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


Admission requirements

Admission to (one of) the programme(s) listed under Part of in the right information bar.
If you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of (one of) the listed programme(s), please contact the Coordinator of Studies.

Students without prior knowledge of Islam are expected to have read before the first class: Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000; or later editions).


This course looks at the production and transmission of knowledge in the Muslim world by examining 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 shaped 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 as they are copied, read, recited, taught, or quoted in other texts, and at how changing notions of authority, originality, tradition and modernity have impacted these processes. Materials used in this course include 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) traditions of editing; (3) 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; (4) the function of written texts, issues of oral versus written transmission and textual authority; (5) 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 on the topic of the course;

  • to understand how critical editions are made 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 produce well-formulated and well-organised answers to academic questions on the basis of secondary and primary material;

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

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

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


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In such cases, it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is four. Being absent without notification and/or more than four times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course. there will be no resits for quizzes missed due to absence.

Assessment method

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). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) through Brightspace, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing


The assessment for this course has four components: participation; oral presentation; written assignments consisting of practical exercises and essays.

The grade for participation takes into account: that the students show to have prepared for class by completing all readings and assignments; that they engage with their peers in class and make an effort to work collaboratively; that they ask relevant questions and make relevant comments. Students are expected to contribute actively to the discussion.

Each student will give a presentation based on the weekly assignments and debate topics. These will be detailed in the Syllabus. The grade for the presentation will take into account the effort put into preparing before class and the presentation skills during class.

Each student will hand in written reports on three practical assignments (500 words) and two short papers (2000 words each) on assigned topics. These papers are take-home written assignments. Detailed instructions about the papers will be provided by the instructor. The grade for each paper will take into consideration: preparation and study; accuracy and comprehension of the assigned materials; engagement with the task; appropriateness of style and academic language.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. The class can only be completed when all components have been completed (not necessarily with a passing grade).

  • Attendance and Participation: 10%

  • Presentation: 10%

  • Practical assignments (3): 30%

  • Written papers (2): 50%


If the weighted average of the four grades is not a passing grade, students will have the chance to take a resit exam to increase the weighted average to a passing grade. In this case, the resit exam will count for 50% of the total grade with the weighted average of the four grades counting also for 50%.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • 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 Brightspace and/or a reserve shelf in the University Library.
    Optional (see above): Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000; or later editions).


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory for:

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies students: the number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served. Priority is given to students who started with the MA programme in 2022-2023.

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) students who opt for the Research MA version of the course. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

Students from MA programmes listed under Part of in the right information bar, need to contact their Coordinator of Studies for information on the enrolment procedure. After admission they will be registered by the Education Administration Office Vrieshof.