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4th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

Writing the East:

History and New Technologies in the Study of Asian Manuscript Traditions
  • Program
Details from Left: Buddhist monks relaxing and reading manuscripts. Wat Pathum Wanaram, Bangkok. and Right: Scribal portrait of `Abd Allah Mishkin Qalam (known as Mir `Abd Allah Katib), from a collection of poems (divan) written by Amir Najm al-Din Hasan Dihlavicv, 26 Muharram 1011.  Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, W.650, fol. 127a

October 21-22, 2011

In partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Penn Libraries are pleased to announce the 4th annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age. This year's symposium will explore a range of issues relating to Asian reading and writing cultures, especially as they pertain to the manuscript source. Our focus will be on Asian manuscripts from the Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian traditions. We will bring together scholars representing these traditions to examine the ways in which hand-produced texts shape both meaning and interpretation, and to a larger extent, the cultural norms that define their use. We will also consider the role that modern digital technology can play to facilitate the study of manuscripts today.

Participants include:

**Special Friday Workshop Opportunity**

Bringing Out the Best from Your Collections:  Ask the Experts!

Friday, October 21, 2-5 pm, Free Library of Philadelphia (Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine St, Philadelphia, PA, Room 108)

Are you a Special Collections Librarian with a collection of Tibetan palm-leaf manuscripts in your library, or a shelf of handsome Japanese woodblock print books, or rare Chinese medical texts from the fifteenth century, or a lovely but enigmatic collection of cuttings from Arabic and Persian manuscripts, or any other collection of non-western material that leaves you mystified? If so, we invite you to sign up for our Friday afternoon workshop and ask the experts for help!  

Throughout North American libraries, scores of collections of rare manuscripts produced in cultures outside the sphere of European influence remain hidden from the public eye. Librarians and curators often know very little about how to care for, interpret, and provide access to these hidden treasures. Language and cultural barriers as well as differences in materials and production techniques present unique curatorial challenges in terms of access, interpretation, and preservation. This workshop aims to provide a forum in which librarians and curators can discuss the opportunities and challenges they face in caring for their non-western treasures, learn how to begin caring for and cataloging them, and what opportunities exist for collaboration and crowd-sourcing. We also invite participants to present case studies from their collections to the experts for their opinion and feedback.  Bring your photographs, questions, and concerns, and get ready to learn about your hidden treasures!

For more information on the Schoenberg Symposium Series.

The 2011 symposium is made possible with the generous support of the Center for Ancient Studies and the Departments of History, History of Art, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, and South Asia Studies.

Related resources

October 21-22, 2011


Friday, October 21, 2011

Opening Reception and Special Exhibition of the Free Library of Philadelphia's Razmnama of 1598-1599 and other selected treasures

with a lecture by

Yael Rice, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Picturing Writing, Reading, and Image-Making at the Court of Akbar

Reception begins at 5:00 pm; lecture begins at 6:00 pm.

To be held at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine St, Philadelphia, PA, 19104 (map).


Saturday, October 22, 2011


To be held at the University of Pennsylvania, Claudia Cohen Hall,
G17 Auditorium (entrance at rear of building) , 249 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA (map)

  • October 22, 2011

    Morning Session

    9:00 - 9:45 am   Registration and Coffee

    9:45 - 10:00 am Welcome and Opening Remarks

    10:00 - 12:00 pm  Reading and Learning to Read along the Silk Road: Examining the Manuscript Evidence

    Adam Gacek, McGill University (Canada)
    Evidence of readership in Arabic Manuscripts
    Hiram Woodward, The Walters Art Museum (USA)
    Illustrated Manuscripts of Thailand
    Kazuko Tanabe, The Eastern Institute (Japan)
    A Comparative Study of the Differences Between the Folding Book Kept in Kakuozan Nittaiji and the Folding Book Kept in Wat Hua Krabu

    12:00 - 2:00 pm  Lunch Break

    Special Exhibition of Manuscripts from the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection and Penn's Rare Book & Manuscript Library to be held in Meyerson Conference Room, 2nd Floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

    Afternoon Session

    1:45 - 3:45 pm Collecting, Cataloging, and Studying Manuscripts in Asia 

    Min Bahadur Shakya, Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods (Nepal)
    Preservation of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts in the Kathmandu Valley
    Paul R. Goldin, University of Pennsylvania (USA)
    The Ancient Chinese Manuscript Hengxian and the Problem of Studying Looted Artifacts
    Susan Whitfield, British Library (UK)
    Creating a Codicology of Central Asian Manuscripts 

    3:45 - 4:00 pm  Coffee Break

    4:00 - 5:15 pm  New Digital Tools for Reading Old Manuscripts

    Peter Scharf, The Sanskrit Library (USA)
    Providing Access to Manuscripts in the Digital Age
    David Germano, University of Virginia (USA)
    Tibetan Texts, Oral Culture, and Bidirectional Dictionary Services

    5:15 - 6:00 pm  Roundtable Discussion: Advancing Technologies in the Preservation and Access of Asian Manuscript Traditions

    Moderated by Lynn Ransom and Justin McDaniel

    6:00 - 7:00 pm Closing Reception and Special Exhibition of Manuscripts from the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

October 21-22, 2011


In program order

Yael Rice, Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia, PA)
Picturing Writing, Reading, and Image-Making at the Court of Akbar

In 1582, the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) issued an order to have the Mahabharata translated into Persian. The product of this endeavor, the Razmnama (Pers. ‘Book of War’), was less a precise translation than a summary explanation, the Persian text being a vast abridgment of the great sacred epic’s 100,000-plus Sanskrit verses. A copiously illustrated imperial copy completed in 1586, thought to be the oldest edition of the Razmnama, is today housed in the City Palace Museum in Jaipur, India, where it has for a number of decades remained off-limits to historians and art historians alike. The 1598-99 Razmnama, the second oldest known version of this text, is better known to scholars, for paintings from this now-dispersed manuscript are represented in many collections in North America, Europe, and India. This paper will consider the group of twenty-five paintings from the 1598-99 Razmnama’s illustrated folios today housed in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia, focusing in particular on one painting, taken from the book’s preface, which shows Hindu and Muslim scholars consulting and inscribing codices and scrolls as they render the Mahabharata into Persian. This work is one among a group of paintings of the period that depict scholars, scribes, calligraphers, and artists engaged in making and using illustrated manuscripts and other texts. Viewed within this larger context of artistic production, the Free Library Razmnama painting offers a fascinating perspective on the cultures of writing, reading, and image-making at the Mughal court during the late sixteenth century.

Adam Gacek, McGill University (Montreal, Canada)
Evidence of Readership in Arabic Manuscripts

One of the hallmarks of Arabic manuscripts is their rich scribal culture which manifests itself in a variety of ways, but especially in notes or statements left by their former owners and readers. These notes include reading/study statements and certificates (ijDzDt). The reading of works in the manuscript age was done either in a group or individually (alone or with a teacher). The individual study of a text with a teacher involved the recitation or reading aloud (qirDJ>ah) of a text, or a part of it, in his presence (bo?=one-on-onebo?= instruction). Group studies, on the other hand, usually necessitated the presence of a teacher, a reader and students (auditors) (the so-called audition- or samDJ?Dt-sessions) and resulted in the granting of certificates or authorizations to transmit individual texts. This paper deals with statements inscribed in manuscripts to document the fact that such and such a person read or studied a given manuscript in a bo?=one-on-onebo?= setting or alone, without explicitly being granted a certificate of transmission. These entries in manuscripts are important for a variety of reasons, not least because they often represent autographed statements by well-known personalities, reveal scores of names of yet unknown or lesser-known scholars, point to the mode of studying employed or express opinions about the text in question or the quality of its witness. Furthermore, when dated, they can be used as termini ante quem in approximate dating, and, when indicating locations (towns and institutions) of study, provide us with a better pictures of the geographical dissemination of a given text. These notes are introduced by a variety of verbs, expressing such ideas or concepts as (among others) bo?=looking into/examiningbo?= (naa:ara), bo?=pondering the contentsbo?= (taJ>ammala), bo?=benefiting frombo?= (istafDda), bo?=being illumined bybo?= (istanDra), and bo?=graspingbo?= or bo?=comprehendingbo?= (istawJ?aba). The present paper includes a discussion of a good number of readersbo?= statements from the middle period by such famous figures as Ibn al-Mua9-ahhar al-a8$illD+ (d.726/1325), BurhDn al-DD+n al-J?IbrD+ (d.743/1343), a9"alDa8% al-DD+n al-a9"afadD+ (d.764/1363) and Ibn a8$ajar al-J?AsqalDnD+ (d.852/1449).

Hiram Woodward, The Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, MD)
Illustrated Manuscripts of Thailand

Most illustrated Thai manuscripts date from a fairly narrow period of time—the nineteenth century—and are examples representing a restricted range of titles. In this presentation, different types of manuscript will be discussed, drawing largely on the holdings of the Walters Art Museum.

Very little has been written about the function of these Thai books—about the circumstances of production or about who opened and admired them, and how often. One type of manuscript about which it is possible to surmise is the treatise on the characteristics of elephants, as copies were apparently held by officials who oversaw the royal pachyderms. The text belongs to a particular genre, found also in India (there are treatises on the characteristics of horses and cats, as well), and the illustrations exemplify the highly refined court taste of the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Elephant Treatise will be the starting point for a discussion of manuscripts that are very loosely related—treatises that tend to be catalogues concerning semi-divine counter-realms. Such manuscripts may have served as marks of authority for those who possessed them.

Kazuko Tanabe, The Eastern Institute (Tokyo, Japan)
Comparative Study of the Differences Between the Folding Book Kept in Kakuozan Nittaiji and the Folding Book Kept in Wat Hua Krabu

In 1897, relics of the Buddha were discovered by W.C. Peppe at Piprahwa near the border of India and Nepal. The relics were presented to the Siamese royal family by the English government. The Siamese royal family divided these relics and gave many to the Buddhists of Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and Japan. The Japanese Buddhists sent a delegation headed by Koen Otani of the Higashi Honganji to bring back the relics in May of 1900. The delegation received the relics at Wat Phra Chetuphon in Bangkok from the King Chulalongkorn of Siam. At the same time a gold bronze image of Shakyamuni Buddha and a copy of Buddha's foot prints made of bronze were presented, supposedly with the Pali manuscripts in the Khmer (Khom) scripts.  These have been kept in the Library of Otani University. In this paper report, this unique collection and the cataloguing of the manuscripts at Kakuozan Nittaiji will be explained.  Specifically, I want to examine the differences between a folding book (libretto mulberry paper manuscript) kept in Kakuozan Nittaiji and a folding book kept in Wat Hua Krabu. This close analysis will hopefully highlight the wealth of the Thai manuscript tradition and influence it had on the rise of Japanese scholarship on Thai art and religion.

Min Bahadur Shakya, Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods (Kathmandu, Nepal)
Preservation of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts in the Kathmandu Valley

The importance of inputting the Sanskrit Buddhist texts into a digital format cannot be over-emphasized, for it was from these valuable Sanskrit originals that most of the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhist corpus was translated into the Chinese and Tibetan languages, and later, into Korean, Japanese and Mongolian. The corpus of Sanskrit Buddhist literature found in Nepal is remarkably greater in number than even the PDli literature available today and serves as one of the most underutilized resources in Buddhist Studies. It is imperative that these Sanskrit originals should be preserved in digital format so that they are accessible to the many varieties of researchers.In this presentation, the author tries to inform the audience about the preservation activities performed by various organization both government and private sector in Nepal and the extent of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscript therein. He will primarily focus and share the experiences in Nagarjuna Institute's Rare Buddhist Manuscript Preservation Project in collaboration with University of the West, Los Angeles and its future prospects on collaboration with other American Universities including University of Pennsylvania. Through these collaborative efforts we expect that a large number of Buddhist Manuscripts will be preserved in the years to come. These Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts which are in the private collections are in danger of being lost.

Paul R. Goldin, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
The Ancient Chinese Manuscript Hengxian and the Problem of Studying Looted Artifacts

Hengxian (In the Primordial State of Constancy) is a previously unknown text reconstructed by Chinese scholars out of a group of more than 1,200 inscribed bamboo strips purchased by the Shanghai Museum on the Hong Kong antiquities market in 1994. The strips have all been assigned an approximate date of 300 B.C., and Hengxian allegedly  consists of thirteen of them, but each proposed arrangement of the strips is marred by unlikely textual transitions. The most plausible hypothesis is one that Chinese scholars do not appear to take seriously: that we are missing one or more strips. It goes without saying that some of these problems might be resolvable if we knew more about the context—which is to say, if we knew more than nothing about the context. The paper concludes with a discussion of the hazards of studying unprovenanced artifacts that have appeared during China’s recent looting spree. I believe the time has come for scholars to ask themselves whether their work indirectly abets this destruction of knowledge.

Susan Whitfield, The British Library (London, UK)
Creating a Codicology of Central Asian Manuscripts

Over the past century, archaeological sites along the trade routes in Central Asia known as the Silk Road yielded more than 150,000 manuscripts. Preserved by the desert sands for up to two thousand years, expeditions sponsored by the imperial powers of the early 20th century meant that the manuscripts were dispersed in collections worldwide soon after their discovery. In over twenty language and scripts, they represent many cultures and religions—although Buddhist texts predominate. Since 1994, under the auspices of The International Dunhuang Project (IDP,, the holding institutions have been working together to make all these manuscripts —and other archaeological artifacts—freely available to all through its multilingual website. I will introduce IDP and discuss some of the challenges of working with diverse manuscript material. She will consider the issues of manuscript cataloguing and scholarship in a culture with a long printing tradition, especially the comparative lack of palaeographical and codicological studies and the attempts by IDP to stimulate these. She will also look at some of the tools now available for analyzing large digital corpora and consider the future of scholarship in this area.

Peter Scharf, The Sanskrit Library (Providence, RI)
Providing Access to Manuscripts in the Digital Age

Access to Sanskrit manuscripts is severely hampered by distance to collections, isolation of artifacts from complementary research materials, deficiency or lack of metadata, and disarray within collections and within individual items of a collection. Arranging, cataloging, scanning, and web-hosting of digital images of artifacts obviously address these problems. Yet an additional impediment confronts users of web-based primary literary sources in non-European languages: information processing technology that has developed primarily in the environment of the Roman alphabet is incompatible with non-European languages.  Non-alphabetic scripts, multiple scripts, unusual orthographic conventions that hide word boundaries, and highly inflected and agglutinative language structures resist conventional digital technologies that take uniform European linguistic representations for granted. As a result, the normal functionality of finding aids is inadequate to cope with Asian collections. Software developed at the Sanskrit Library overcomes this impediment for Sanskrit and makes possible for the first time the development of formats and interoperability protocols necessary to provide web access to the primary cultural heritage materials of India. Many of the techniques used could similarly enhance access to materials in other non-Western European languages.

An additional problem in dealing with hand-written materials as opposed to digital or printed materials is the greater time and effort required to navigate the text in the manuscript. Manuscripts must be used on site in special collection rooms usually isolated from related materials. Hence, sought passages are difficult and time-consuming to find. The Sanskrit Library has developed protocols, formats, and software to integrate digital images of manuscript pages with the corresponding machine-readable text and thereby to provide direct and focused access to specifically sought passages on individual manuscript pages. The facilities for searching for morphological and prosodic variants of words, which the Sanskrit Library is currently developing for machine-readable text, is thus extended to digital manuscript images. This allows generalized information extraction and search techniques to reach Sanskrit manuscripts.

David Germano, University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
Tibetan Texts, Oral Culture, and Bidirectional Dictionary Services

Digital publications of Tibetan texts offer tremendous promise of innovations and efficiencies which we are only just now beginning to realize. Initially, much of the digital input of Tibetan texts merely aimed at facilitating print publication, or at most limited uses in desktop software. Today, online digital libraries are for the first time beginning to offer remarkable facilities for achieving the full potential of the digitization of the rich Tibetan literary heritage. This actualization, however, depends on a nuanced understanding of the relevant technologies and international standards that are common to all digital literature, along with an intelligent adaptation of them in relationship to the unique aspects of Tibetan literature. One of the most fundamental issues concerns the use of textual markup on the one hand, and independent web services on the other hand. It also depends on us thinking outside of the confines of dividing literature and oral traditions, and considering how digital technology allows us to analyze and consult human knowledge in common ways across the written/oral divide. My presentation will draw upon specific work done at the University of Virginia over fifteen years to raise general principles and offer broader conclusions.

Electronic texts require markup of some type, but such XML markup of structural and thematic components of a text can range tremendously from the minimal to the elaborate. I will discuss the TEI markup scheme (Text Encoding Initiative), which is the global standard for working with digital literature, by analyzing its utility and limits, as well as its adaptation for working with Tibetan literature. However, the limits deep level markup lead us inexorably to the alternative methodology of offering reading room widgets and services. Such services can take an arbitrary term or block of text devoid of markup and utilize APIs to offer rich data about those terms or text. The value and limits of markup can only be appropriately understood when such web services are considered fully. In addition, the bi-directionality of such services will also be considered, namely having such services—customized ontological, geographical, lexical, grammatical, and biographical—also enable users to do arbitrary searches of repositories of marked up texts.

These issues of markup and web services equally apply to transcripts of audio-video recordings which document oral traditions. In this light, digital technologies are allowing unified approaches to literary texts and oral traditions, which in turn enable us to begin to analyze newly convergences and divergences across this full spectrum of Tibetan linguistic production. I will conclude then by looking at emergent approaches to cross this old divide.