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Oral and Written Literature in Africa: BA2: Manuscripts, Memory and Oral Delivery


Admission requirements

This course is open to second and third year students. Higher requirements will be imposed on third-year students. The codes for the second-year course is : 5733K2003


In this course students will be introduced to notions of orality and literacy, as well as the complementary function of memory and oral delivery. Students have the opportunity to see manuscripts and understand the challenges of deciphering and editing variants. Questions on how much manuscripts can tell us about the oral or written nature of a text will be investigated: is a text a product of writing or rather an aide mémoire for an oral performance? How much does a song ‘live’ in a manuscript? In order to understand the fluidity of texts, the course aims at focussing on the relationship between “paper” and voiced texts (e.g. texts read aloud, sung or recorded on tape cassettes) in a comparative perspective.
Language of instruction: English

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will:

  • Acquire critical knowledge of a text’s fluidity and variability in its written and oral forms;

  • Situate manuscript traditions and sung versions within their cultural and socio-historical context;

  • Acquire critical knowledge of theories and methods of deciphering and reading manuscripts in African languages;

  • Acquire the skills to recognise oral features and references in a written text;

  • Acquire and practice techniques of critical text editions;

  • Get acquainted with text performed aloud through listening activities in class.



Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load for this course is 5 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 140 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending classes: 26 hrs

  • Assessment hours (take-home-exam): 4 hrs

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature: 65 hrs

  • Time for completing assignments: 45 hrs.

Assessment method

  • take home-tentamen 20%

  • werkstuk, paper e.d. 60%

  • abstract, oral presentation 20%

Resit for any part that has been graded < 5,0



Reading list

The following list is indicative. Please consult the syllabus and the course shelf for more detailed information.

Bausi, A. (eds.) (2015). Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies
Dammann, E. (1993). Afrikanische Handschriften
Finnegan, R. (1970). “Composition”
Finnegan, R. (1974). “How Oral is Oral Literature?”
O’Brien O., K. (1990). Visible Song. Transitional Literarcy in Old English Verse
Ong, W. (1982). Orality and Literacy: the Technologizing of the Word
Pilatszewicz, S. (1985). “The Rise of Written Literatures in African Languages”
Ricard, A. & F. Veit-Wild (2005). Interfaces between the oral and the written
Wagner, E. (1997). Islamische Handschriften aus Äthiopien
Waidman, A. (2014) “Anthropology and Voice”


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


For questions about the content of the course, please contact the teacher: Annachiara Raia

Studiecoördinator: P.C. Lai LL.M. MSc

Onderwijsadministratie: van Wijkplaats