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?



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