The Winter Academy „World Scripts“ is blogging!

The Winter Academy „World Scripts: Concepts and Practices of Writing from a Comparative Perspective“ currently takes place at the University of Cape Town (September 4—14, 2015).

Our new blog „Transregional Academies“ documents the event by publishing new photos, project descriptions and the public program:


The Academy is organized within the framework of the research program Zukunftsphilologie: Revisiting the Canons of Textual Scholarship  by the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung – German Humanities Institutes Abroad in cooperation with the University of Cape Town and the French Institute South Africa.

The Winter Academy will explore, from a comparative and global perspective, the vocabularies and typologies of writing in various philological traditions and the role of script as a technology in the production, diffusion, archiving and exchange of knowledge. Hosted at the University of Cape Town, the Summer Academy will focus on the experience of writing and the technologies of script on the African continent, and will especially explore comparative cases and entangled histories that connect Africa to the Arabophone world, the Mediterranean region and through the Indian Ocean to South and Southeast Asia.

About World Scripts:

In recent decades, the notion of script has been at the centre of philosophical analysis (e.g., Derrida’s “De la grammatologie”), while continuing to underpin such “classical” textual disciplines specialising in written traditions such as textual criticism, palaeography, epigraphy and codicology. Indeed, the multiplicity of meanings attached to the term ‘script’, both in theory and in practice, raises numerous questions about the concrete function, the material conditions and the political cultures in which this technology comes to exist. The instantiations of al-khatt (Arabic) or scriptūra (Latin) could refer to a broad family of meanings from leaving a mark, a form of written expression, a mode of representation in transcribing a language, or in a broader sense, written culture in all of its dimensions. While recent developments of book history and critical bibliography have managed to augment our knowledge of the past through renewed consideration of the materiality of texts, the Summer Academy aims to direct attention to manuscript cultures towards a better understanding of their contexts.

What can the study of the actual form and style of script tell us about its wider context, and the broader political and cultural aspects that it reflects? For a scribe or a copyist, a script is a model to be imitated, an ideal and a reference. As a mode of representation, it has aesthetic dimensions, as highlighted by the practice of calligraphy, as well as social and political functions. The encounter and competition between scripts as bearers of culture also generates powerful affective impacts ranging from nostalgia and melancholia to aspiration and exhilaration.

What kind of history can a consideration of the notion of script lead us to write? The Summer Academy will consider cases of script circulation. What is it that circulates exactly? Texts? Practices? Writing tools? Models? Emotions and values? Sanctity? Traditions? Epistemes? Irrespective of what a script conveys (or what conveys a script), it is an exceptional marker in establishing not only the circulation of texts, but also that of ideas and people – circulations made visible by all the intermediaries and facets involved in the circulation of scripts: scribes, tools, techniques, practices and reading communities.


Illuminated Manuscript Walters Art Museum Ms W.554 fol.65a

Illuminated Manuscript Walters Art Museum Ms W.554 fol.65a

The Winter Academy will also explore the concept of global script so as to encompass phenomena such as the spread of Arabic and its script across diverse regions as either the representation of Arabic language or distinct other languages – or even hybridizations such as the representation of Melayu or Bangla or Sindhi in Arabic script. How do we characterise histories entangled through script? What relationships connect scriptural spread to political or ideological or economic relationships among communities? How do appropriation processes complicate our view of scriptural hegemony? Related to this issue of scriptural hegemony, we also seek to consider local scripts and minor practices of writing. The Summer Academy will encourage examination of the politics of script transformation and implementation. Why do some scripts travel far and are completely adopted while others are confronted with resistance and rejection? Why were and are certain scripts viewed as markers of cultural progress while others are considered decadent and un-modern? How and why have script forms become the site on which ideological debates about progress, reform and modernity have been fought? What are the consequences of the replacement of one script by another? Can the invention of new script forms or the adoption of foreign forms contribute to cultural loss or political emancipation and progress? The Summer Academy encourages contributions that look at the political, social, and deeper affective aspects of such philological debates.

While the disciplines dedicated thus far to textual and linguistic knowledge have tended artificially to compartmentalise scripts and remain blind to their interactions, we find numerous situations of scripts in contact. How can we characterise this coexistence? Are there competing and conflicting spaces? Or are we looking at cases of syncretism and hybridization? Finally, the Summer Academy will seek to rethink approaches to non-European manuscript traditions, which have been at best understudied and at worst neglected for too long since the invention of the printing press.

Steering committee:

The Winter Academy is conceptualized and steered by members of the Zukunftsphilologie collegium: Michael Allan (University of Oregon), Elisabetta Benigni (University of Turin), Islam Dayeh (Zukunftsphilologie / Free University Berlin), Adrien Delmas (French Institute South Africa), Shamil Jeppie (University of Cape Town), Stefan Leder (Orient Institute Beirut), Sumit Mandal (University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus), Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn (CNRS Paris), Ronit Ricci (Australian National University), Umar Ryad (University of Utrecht), Lena Salaymeh (University of California, Berkeley).

The Academy builds on two previous Zukunftsphilologie Winter Schools: Textual Practices Beyond Europe, 1500-1900 (Cairo, 2010), and Philologies Across the Asias: The Translation, Transmission and Transformation of Knowledge in the Early Modern World (Delhi, 2012).

Stefanie Rentsch

Dr. Stefanie Rentsch ist wissenschaftliche Referentin am Forum Transregionale Studien Berlin und leitet dort den Bereich Publikationen und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit. Blogs:, Stefanie Rentsch is head of publications and communication at the Forum Transregionale Studien Berlin. Blogs:,

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