Course Overview:

The National Endowment for the Humanities-supported Automatic Collation for Diversifying Corpora (ACDC) initiative, based out of the University of Maryland and Northeastern University, is offering a twelve-week all online summer course running from June 1st to August 20th, 2021, that will provide students a unique opportunity to learn about the Arabic script manuscript tradition as a whole, its paleographic and codicological features, and cutting edge digital humanist tools and methods especially suited to paleographic and codicological concerns, including relevant recent advances in such fields as machine learning and artificial intelligence and their applications to the study of Islamicate manuscript traditions. The course will be limited to five graduate students selected based on criteria described below; the course is free of charge, with participating students given a $5,000 stipend in recognition of the work they will be constributing towards the ACDC project itself.

Taught by Dr. Jonathan Parkes Allen, one of the principle investigators in the ACDC project, the course will be structured such that by the end of the summer students will have gained both knowledge and practical experience in the use and understanding of the Arabic script manuscript tradition along with digital tools and techniques that will both facilitate this understanding and transform how students interact with and think about manuscripts. Students will be exposed to the full breadth of the Arabic script tradition, from West Africa to China, in both the ‘classical’ languages of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish as well as examples of vernaculars written in Arabic script, with special focus given to script traditions often treated as ‘marginal.’ While manuscripts will be our primary focus, time will also be devoted to the vast but underappreciated output of lithographed texts in the 19th and 20th centuries, books which in many ways partake of manuscript culture and often entail some level of paleographic knowledge to read.

The course will begin with a three-day intensive workshop designed to provide participants a general overview of Arabic script paleography and codicology, examining the history of Arabic script’s development and the elaboration of Islamicate manuscript traditions from origins to the present. Basic digital codicology will also be introduced during this workshop through guided in-class transcription and metadata annotation exercises. Beginning in the second week, the course will shift to one day a week, 1-3 PM (the specific day will be chosen in consultation with the students, and the time slot may be shifted as well depending on student needs), and will tackle specific topics in paleography, digital codicology, and Islamicate digital humanities broadly while also focusing each week on a distinct script style. Attention will be paid to specific genres of texts with particular paleographic and codicological profiles, such as Qur’anic tafsīr or legal and bureaucratic literature and documents. Digital tools and methods will be introduced in conjunction, pointing students towards various tools for creating digital critical editions, geotagging manuscript corpora, rendering transcriptions in markdown, and so on, with different possible trajectories and approaches possible depending on students’ particular interests.

The range of scripts and genres will ensure that students encounter and interact with manuscripts drawn from the breadth of the Islamicate world, including often neglected regions such as West Africa and Southeast Asia. Participants will spend significant time practicing their paleographical skills each week outside of class by annotating and transcribing/correcting transcriptions of manuscript samples drawn from that week’s script. In the process, they will improve their paleography skills and become partners in the production of the evaluation corpus for the ACDC project. The course will also feature three guest speakers who will address specific issues related to Arabic-script paleography, digital codicology, and Islamicate digital humanities, with particular focus paid to the machine learning and AI approaches being developed for the study of Arabic-script manuscripts.

The total time commitment expected of course participants is approximately fifteen hours per week. This estimate includes class meetings and time outside of class spent on practice transcriptions and annotation. After the initial intensive three-day introductory session, each week’s class time will consist of both lecture and discussion and hands-on training in specific script styles and structural metadata annotation of different styles of manuscript layout. An average of an hour and half will be allotted to each week’s lecture and discussion component and an hour and a half to two hours for the hands-on training components, time differences relative to script difficulty.

Learning Objectives:

By the end of the course, students will have learned the fundamentals of Arabic-script paleography and codicology as well as how to understand and use applicable digital humanist tools and methods, learning aspects of all of the following:

  1. The diversity of scripts, styles, and individual hands
  2. Issues of text layout and scribal practices in Arabic script manuscripts
  3. The intersection of philological and paleographic concerns
  4. The geographic and chronological extent of the Arabic-script manuscript tradition and digital tools relevant to geographical analysis
  5. How to use digital tools to transcribe manuscripts and annotate their structural features
  6. How to access and make use of digital repositories of manuscripts
  7. The broader theoretical, methodological, and ethical concerns associated with digital codicology
  8. New applications and directions in the application of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other technologies to the field of Islamicate manuscript studies

Selection Criteria for Course:

We ask that applicants submit via email (see below) a CV and short cover letter (one to two paragraphs) detailing their interest in this course and how it will advance their research in the future. Submissions will be accepted until March 15th, and acceptance decisions will be conveyed by March 20th. While students are not expected to have had previous training in paleography or digital annotation, in order to be selected for the course, students must:

  1. be currently enrolled in a masters or doctoral program;
  2. have demonstrated reading competency in Arabic, Persian, or preferably both;
  3. demonstrate a strong interest in Islamicate digital humanities.

Given the historical lack of diversity in the fields of Persian, Arabic, and Islamicate Studies, we will strongly encourage applications from individuals representing diversity based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity. Moreover, we will offer any necessary accommodations to persons with disabilities and we will prioritize creating a diverse cohort of summer fellows in our selection process.

All applications will be reviewed by Dr. Miller and Dr. Allen.

Please direct applications to Dr. Jonathan Parkes Allen: