15 & 16 May - Canon on the Move: a symposium on Texts and Transformation

This symposium examines the processes of selection and preservation, interpretation and translation of canonical texts in new political environments, social contexts or cultural realities.

Canon on the Move: a symposium on Texts and Transformation

When: 15 & 16 May, 2013

Where: Gravensteen and University Library, Leiden.

For whom: master-students, PhD candidates and researchers interested in cultural translation, global interaction, manuscript analysis, language and politics, text reception, especially in Europe, Africa and Mesoamerica, are cordially invited to join us. Please register here.

Speakers: Tania Demetriou, Stephanie Wood, Dmitri Bondarev, David Tavárez, Resianne Fontaine, Erik Kwakkel.

Organisers: Ilona Heijnen and Dorrit van Dalen.

For more information, contact: d.a.m.e.van.dalen@hum.leidenuniv.nl

About the Symposium

Texts are like the birds of an African proverb: if they don’t fly, they die. Any text that is alive travels – through time, across geographical, chronological, cultural or social boundaries, from oral performance to written pages and back. In a new environment, texts engages with other meanings. Its changing form and shape influence as well as reflect its use and appreciation. This seminar examines the processes of selection and preservation, interpretation and translation of  texts in new political environments, social contexts or cultural realities.

The aim of the seminar is to understand the processes behind the shaping of the literary canon of the societies we wish to study. We are throwing our nets wide: speakers will present their views on examples from colonial Mesoamerica, and early-modern Africa and Europe. The background of their work is varied when it comes to periods, cultures and themes of the texts they study. Some look at a situation in which translation is pushed by ideology and hierarchy or discouraged by censorship, others at the most subtle changes of meaning. In some cases the matter of agency is obvious, in others it is a fascinating question.

Central to all presentations is the question how canonical texts made their way from one environment to another: how they were used and presented in a new situation. It is a question of cultural translation, in which issues of materiality and the methodology of translation interact with social, historical and political motivations behind the transformation of meaning. On a different level all presenters share an interest in the methodological challenges of cultural interaction in a global context, in how the questions involved can best be addressed and presented. It is precisely the diversity of the backgrounds from which examples are taken, that will lead us to focus on these mutual themes. 

The seminar is organized around two sets of questions:

1. Meaning transformed.
How can paths of the transformation of concepts be studied? What forms of agency can be discerned in such transformation? How are translations used to mold or give meaning to the new cultural, political or religious situations for which they are made? How are indigenous traditions preserved within texts from external, invading, or opposing cultural and literary traditions? What role do language, vocabulary, style or imagery play in preserving local traditions in a new literary environment? How is text used to mold or accompany changes of religious, cultural, social adherence? How are historical realities both local and global reflected in the form and use of canonical texts? How were texts read and what can be learned from marginalia?

2. Technique, translation, materiality.
How can the interaction between translators and their audience be studied? What choices were made on the level of vocabulary? To what extent does vocabulary determine the reception of a text? What sort of texts were selected to reply to a specific audience? What is the interaction between physical transformations of texts and their use? What is the effect on texts of a prohibition to translate? How can translations inform us of scholarly practices or processes of intellectual exchange and appropriation?


Wednesday, May 15: Meaning transformed
Venue: Gravensteen (room 11), Pieterskerkhof 6.

12.30   Welcome, coffee, tea

12.45   Opening: Petra Sijpesteijn

13.00   Stephanie Wood: Tools from the Colonizer for Altepetl Use.

13.40   Resianne Fontaine: Introducing Averroes’ Commentaries in Jewish Philosophy.

14.20   Coffee, tea

14.45   Tania Demetriou: Homer’s Penelope and Her Early Modern Readers.

15.25   Discussant: Dorrit van Dalen

15.30   Discussion

16.00   Documentary

17.00   Drinks

Thursday, May 16: Technique, translation, materiality
Venue: University Library (the large meeting room, first floor), Witte Singel 27.

9.00     Visit to Special Collections in the University Library.  Presentation of manuscripts by Tania Demetriou, Resianne Fontaine, Erik Kwakkel.

10.30   Dmitry Bondarev: Canonical text in human hands: translation as multilayered framing of the Qur’an text in Borno manuscripts (northeast Nigeria).

11.10   David Tavárez: Dangerous Christianities: Indigenous and Franciscan Scholars and the Nahuatization of the devotio moderna in Mexico.

11.50   Coffee, tea

12.15   Erik Kwakkel: Aristotle in the classroom.

12.55   Discussant: Ilona Heijnen

13.30   Discussion

14.00   Closure


Stephanie Wood
University of Oregon

Tools from the Colonizer for Altepetl Use: Indigenous Cultural Memory in Primordial Titles and Pictorial Manuscripts of New Spain.
In this presentation we will explore how indigenous cultural memory was expressed in Nahuatl alphabetic texts and in pictorial maps and manuscripts in association with the defense of the altepetl/collectivity. These artifacts reveal a fascinating dialogue with European conceptualizations of private property and land documentation, showing some acceptance of new genres while still perpetuating local ways of thinking and living. Many altepetl scribes embraced the concept of land titles, but we will examine how they used them to accommodate and help preserve indigenous traditions and reinforce group identification with a specific territory and sacred landscape. The texts even went so far as to entreat fellow community members "not to show these documents to Spaniards," highlighting a clearly distrustful stance toward the colonizers.

Resianne Fontaine
University of Amsterdam

Introducing Averroes’ Commentaries in Jewish Philosophy: Two 13th-Century Hebrew encyclopedists.
MS Leiden Or 4758 contains two Hebrew encyclopedic texts on philosophy and science that were composed during the thirteenth century, the Midrash ha-Hokhmah (‘The Pursuit of Knowledge’) and the De’ot ha-Filosofim (‘The Opinions of the Philosophers’). For medieval Jewish philosophers of this period Aristotle was ‘the Philosopher’ and Averroes ‘the Commentator’ par excellence, and those who studied Aristotelian philosophy read Averroes’ commentaries rather than Aristotle’s own works. Both encyclopedic texts make extensive use of Averroes’ commentaries on Aristotle’s philosophy.  However, their authors differ significantly in their attitude towards Averroes, Aristotle, and the study of philosophy in general, thus reflecting different positions in the medieval Jewish debate on the permissibility of the study of philosophy. In this lecture the techniques the two authors employ in presenting Averroes’ commentaries to a Jewish audience will be explained, with special emphasis on the earliest, the Midrash ha-Hokhmah.

Tania Demetriou
University of York

Homer’s Penelope and her Early Modern Readers.
This paper is concerned with the reception of a canonical ancient text, Homer’s Odyssey, in the early modern period. It looks, in particular, at the cultural translation of the figure of Penelope in this period. I will begin with an attempt to recover the parameters of Penelope’s fidelity in the Homeric text as we have it, asking what it consists in. I will then sketch a trajectory whereby the ancient reception of Homer’s text inflects, I believe, the image of Penelope that gets transmitted to the Renaissance, and by so doing produces some wonderfully against-the-grain responses to the text of the Odyssey itself when it becomes recovered by sixteenth-century European audiences. The paper will focus on England, with glances to readers, commentators, and imitators of Homer across Renaissance Europe.

Dmitry Bondarev
University of Hamburg/University of London.

Canonical text in human hands: Translation as multilayered framing of the Qur’an text in Borno manuscripts (northeast Nigeria)
The Islamic scholars of ancient Borno created a sophisticated system of Qur’anic commentaries. In order to present the Qur’anic Arabic in vernacular Old Kanembu with minimal loss of grammatical and semantic content several levels of translation were used – from morphological to sentential. This gradual presentation of the Qur’anic text transformed the language of the commentary into a sort of framing device which is used to form and evoke the reception of different linguistic layers of the Qur’anic Arabic. In my talk I will thus address the dynamics of translational environment in situations when a canonical text resists transformation.

David Tavárez
Vassar College

Dangerous Christianities: Indigenous and Franciscan Scholars and the Nahuatization of the devotio moderna in Mexico.
Between 1536 and the late sixteenth century, the Colegio de Santa Cruz, established by the Franciscan order at Tlatelolco in Central Mexico, served as a hub for intellectual enterprises featuring a close collaboration between Nahua scholars educated in Latin and the liberal arts and their teachers. Several important intellectual projects, including the first printed dictionary of an Amerindian language, were created at this institution. This presentation investigates two poorly known projects shaped by the close collaborative work of this Nahua-Franciscan authorship community: the superb, rhetorical acute rendering of Thomas à Kempis’s Imitatio Christi into Nahuatl before 1570, and a masterful Nahuatl scholarly translation of the Proverbs of Solomon, probably completed before 1562 and banned by the Mexican Inquisition in 1577. The study of the Nahuatl Imitatio and Proverbs contributes to our knowledge of indigenous intellectual and social history in the Americas in three distinct ways. First, the Nahuatl Sapientia Salomonis is the only extant substantial translation of a Biblical book in an Amerindian language in early colonial times. Second, the very existence of these works pushed hard against the boundaries of what was allowed to circulate in Spanish America. Third, both works showcase the Nahuatization of a scholarly model for translation and commentary in wide use in early modern Europe.

Erik Kwakkel
Leiden University

Aristotle in the Classroom: The Transformation of a Canonical Textbook, 1050-1250.
In the age of renewal known as the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” (1075-1225) a new book format appeared, custom-tailored for the age. This format included new types of script, new page layouts and new reading aids, most notably pagination, running titles, paragraphs, quotation marks, footnotes, cross references and diagrams. The technological innovations improved what may be called “book fluency,” or the ability to read a text quickly and accurately. While in the late eleventh century reading culture nearly completely lacked tools that could rise to these occasions, by the beginning of the thirteenth century readers had a rich palette of aids at their disposal that facilitated comprehension and speedy access.
    Based on two samples of manuscripts, one from the late 11th and another from the early 13th century, this paper assesses to what extent copies with works by Aristotle developed materially between the outset and close of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance.Over the course of the period, works by Aristotle were increasingly translated, read and commented upon, making the issue of the potential development of their material carriers both urgent and exciting. At both poles of the period, moreover, Aristotle was a standard – canonical – textbook used in and around the classroom. The comparison presented in this paper therefore also sheds light on the physical transformation of texts in a setting of education.
    The paper will focus on three material dynamics that were in flux: the dimensions of page and textblock; the manner in which glosses were added to the page; and the reading aids that accompanied Aristotle’s works. Ultimately, the observations presented in this paper raise two broader questions that seem of particular significance to the theme of the conference:how are canonical texts or genres presented on the page; and to what extent can the physical presentation of such texts shed light on how they were used by readers in the Middle Ages.

About the Speakers

Stephanie Wood is adjunct professor of history at the University of Oregon and as an historian received her PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1984. Since 2009 she is also Director of the Wired Humanities Projects at the University of Oregon, a digital humanities research center founded in 1997. Professor Wood’s research area is the study of Mexican indigenous people’s perspectives on European colonialism through the study of manuscripts, pictorial and textual, that they have authored themselves (ca. 1540s-1820s). This research interest combined with an enthusiasm for digitalizing documents has resulted in the publication of several important electronic projects, such as the open-access Nahuatl Dictionary, combining Classical and modern Nahuatl, with growing philological attestations, pictography, audio and video. It represents a collaboration between native and non-native scholars of Mexico, the U.S., and Europe. Other electronic publications of special note include the open-access Mapas Project , a digital collection of Mesoamerican pictorial manuscripts that offers close examination of visual details plus transcriptions and translations of texts, all searchable and comparable. Complementing the indigenous-authored pictorial collection is the growing digital collection of European-authored maps, in the Age of Exploration map project. Professor Wood has also authored the awarded monograph Transcending Conquest: Nahua Views of Spanish Colonial Mexico (2003), co-authored the e-book Sources and Methods for the Study of Postconquest Mesoamerican Ethnohistory (2007/2010) and co-edited several volumes, the most recent entitled Mesoamerican Memory: Comparative Studies in Systems of Remembrance (2012).

Contact: swood@uoregon.edu

Resianne Fontaine obtained her PhD from the University of Amsterdam in 1986, followed by post-doc and teaching positions at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (1986-2001). Currently, Fontaine works as associate professor at the University of Amsterdam, Department of Hebrew. She became interested in medieval Jewish philosophy and its background during her studies in the mid 70s. Over the years she has specialized in this field, working primarily on medieval translations of philosophical and scientific texts from Arabic into Hebrew, and since a few years also on translations from Latin into Hebrew. In general her research concerns editions of medieval Hebrew texts that are still in manuscript. She is currently working on an edition of a part (on natural philosophy) of the 13th century Hebrew 'encyclopedia', the Midrash ha-Hokhmah . Another area of interest is the reception of medieval Jewish philosophy and science on the part of Jewish scholars in the early modern period, in particular in Pinhas Hurwitz's Sefer ha-Berit. Resianne Fontaine is associate editor of Aleph: Historical Studies in Science & Judaism , published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; of the Editorial Board of Amsterdam Studies in Jewish Thought (Springer), and of Studia Rosenthaliana (Peeters). Together with Gad Freudenthal (Paris/Geneva) Fontaine has co-organized the congress 'Latin into Hebrew. The Transfer of Philosophical, Scientific, and Medical Lore from Christian to Jewish Cultures in Southern Europa (12-15th Centuries)', held in Paris at the CNRS, 7-9 December 2009. A volume with selected publications edited by the two organizers will be published in 2013.

Contact: t.a.m.smidtvangelder-fontaine@uva.nl

Tania Demetriou received her PhD from Cambridge in 2008 and held a research fellowship in Oxford before joining the University of York in 2011 as a lecturer in early modern literature. She works on the reception of classics in the early modern period and is currently completing a book on literary responses to Homer in Renaissance England, including chapters on Spenser and his contemporaries, Shakespeare, and George Chapman. She has also worked extensively on early modern Homeric scholarship and especially on Renaissance attitudes to the contested origins of Homer’s text. She is interested in early modern practices of reading and scholarship; translation in and beyond the Renaissance; early modern English drama; and the Renaissance epic.

Contact: tania.demetriou@york.ac.uk

Dmitry Bondarev’s research interests cover African linguistics (structure of Saharan languages with a focus on Kanuri and Kanembu), African manuscripts written in Arabic based scripts (Ajami) and Qur’anic education in Borno (northeast Nigeria). In 2003 he started analysing Old Kanembu – an archaic (and virtually unknown) variety of Kanuri. During his fieldwork trips to northeast Nigeria and southeast Niger in 2005-2011 he worked on Kanuri and Kanembu dialects including an offspring of Old Kanembu (Tarjumo) used by traditional Islamic scholars for Qur’anic studies. As a lead researcher, he was involved in the Early Nigerian Qur’anic manuscripts project at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and in a DFG/AHRC funded international project on Old Kanembu with colleagues at SOAS and Asien-Afrika-Institut, University of Hamburg. He is currently principal investigator of the project “Writing and reading paratexts: cognitive layers in West African Islamic manuscripts” in the research area “Paratexts” of the SFB 950, University if Hamburg. He is regional editor (sub-Saharan Africa) of the “Encyclopaedia of Manuscript Cultures in Asia and Africa”, University of Hamburg (De Gruyter, to appear in 2015) and co-editor of the “Transmission and interpretation of the Qur’an in African languages and styles” (a special issue of the Journal of Qur’anic Studies (Centre of Islamic Studies at SOAS), to appear in 2013).

Contact: db5@soas.ac.uk

David Tavárez
an associate professor of anthropology at Vassar College, received a combined Ph.D. in Anthropology and History from the University of Chicago in 2000. He is the author of The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico (Stanford, 2011), and a co-author of Chimalpahin's Conquest: A Nahua Historian's Rewriting of Francisco López de Gómara's La conquista de México (Stanford, 2010). Spanish-language versions of both of these books appeared in Mexico in 2012, and his other publications include fourteen articles in peer-reviewed journals and seventeen book chapters. He is an ethnohistorian who specializes in Amerindian religion and culture, Mesoamerican ethnohistory, colonial evangelization, and linguistic and legal policies in colonial Spanish America, and his research has been supported by grants from NEH, NSF, the Mellon Foundation, the Research Institute for the Study of Man and the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. His current projects examine indigenous intellectuals and their social worlds in colonial Mexico, the transformation of Zapotec divinatory and literacy practices in colonial Oaxaca, and the translation into Nahuatl of doctrinal works associated with the devotio moderna. David currently serves as editorial board member of the journal Ethnohistory, and as an official in the Conference on Latin American History.

Contact: tavarez@vassar.edu

Erik Kwakkel
received his PhD in Leiden in 2002 and has held postdoctoral appointments at the Universities of Leiden and Amsterdam (VU), teaching appointments at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria (Canada). He currently teaches graduate courses in paleography and codicology for the English Department and Book and Digital Media Studies. He is also the Principal Investigator of ‘Turning Over a New Leaf: Manuscript Innovation in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance’. This project studies manuscripts produced between 1075 and 1225 across Europe. The participating researchers are interested in their development in codicological and paleographical sense; as well as in the relationship between their physical appearance on the one hand, and their settings of use and contents on the other. His interests are not only medieval paleography and codicology but also medieval literature and history, digital humanities and book design. Other professional positions include Advisory Board Member of Quaerendo: A Quarterly Journal from the Low Countries Devoted to Manuscripts and Printed Books (Brill) and the Leuven Centre for the Study of the Transmission of Texts and Ideas in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Lectio). Erik Kwakkel will present the 2014 Lowe Lectures in Palaeography at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, which will be devoted to the birth of Gothic script.

Contact: e.kwakkel@hum.leidenuniv.nl


Last Modified: 04-03-2013