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From Inkwell to Internet: Transmission of Texts and Knowledge in the Islamic World


Admission requirements

This course is intended and accessible for (1) students able to use Arabic texts and (2) students with little or no knowledge of Arabic but with an interest in Islamic book culture and knowledge transfer. The assignments that students receive during the course will be adjusted to their level of Arabic. Students without familiarity with Islam and Arabic culture are expected to have read before the first class: Karen Armstrong, Islam. A Short History. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000.
The course can be taken for 5 or 10 ECTS.


This course looks at the construction of medieval Arabic texts in book form through processes of production and consumption. How are texts formed and what processes and traditions are involved in the construction of texts, and publications? Technical conditions of Arabic book production such as copying, printing and computer technologies will be considered, as well as the role of authors, readers, patrons, and of traditions of editing and collecting. Using original samples from the rich Leiden manuscript collection, we will study the practicalities of Arabic book production from materials to codicology. We will also look at how texts are (re)produced, altered, and (re)interpreted while being copied, read, recited, taught, or quoted in other texts, and at notions of authority, originality, tradition and modernity.
Particular focuses include: (1) the internal history of texts: manuscripts and the methodology of accounting for variant readings in critical editions; (2) reception: the ways in which older sources are quoted, paraphrased or otherwise incorporated into the works of later authors and the methods of studying such intertextual phenomena; (3) the function of written texts, issues of oral versus written transmission and textual authority; (4) the impact of modernity: the effects of technological innovations, as well as social changes, such as the democratisation of knowledge, and the influence of English.

Course objectives

  • to develop the skills and insights that are necessary to evaluate existing research and to design and carry out empirical research projects;

  • to navigate central issues involved in the transmission of Arabic texts;

  • to understand how critical editions are composed and to be aware of the different methodologies and theories involved in preparing editions;

  • to gain insights into the evolution of Islamic scholarship and changing attitudes towards authorship, textual ownership and criticism;

  • to become familiar with the main reference works used in the study of Islamic book culture and knowledge transfer;

  • to develop and carry out a small research project on a well-defined topic, based on primary source texts;

  • to report on research findings orally and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of humanities scholarship.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

In class instruction maximum 39 hours. Self-study preparing classes and making assignments 250 hours (10 ects) or 110 hours (5 ects).

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments 60%

  • Oral presentation 40%

The final grade for the course is the weighted average of the partial results


Blackboard will be used for internal communication and the distribution of additional reading and/or source material.

Reading list

  • Karen Armstrong, Islam. A Short History. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000

  • F. Déroche, Islamic Codicology. An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script London: al-Furqan Foundation 2005.

  • Additional literature will be provided via Blackboard and a reserve plank in the University Library.


Registration via uSis


Mw. Drs. D.A.M.E. van Dalen


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).