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


Admission requirements

Admission to (one of) the programme(s) listed under Part of in the information bar on the right.
If you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of (one of) the listed programme(s), please contact the Education Coordinator.

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).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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


Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Attendance and participation 10%
Presentation 10%
Practical assignments (3) 30%
Written papers (2) 50%

The grade for participation takes into account: that the students show to have prepared for class by completing all readings and assignments; that they engage with their peers in class and make an effort to work collaboratively; that they ask relevant questions and make relevant comments. Students are expected to contribute actively to the discussion.

Each student will give a presentation based on the weekly assignments and debate topics. These will be detailed in the Syllabus. The grade for the presentation will take into account the effort put into preparing before class and the presentation skills during class.

Writing assignments
Each student will hand in written reports on three practical assignments (500 words) and two short papers (2000 words each) on assigned topics. These papers are take-home written assignments. Detailed instructions about the papers will be provided by the instructor. The grade for each paper will take into consideration: preparation and study; accuracy and comprehension of the assigned materials; engagement with the task; appropriateness of style and academic language.

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 and complete all components (not necessarily with a passing grade).

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.


If the weighted average of the four grades is not a passing grade, i.e. 5.49 or lower, students will have the chance to take a resit exam to increase the weighted average to a passing grade. In this case, the resit exam will count for 50% of the total grade with the weighted average of the four grades counting also for 50%.

Inspection and feedback

Feedback will be supplied primarily through Brightspace. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the assessment results, a 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).

  • 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).


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory for:

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies students: the number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served. Priority is given to students who started with the MA programme in 2023-2024.

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) students who opt for the Research MA version of the course. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Students from the other MA programmes listed under Part of in the information bar on the right, need to contact their study adviser for information on the enrolment procedure. After admission they will be registered by the Education Administration Office Vrieshof.



Please note that the additional course information is an integral part of this course description.