Conference 2013

Observing the Scribe at Work: Knowledge Transfer and Scribal Professionalism  in Pre-Typographic Societies

Macquarie University, Sydney

27th-29th September 2013

Click here to download the conference poster

Prior to the typographic revolution of the 15th century, the figure of the scribe was one of the keys by which civilisations were able to disseminate their power, culture and beliefs beyond their geographic, temporal, and even linguistic limits. Our access to the pre-modern world is mediated by the material and technological remains of scribal activity, the manuscript as an artefact of culture and administration. Every text preserved prior to the advent of printing bears witness to the activities of scribes. Yet as a social and professional group they are frequently elusive, obscured by other professional titles, reduced to mention in a colophon, or existing within a private sphere into which our sources do not reach. While much attention has been given to the scribe as a literary figure, the manuscripts offer a unique point of access to this group without the distortions of the literary tradition. This perspective, however, has frequently been restricted to a catalogue of errors, reducing the scribe to the transmission of an acceptable text, without recourse to the physical characteristics of the manuscript itself.

This workshop is built around the Australian Research Council funded project ‘Knowledge Transfer and Administrative Professionalism in a Pre-Typographic Society: Observing the Scribe at work in Roman and Early Islamic Egypt’. The project sets aside the often futile search for the historical figures of the scribe in favour of a focus on observable phenomena: the evidence of their activity in the texts themselves. Recognizing that the act of writing can be a quotidian and vernacular practice, it explicitly includes the documents of everyday life as well as the realms of the copying of literature, seeking paths back to an improved understanding of the role and place of scribes in pre-modern societies.

‘Observing the Scribe at Work’ will bring together specialists in pre-modern societies of the Mediterranean world and adjoining cultures, from the ancient Near East, through the Egyptian and Classical worlds to Byzantium and Renaissance Europe. The papers will contribute to a deeper understanding of the processes that drive the operation of pre-printing cultures, and transmit knowledge and traditions forward in human societies.

The workshop will be held at Macquarie University on 27-28 September 2013. Macquarie University cannot offer full funding for all participants traveling to Australia from overseas, but partial financial assistance will be awarded to select abstracts which closely address the themes of the workshop. Decisions to this effect will be made by the end of April.

We call for abstracts of up to 300 words that address the objectives of this workshop. These should be sent to by 31 March 2013.

 Inquiries: Malcolm Choat (; Jennifer Cromwell (

Organising Committee

Malcolm Choat, Jennifer Cromwell, Korshi Dosoo, Rachel Yuen-Collingridge


Australian Research Council

Macquarie University

Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University

Macquarie University Ancient Cultures Research Centre

4 thoughts on “Conference 2013

  1. Pingback: The Byzness | Oxford University Byzantine Society

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  3. Pingback: Macquarie Conference: “Observing the Scribe at Work” | for the Sake of Truth

  4. Pingback: Dictating to a scribe can alter the language used? at Roger Pearse

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