Mixed Up by Time and Chance? Using Digital Methods to “Re-Orient” the Syriac Religious Literature of Late Antiquity

David Allen Michelson


The British Library’s collection of approximately 1000 Syriac manuscripts is one of the world’s richest collections of materials for the study of Syriac Christianity. These manuscripts were catalogued in the nineteenth century shortly after a large collection of over 500 manuscripts were acquired by the British from the monastery of Dayr al-Suryān in Egypt. This article examines the intellectual assumptions that guided the nineteenth- century cataloguing efforts and offers a methodological proposal for how a new digital catalogue of the manuscripts could and should differ. New methods of digital representation can permit users to engage the Dayr al-Suryān manuscripts and the whole of the British Library Syriac collection from multiple, varied, and even conflicting perspectives. Several such digital approaches are being implemented in Syriaca.org’s digital catalogue of the British Library Syriac manuscripts. The diversity of such digital approaches promises to open new insights into the history of Christianity in late antiquity and beyond. 


Syriac; Manuscripts; Codicology; History of Christianity; British Museum; British Library; Orientalism; Postcolonial Studies; Digital Humanities; Syriaca.org; Graph Databases; Linked Open Data; Traditional Cultural Expressions; Diverse Knowledges

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