workshop registration

Distinguishing Paratexts from Texts:
Orality, Commentaries, Genres.

Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg
15 - 16 May 2015


The workshop will explore how paratext differs from the main text in manuscript cultures worldwide, along three related lines of inquiry: (1) orality, (2) practices of commenting on texts, and (3) genre.

(1) A manuscript can relate both to the written and oral dimension of the text that it contains. The written dimension is straightforwardly identifiable at face value, whereas the oral dimension of writing, copying and transmission is not necessarily reflected in the manuscript. In manuscript cultures, traces of the oral dimension of the written text (e.g. patterns of oral performance as reflected in grammatical glosses, guidelines for recitation, certificates of oral transmission, etc) are often only discernible from the paratexts, rather than main text of the work.

(2) Commentaries attached to the main text are one of the most recognisable forms of paratext in manuscripts. In such cases, and in order to identify the differences between the main text and paratext in a given manuscript culture, it is important to understand (a) whether and how commentary is set apart from the main text, or rather integrated into the main text in the course of copying or scholarly exploration; (b) whether commentary is understood in a given manuscript culture as a unique accompaniment to the main text (and therefore not meant for copying), or whether it stands in a fixed correspondence with the main text (and is therefore meant for copying); and finally, (c), whether the commentary can acquire an independent and autonomous existence and tradition separate from the main text to which it refers, or whether there are certain constraints that do not permit such mutation.

(3) Manuscripts are often easily identifiable as carriers of distinct genres. Canonical texts may look very different from versified treatises, and historical accounts from prayer books. The interplay between the main text and paratext is often conditioned by this kind of genre-specific difference (e.g. paratexts can serve as immediate indicators of genres – cf. propitiatory formulae in Islamic mss which point distinctively to different genres such as legal texts, exegesis, poetry etc., or titling elements that serve as genre-specific paratexts).

We invite contributions on the above topics, concentrating on “textual”, or “script-based” types of paratext. Nonetheless, we are also interested in borderline cases where these textual features cannot be separated from the pictorial component: such as signs of prostration rendered by intertwined words and ornamental patterns (Qur’an mss); illuminated capital letters specific for one genre of texts but not for others (European mss); phonetic guides and vocalisation marks only used in specific genres (Japanese mss, Arabic mss).

The individual papers should not exceed 30 minutes, leaving 30 minutes for discussion in each slot.

Programme and Abstracts



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


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