On Thursday 5th of May 2022 Sarah Bowen Savant gave her inaugural lecture as full professor at the AKU-ISMC.

This is her personal account of the start of KITAB, and where she presents material that will appear in her next book, which treats book history.

Prof. Savant tells the story of a set of written practices and cultural expectations that helped make the Arabic written tradition (ca. 700-1500) one of the largest written traditions up to its day. The growth of the tradition is often narrated in terms of the adoption of paper in the ninth and tenth centuries in the Middle East. Without denying the importance of this medium, she emphasises practices that filled paper. This story, of practice, has not been told – or at least, it has not been told in ways that benefit from new and emerging digital methods.

The lecture focuses specifically on the many ways that authors reused earlier works to create news ones. This reuse occurred in many ways that fuelled the tradition’s growth, for example: new, updated versions of earlier works; many varieties of compilations relying on excerpts; commentaries; and abridgements and extensions. Such large-scale and inventive recycling generated new works, new ideas, and new memories. It also partially replaced earlier layers of writings and helps to explain the scant material evidence for books up until roughly the eleventh century C.E., the non-survival of books treating important topics, and the great variability of witnesses to individual works. More fundamentally, the widespread reuse of texts forces historians today to query earlier generations assumptions about authorship and the very nature of the book.

You can now watch the inaugural lecture online, below:

For more lectures and interviews from the KITAB project, please see our dedicated page