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6/24/2015 “Syriac Studies and Digital Research” Panel at #NASS7

Posted by on Friday, June 19, 2015 in Uncategorized.

Syriaca.org editors will be presenting on their work in the digital humanities in sessions at the 2015 North American Syriac Symposium held June 21-24, 2015 at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Details are here  and here.

On Wednesday, June 24 from 9:00-10:30 AM, these same scholars will be participating in a panel on “Syriac Studies and Digital Research”. The specific papers are as follows:

Syriac in the Polyglot Medieval Middle East: Digital Tools and the Dissemination of Scholarship Across Linguistic Boundaries – Thomas A. Carlson, Oklahoma State University

The Syriac language has consistently been written in polyglot environments, from competing with Greek and Persian before 600 BCE, to medieval Arabic and Armenian, to modern Swedish and Malayalam.  While some work in Syriac Studies has taken a longitudinal approach to intra-Syriac questions, other scholars have brought a comparative perspective informed by multiple linguistic and religious traditions.  Nevertheless, the study of Syriac sources often remains isolated from scholarship on Graeco-Persian antiquity, Islamic Studies, and the modern Middle East.  The development of the digital humanities provides Syriacists an opportunity to situate our scholarship more broadly and make it more accessible to scholars in additional fields who ought to consider Syriac sources, but who have bypassed them due to linguistic limitations.
This paper has three goals.  First, it explores how seeing Syriac in a polyglot context may broaden the range of questions asked of Syriac sources.  While this is true of all periods, this paper focuses on the medieval Middle East, which is largely studied under the rubric of Islamic Studies by Arabists and Persianists with no knowledge of Syriac.  Secondly, the paper suggests that this diversity, far from vitiating the importance of Syriac Studies, makes it integrally important to a wider range of fields of study than it has yet informed.  Finally, this paper proposes that digital tools, such as Syriaca.org and the forthcoming Historical Index of the Medieval Middle East (HIMME), are useful sites for the dissemination of Syriac scholarship to a broader scholarly community and public, thus raising the profile of Syriac Studies.

“To all scribes who may in the future encounter this book…” Digital Strategies for a Distant Reading of Syriac Literature – David A. Michelson, Vanderbilt University

Jacob of Edessa’s late seventh-century letter to George of Serugh about the craft of writing offers a first-hand account of the transmission history of Syriac texts. Complaints about the lack of standards notwithstanding, the letter reveals that by Jacob’s day the copying of Syriac texts was a well established process with conventions formed over centuries. Indeed, Jacob’s rhetoric shows an awareness of this long durée. Not only does Jacob look backward to dismiss neologisms less than a century old, but he also looks forward addressing his letter “to all scribes who may in the future encounter this book.” Taking its cue from Jacob, this paper proposes a new scholarly approach to the history of Syriac literature.

The diachronic study of large corpora of literature has recently benefited from a variety of new interpretive methods arising from the tools of the digital humanities. This paper investigates the extent (and limits) to which two such digital practices may aid the analysis of Syriac literature. First, the paper weighs the applicability to Syriac manuscripts of Franco Morretti’s hermeneutic of “distant reading”. Second, the paper draws from the work of Charlotte Roueché and the SAWS Dynamic Library of Wisdom Literatures to apply semantic web technology to medieval literary citations. Both methods can be applied to the digital corpora of Syriaca.org to reveal new aspects of textual transmission and manuscript production in the Syriac tradition. While Moretti’s “distant reading” was conceived as an alternative to traditional “close reading”, this paper argues that it may be modified to serve as an auxiliary as well. For example, statistical analysis of the survival of certain texts in Syriac, e.g. the Sentences of Sextus, can aid us to broaden our understanding of representative reading patterns. Similarly, the digital linking and modeling techniques of the SAWS Library bring into focus the role of excerpts and fragments in the production of Syriac texts. In sum, the paper models one way in which the tools of Syriaca.org can be combined with new strategies for textual and codicologial investigation into the long durée of Syriac literature.

In Search of the children of Awgin: Syriaca.org and the relationships of saints’ and their cults in Syriac Christianity – Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, Marquette University

Syriaca.org has created two databases pertinent to the study of Syriac saints, one on persons, and the other on lives. This two-volume project is entitled Gateway to the Syriac Saints.  The first database, Qadishe, is organized around Syriac saints as individual entries and is composed of biographical and historical information about them. Entries are tagged according to hagiographic topoi and motifs.   The second database, Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica, is organized around literary works, specifically Syriac saints lives or vitae. This database is a legacy project that we inherited from Fr. Ugo Zanetti and his student Dr. Claude Detienne.  Their data contains over 1000 saints’ lives from the Syriac tradition along with the incipit, desinit, and other parts of these lives.  It also contains information on the MSS that contain these lives as well as secondary literature.

In my paper, I will demonstrate the utility of these databases for further research on Syriac hagiography through a case study using the traditions of Mar Awgin.  Syriac hagiographic traditions attribute the founding of many monasteries in Northern Mesopotamia and Iraq to disciples of the legendary ascetic, Mar Awgin.   Awgin was purported to have lived in the fourth century.  His (possibly ninth-century) Vita explains that Awgin was a pearl diver from Clysma (in Egypt) who trained at the monastery of Pachomius to learn ascetic practices.  He then left Egypt with a group of disciples in order to found monasteries in Mesopotamia.  This imaginary link or lineage between the monks of Egypt and the monks of Mesopotamia was set into narrative form through a series of hagiographies of monastic founders who trace their roots to Awgin.  Some of these include: Aaron of Serug, Abraham of Beth Ṣayyare the Penitent, Benjamin, Disciple of Awgin, Dodo, Daniel the Doctor, Mar Eulogius, Mar Ezekiel, Isaiah of Aleppo, and John the Arab.  Each of these has an entry in one or both of our databases. I will show how links among these hagiographic traditions (cultic, literary, material, topographic) can be mapped in our database through the use of linked data and the material that we have collected on these holy persons and their lives.

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