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From Inkwell to Internet: Text and Transmission in the Muslim World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies. Students without prior knowledge of Islam and Arabic culture are expected to have read before the first class: Karen Armstrong, Islam. A Short History. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000.
This course can be taken for 5 EC (course code 5854III5) or 10 EC (course code 5854III).


This course looks at how medieval Arabic texts are constructed and transmitted from the manuscript era into the internet age through processes of production and consumption. How are texts given shape and what processes and traditions are involved in the construction of texts, their publication, preservation and use? We will examine the technical conditions of Arabic text production such as copying, printing and computer technologies, as well as the role of authors, readers, patrons, teachers, scholars, booksellers, traders, collectors, and librarians in the shaping of the Arabic textual canon that we have at our disposal in the present. 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. Material used in this course includes original samples from the rich Leiden manuscript collection as well as other kinds of text production in the Muslim world (recordings, internet publications, etc.).

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
    Attendance and participation in discussions are mandatory. Each student is expected having done the assigned readings and prepared to discuss them with others. Bring the book or handout’s we are working on to each meeting. If an emergency requires you to miss a meeting, notify the instructor in time, and be prepared to have another student report on what you missed; you are responsible for seminar information and announcements whether present or not.

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

  • Six written assignments 70%

  • Discussion and Participation 30%

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

In order to pass the course, students must have completed all six written assignments to obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. In case of an overall mark of 5.49 or lower students can redo up to three assignments in consultation with the instructor.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


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.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Mw. Prof.dr. P.M. Sijpesteijn


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).