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From Inkwell to Internet: Text and Transmission in the Muslim World (ResMA)


Admission requirements

This course is open to students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or the MA Asian Studies (research), who have a basic knowledge about Islam, preferably obtained through an academic course Introduction to Islam.

Students without prior knowledge of Islam are expected to have read before the first class: Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000; or later editions).

Students from other programmes than those mentioned above are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


This course looks at the production and transmission of knowledge in the Muslim world by examining how medieval Arabic texts are constructed and transmitted from the manuscript era into the internet age through processes of production and consumption. How are texts shaped and what processes and traditions are involved in the construction of texts, their publication, preservation and use? We will examine the technical conditions of Arabic text production such as copying, printing and computer technologies, as well as the role of authors, readers, patrons, teachers, scholars, booksellers, traders, collectors, and librarians in the shaping of the Arabic textual canon that we have at our disposal in the present. We will also look at how texts are (re)produced, altered, and (re)interpreted as they are copied, read, recited, taught, or quoted in other texts, and at how changing notions of authority, originality, tradition and modernity have impacted these processes. Materials used in this course include original samples from the rich Leiden manuscript collection as well as other kinds of text production in the Muslim world (recordings, internet publications, etc.).
Particular focuses include:
1. the internal history of texts: manuscripts and the methodology of accounting for variant readings in critical editions;
2. traditions of editing;
3. reception: the ways in which older sources are quoted, paraphrased or otherwise incorporated into the works of later authors and the methods of studying such intertextual phenomena;
4. the function of written texts, issues of oral versus written transmission and textual authority;
5. the impact of modernity: the effects of technological innovations, as well as social changes, such as the democratisation of knowledge, and the influence of English.

Course objectives

At the end of this course students will

  • have developed the skills and insights that are necessary to evaluate existing research on the topic of the course;

  • understand how critical editions are made and to be aware of the different methodologies and theories involved in preparing editions;

  • have gained insights into the evolution of Islamic scholarship and changing attitudes towards authorship, textual ownership and criticism;

  • be able to produce well-formulated and well-organised answers to academic questions on the basis of secondary and primary material;

  • have become familiar with the main reference works used in the study of Islamic book culture and knowledge transfer;

  • have learned to navigate central issues involved in the transmission of Arabic texts in the Muslim world;

  • be able to report on research findings orally and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of humanities scholarship.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance is compulsory for all sessions. Students must prepare well and contribute to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Six written assignments of 1000-1500 words each 78%
Oral presentation 12%
Participation 10%

The weighted average forms the final mark for this course. In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (= 6) or higher. The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Assessment of the assignments

The grades of the assignments are established on the basis of a review of:

  • Demonstration of knowledge and the use of secondary literature;

  • Presentation and consistency of arguments;

  • Communication: number of words, language, lay-out.

Feed-back on assignments will be given in Brightspace.


In order to pass the course, students must have completed all six written assignments. In case of an overall mark of 5.49 or lower, students can redo up to two assignments in consultation with the convener. The convener will assign a new deadline for the submission of these rewritten assignments. It is not possible to re-sit the oral presentation and the in-class participation.

Inspection and feedback

If a student requests in writing a review of his/her examination answer script within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

  • F. Déroche, Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script (London: Al-Furqan Foundation, 2005); PDF.

  • Additional literature will be provided via Brightspace and/or a reserve shelf in the University Library.

Optional (see above): Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2000; or later editions).

For the Research MA students additional readings will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. The extra sessions will be used to discuss the additional literature.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.