Engaging with pre-modern books and manuscripts necessarily involves reckoning with the paradox of loss. While a historical document from the distant past is the material survivor of a singular attempt to hedge against the disappearance of an idea, image, or text, the extant specimen always has to be considered alongside missing exemplars, damage and erasure, lost comparanda, and the vanished life-worlds that produced the object in the first place. This symposium will interrogate the notions of loss, survival, and recuperation in manuscript studies, so often in the background but rarely acknowledged as defining features of the field.
Bringing together scholars, librarians, curators, and conservators, we will investigate losses unknowable and quantifiable, ancient and recent, large and small, physical and digital. How have chance survivals shaped literary and linguistic canons? How might the topography of the field appear differently had certain prized unica not survived? What are the ways in which authors, compilers, scribes, and scholars have dealt with lacunary exemplaria? How do longstanding and emergent methodologies and disciplines—analysis of catalogs of dispersed libraries, reverse engineering of ur-texts and lost prototypes, digital reconstructions of codices dispersi, digital humanities, cultural heritage preservation, and trauma studies to name a few—serve to reveal the extent of disappearance? How can ideologically-driven biblioclasm or the destruction wrought by armed conflicts — sometimes occurring within living memory — be assessed objectively yet serve as the basis for protection of cultural heritage in the present? In all cases, losses are not solely material: they can be psychological, social, digital, linguistic, spiritual, professional. Is mournful resignation the only response to these gaps, or can such sentiments be harnessed to further knowledge, understanding, and preservation moving forward?
The online symposium will take place between the hours of 1000 – 1530 EST, 17-19 November (0200 – 0730 18-20 November AEST). The symposium will end with a keynote address by Professor Elaine Treharne, Stanford University. The full programme and presenter’s abstracts are now available on the website.
Registration is open to all but required for the zoom link. To register, click here.
We are also planning an open round of pre-recorded 5-minute Lightning Round Talks treating manuscript loss in or as a consequence of digital projects. Stay tuned for further details and a call!