KITAB LUCIS lectures: the literary culture of the medieval Arab world

In April and May 2017, LUCIS (Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society) Spring Fellow Sarah Bowen Savant will deliver five public lectures on the transmissions of text in the Middle East in the period of 750-1500 C.E.

This series explores the literary culture of the medieval Arab world. How and why did authors copy past books? The main goal of the lectures is to document the extent of copying that went on in the Arabic tradition and to consider the types of research questions that can now be addressed with text reuse methods, among them the nature of authorship in medieval times, the cultural meanings assigned to copying, the ways that canons came into existence and passed out, how history was filtered, and the networks through which texts passed.

Thousands of texts pertaining to all aspects of cultural history survive for the period from 750 to 1500; these are widely available in open-access digital formats on the internet. Hundreds or perhaps thousands more survive in manuscript collections across the Middle East. This storehouse of memory can now be studied in completely new ways using digital technology that measures text reuse (i.e., the repetition of textual units) and that can reveal the form of the Arabic textual tradition as well as its development, priorities, and blind spots. Arabic authors frequently made use of past works, cutting them into pieces and reconstituting them to address their own outlooks and concerns. Texts and fragments of texts thus flowed within profoundly intertextual circulatory systems that can be reconstructed and analysed.

The lectures will be based on nearly two years of research and development work on KITAB, a research project that Dr. Bowen Savant leads which studies text reuse across the Arabic and Persian textual traditions.


  • 10 Apr – Book copying and text reuse detection
  • 20 Apr – Explaining prolific writers
  • 26 Apr – Identifying Libraries
  • 02 May – Creating cultural heritage
  • 11 May – Networks


For more information on each lecture and the location, please visit the series website.