Scribal Identity and Agency 

ETC is pleased to present the following seminar series in Michaelmas Term 2021(October 10thto December 4th). The seminar will be held in a hybrid form, with Zoom connection complementing a limited on-site presence at the Dickson Poon Building, China Centre, Oxford, on Thursdays 14.30–16.00 UK time. Auditors are most welcome to attend in person. Zoom links will be provided in advance of the sessions to those who sign up.


We will explore how ancient and pre-modern scribes operated in and portrayed their socio-economic and intellectual roles both as individuals and as a group, how those roles were depicted by outsiders, and how scribal agency may be discussed in the absence of explicit discourses about scribes in the primary sources.  


What determined scribal identity and agency in cultures where writing emerged independently and led to professionalised usages of written media (Mesoamerica, China, Mesopotamia, and Egypt)? What about cultures that feature a strong tradition of oral teaching and transmission among cultural and religious elites? How did oral practices influence scribal self-presentation and identity (e.g., ancient India, Israel, Greece and Rome)?


Presenters will speak alongside another contributor treating a different  early  text culture. They are encouraged to  engage with theoretical perspectives and across cultural contexts, and to discuss their paper in advance with their fellow speaker for that week. These papers will serve as starting points for a discussion with  other participants  in each session, which will promote an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach to the material under consideration.

Abstracts for each session may be found in the sidebar to the left.


§1. Week 2 (21st October)

Scribal Self-Representation and Archaeology: Maya / Early China

Franco D. Rossi (Johns Hopkins University) and Armin Selbitschka (Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich)

§2. Week 4 (4th November)

Epigraphy and Sociopolitical Grounding: Maya / Mycenae

Mallory E. Matsumoto (University of Texas at Austin) and Theo Nash (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

§3. Week 7 (25th November)

Paratextuality, Materiality, and Agency: Late Antique Egypt / Early China

Elizabeth Buchanan (University of Findlay, Ohio) and Yunxiao Xiao (Princeton University)

§4. Week 8 (2nd December)

Lyric Poetry, Ritually Inscribed: Sumer, Archaic Greece / Japan

Chiara Battisti (Princeton University) and Yisheng Tang (University of California, Berkeley)

§5. Week 9 (9th December)

Scribal Collectivities in Context: Middle English / Early China, Mesopotamia, Hebrew Bible

Harry Carter (Stanford University) and Jason Hagler (University of Pennsylvania)

§6. Week 10 (16th–17th December)

Final Conference: Scribes at Ugarit and ancient Rome, medieval Christianity and Islam, monasticism in Ethiopia and Tibet

Philip Boyes (University of Cambridge), Benjamin Hartmann (Universität Zürich),  Elaine Treharne (Stanford University), Vevian Zaki (University of Oxford), Denis Nosnitsin (Universität Hamburg), Brenton Sullivan (Colgate University)