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Hidden from the World, Preserved for Eternity? –
Manuscripts’ Ends of Life

Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg
2 - 3 August 2018

A manuscript undergoes several stages in its life: from the planning and preparation of its produc-tion, over its actual production and writing process, to the use of the manuscript by its readers, annotators, traders and collectors. But when a manuscript is not any longer needed by its former users, or when it is no longer possible to use it as intended, e.g.because it has been damaged, it is taken out of circulation and potentially treated in a specific way.

What happens at this last step depends on the respective manuscript culture and, of course, often on the kind of texts a manuscript comprised. Traditional Judaism, for instance, established the practice to gather no longer used or worn-out manuscripts and printed books in a so-called Geniza (literally „hiding“), a storeroom or attic, usually in a synagogue. The Geniza is then emptied regular-ly and the contained hand-written or printed material is ritually buried. This praxis is motivated first and foremost not by the textual contents, but by the sanctity of the Hebrew script as such. Thus, not only holy scriptures were to be deposed in a Geniza, but all kinds of texts.

Such end-of-life procedures for manuscripts are, of course, by no means exclusive to Judaism. Simi-lar, as well as quite different practices have evolved in various manuscript cultures of the world, whereby several aspects can be distinguished: the spatial accessibility of manuscripts may be af-fected, e.g. by placing them in an archive. Their physical condition may be changed, going as far as to their destruction. And finally, their ontological status may be transformed, e.g. when used as grave goods or when deposited inside of sacred statues.

Our workshop aims at exploring an exemplary range of such practices from different cultures. Spe-cific questions of interest in regard to these practices are:

  • How does a manuscript qualify to be taken out of circulation and to undergo its end-of-life pro-cedure?
  • What is the explicit or implicit aim of the practice in respect to the manuscripts? (And how is this reasoned by the practitioners?)
  • Is a specific procedure or practice depending on or relating to specific contents of the manu-scripts, e.g. sacred or liturgical texts? (Respectively, how are manuscripts of profane contents handled?)
  • What does the actual practice look like and which actions does it involve? What are its ritual fea-tures?
  • Are the manuscripts themselves manipulated during the procedure, and if so, in what way, e.g. by burying, burning, ripping them apart?
  • To what degree is the practice regulated, e.g. by existing cultural, religious, or legal proscriptions or prohibitions regarding the handling of manuscripts?
  • What is the ontological status of the manuscripts after the procedure – for its former users and for us as researchers?
  • Is a manuscript, that is taken out of circulation deprived not only of being read, but of its very own agency and mundane existence? Or, on the contrary, may a ritual deposition constitute the very beginning of a new phase, the manuscript’s “afterlife”, ensuring its everlasting existence and impact?

The essence of manuscripts’ end-of-life practices thus may be found in the broad range of a field of tension: from destruction and disposal, over preservation and archiving to glorification and trans-figuration.

Programme and Abtracts

Download the programme (Updated 19.07.218)


The workshop will be held at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Warburgstraße 26, Hamburg, Germany. How to find us


Participation is free of charge and vistors are welcome. Please register below.
You may find the Hamburg Tourismus site useful for finding a suitable accommodation.
For more information please contact us.

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On which days will you attend the sessions?
Thursday, 2 August 2018
Friday, 3 August 2018

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