in digital communication culture is exactly why this issue should be addressed in an academic blog on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. During the last decades, and particularly during the last couple of years, online platforms and fora of various sorts have become an increasingly important arena for academic discussion, communication, and knowledge sharing. These digital sites are in this sense academic arenas. They may well appear as new and different than traditional academic arenas, and they are clearly hybrid in nature. They are sites where academic discussion takes place and simultaneously they are a part of the overwhelming interrelatedness of the web, open for anyone who wants to pay them a visit. And yet, they are still arenas where academic practices unfold and where scholars – men and women – do their job. They should be taken seriously as such.

The implication is that trolling cannot be seen as foreign to this academic arena. My trolls have found me due to the interrelatedness of the web. I certainly do not believe that any of these trolls are colleagues in the academy, and still that fact does not make the trolls less real when I do my job. From this point of view, then, fighting trolls is one of the things I, as a woman, will have to do if I want to be present at this academic arena. If I want to share my research digitally and do my job as a scholar in a world where online presence is increasingly part of the game, this is what I am facing out there. If these kinds of responses should keep me and other women from posting or otherwise taking part in online discussion, and if they make women practice self-censorship that is bad news for gender equality in the academy.

I know that this post means trouble. I am bolting my door.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

More Magic: Call for papers, workshop in Oslo

Categorisation – Comparison - Materiality

10th-11th June 2015
MF Norwegian School of Theology


Wednesday 10th June
08.30 Coffee and welcome, Liv Ingeborg Lied and Nils H. Korsvoll
09.00-09.40 Nils H. Korsvoll (MF)                              
Cruciform Motifs in Syriac Incantation Bowls
09.40-10.20 Victor Ghica (MF)                                    
Voces Magicae and Nomina Barbara in Egyptian Gnostic and Magical Texts: Dynamics of Development
10.30-11.30 Short papers
12.00 Lunch
13.00-14.00 David Frankfurter (Boston University)        
From Magic to Materiality: Refining an Exotic Discipline
14.00-15.00 Marco Moriggi (Universit√† di Catania)
Jewish Divorce Formulae in Syriac Incantation Bowls

Thursday 11th June
08.30 Coffee
09.00-09.45 Marco Moriggi                             
The Relationship between Magic and ‘Official Religion’ in Sasanian Mesopotamia
09.45-10.30 David Frankfurter                                                     
Magical Charms from Late Antique Egypt
10.45-11.45 Short papers
12.00 Lunch
13.00-15.00 Excursion: Oslo University Papyri Collection

We invite proposals for short papers (15 mins + 15 mins Q&A) on the workshop theme from PhD-students and Post-docs.
Please send proposals to nils.h.korsvoll@mf.no by May 1st.


David Frankfurter (Boston University)
Frankfurter’s particular interests revolve around theoretical issues addressing the place of magic in religion, the relationship of religion and violence, the nature of Christianisation, and the representation of evil in culture. He teaches on Christian apocalyptic literature, and the documents of early Christianity, including extra-canonical sources, magical texts, and saints’ lives.

Marco Moriggi (Universit√† di Catania)
Moriggi has published extensively on Syriac amulets, as well as Aramaic philology and epigraphy more generally. He also works with Semitics and linguistic theory, and has recently produced a corpus of Syriac incantation bowls.

Victor Ghica (MF Norwegian School of Theology)
Ghica is a trained archaeologist and philologist and works on Christian archaeology,coptology, papyrology and epigraphy. He is a member of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology and has published on gnostic texts and Coptic and Manichean epigraphy.

The workshop is organised by Liv Ingeborg Lied and Nils H. Korsvoll