Scheda insegnamento

Anno Accademico 2020/2021

Conoscenze e abilità da conseguire

At the end of the course students will have a critical understanding of the different systems of attainment, transfer and conservation of knowledge in ancient societies all over the world. Students will be able to analyze the methods and procedures of exchanging and archiving wisdom in different cultures and will be able to compare them in regard of their specific aims and their effectiveness in storing knowledge and information, with special attention to material aspects. Students will be able to undertake an informed review of recently established databases which aim at collecting data and texts of ancient authors and literary works, and to carve out new tendencies in the conception of modern storage systems on the basis of a widened perspective of classification of cultural memories. Students will acquire awareness of recent developments in Digital Papyrology and be able to manage and communicate interdisciplinary and intercultural connections, also considering different scientific approaches.


The course aims to discuss how different ancient cultures across the world, from Greek-Latin to Indian, Chinese, Mesoamerican have faced and solved the problem of the organization and transmission of written data, both in the documentary field (the texts of everyday life and of administration: letters, accounts, contracts, lists) and in the literary field (books).

In class we will discuss how, within different pre-modern cultural systems, people conceived and organized their archives.

We will follow a methodological approach of the study of archiving as a social practice and thus allowing a cross-cultural comparison of phaenomena beyond the European and modern idea of archive. Among the points to be explored there will be the difference between documents that can be discarded or that must be preserved (short or long term); the different ways of organizing the material writing support and – where possible – the physical place where the texts are stored; finally, we will refocus attention on the activities of non-elite players and generally stress the diffusion of archival practices throughout societies.

A special focus will be devoted to the implications of this methodological approach within digitalization of ancient archives.


Class work

  1. Introductory class lectures and source discussion by the teacher and/or by invited speakers - this year, Prof M. Friedrich from Hamburg (6 hours).
    1. Methodological introduction on the shifting concept of ‘archiving’ beyond the traditional Eurocentric meaning to a cross-cultural perspective and a ‘global history’ of archiving as a social practice.
    2. Methodological introduction on the different concepts of preservation, usability and transmission of written data across cultures;
    3. The materiality in the culture of writing and reading with examples of the material aspects of preservation of the documentary and literary culture: examples of material support and writing from the Mediterranean: the papyrus scroll and the codex, writing on crockery (ostraka) and reuse of scrap material, the great libraries within ancient Mediterranean cultures, commercial and military archives, lists of books and private libraries, the layout and symbols for the organization of the written page.
    4. Implications of archival data handling within the digital humanities
  2. Presentations on ways of archiving, comparing archival phenomena across space (and time), with a special focus on contemporary digitization issues, coordinated by the teacher, and from time to time entrusted to an external expert (16 hours). The milieus investigated will include:
    1. Indian documents in Sanskrit (M. Franceschini, Bologna)
    2. Cultural exchanges between Sasanian Persia and the West (A. Panaino, Bologna)
    3. Mesopotamian archives (N. Veldhuis, Berkeley)
    4. Early imperial Chinese archives (O. Skrabal, Hamburg)
    5. Archival practices in ancient Ethiopia (A. Bausi, Hamburg)
    6. Practices of archiving, preserving and repurposing written materials in the Arab lands in the Middle Period (A. D'Ottone, Roma 'La Sapienza')
    7. Mesoamerican archival and writing practices (D. Domenici, Bologna)
    8. Archives on stone: epigraphy and preservation of knowledge (A. Bencivenni, Bologna)
  3. Presentations by students (in working groups) on topics agreed with the teacher (8 hours). This presentation will be part of the work for the final assessment. Possible topics include, e.g., ancient Egypt before the Greeks, feudal Japan, sub-Saharian cultures, etc.




a) Compulsory Readings for attending students (above class overview point 1):

  • M. Friedrich, Epilogue: Archives and Archiving across Cultures―Towards a Matrix of Analysis, in A.Bausi-C. Brockmann-M. Friedrich-S. Kienitz (eds.), Manuscripts and Archives. Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Berlin 2018, 421–45.
  • W. Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance. Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization, 2nd edn., Ann Arbor 2003, Chapter 2 The Materiality of Reading and Writing Cultures: The Chain of Sounds, Graphic Signs, and Sign Carriers, pp. 169-122
  • D. Schenk, How to Distinguish between Manuscripts and Archival Records: A Study in Archival Theory, in A. Bausi-C. Brockmann-M. Friedrich-S. Kienitz (eds.), Manuscripts and Archives. Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Berlin 2018, 3–18.

b) Compulsory Readings for non-attending students (above class overview point 2 and 3):

3 more articles to be selected, according to topics close to the students’ interests and sensibility, from the articles published within the following three collections of essays:

  • K. A. Raaflaub (ed.), Thinking, Recording and Writing History in the Ancient World, Chichester 2014
  • M. Brosius (ed.), Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions. Concepts of Record-Keeping in the Ancient World, Oxford 2003
  • Bausi-C. Brockmann-M. Friedrich-S. Kienitz (eds.), Manuscripts and Archives. Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Berlin 2018

or a choice from the following list of books and articles:

  • W. A. Johnson, Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus, Toronto 2004.
  • A. Jördens, Papyri und private Archive. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag zur papyrologischen Terminologie, in E. Cantarella-G. Tür (eds.), Symposion 1997: Vortrage zur griechischen und hellenistischen Rechtsgeschichte (Altafiumara 8-14 September 1997), Cologne-Böhlau 2001, 253–67.
  • N. Leon, Códice Sierra. Náhuatl Text and Translation, México, 1984.
  • K. McNamee, Sigla and select marginalia in Greek literary papyri, Bruxelles 1992.
  • R. Otranto, Antiche liste di libri su papiro, Roma 2000.
  • C. Rosell, Códice Sierra Texupan: Estudio e interpretación. Puebla, 2016.
  • K. Terraciano, The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Nudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries , Stanford 2001.
  • K. Vandorpe, Seals in and on the Papyri of Greco-Roman and Byzantine Egypt, in M.-Fr. Boussac & A. Invernizzi (eds.), Archives et Sceaux du monde hellénistique (Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, Suppl. 29), Paris 1997, 231–91

Other choices may be suggested by the students (especially for DHDK students) and previously agreed with the teacher also on the basis of their specific interests

All the texts read and discussed during the course will be available as teaching materials in the Virtuale web site; students will find PDF version of the bibliography where available or specific indications about availability of books and articles in the same repository.

Non attending students will read the articles and chapters listed above under point a) and one full collection or one monograph among those listed under point b). Non attending students are invited to discuss with the teacher their final choice.

Metodi didattici

1) Class lectures by the teacher, presentation of the subject and some case studies, where students are invited to participate in analysis and discussion;

2) Presentation by experts in the field; students, after reading some suggested readings in preparation to classes, agreed with the teacher, will critically participate in the discussion following experts presentations;

3) Presentation by students who, divided into groups, will prepare and discuss in class specific case studies agreed with the teacher.

Modalità di verifica dell'apprendimento

Students who attend at least 75% of the lessons are considered to be attending

Attending students

The assessment is divided into two parts:

  1. 50% of the final assessment will be based on the presentation of the working groups. Depending on the critical insight and depth of the presentation, the members of the group receive a preliminary grade.
  2. 50% of the assessment will be based on an oral examination. Each student will be asked three questions on the compulsory readings suggested above (under point a) and on the additional readings (under point b) agreed with the teacher, whether they are part of the working bibliography or suggested by the student him/herself as a supplement.

1) The grade assigned to the presentation will be based on the assessment of information retrieval (including informed review of existing databases), quality of analysis of the state of the art, use of appropriate vocabulary, critical appraisal of the main methodological issues, use of appropriate analytical tools, clear structure and presentation, capacity of dividing tasks in the group and produce an organic work.

2) The oral exam will assess a precise knowledge of the essays studied and a mature critical understanding and ability to discuss about them, capacity to manage and communicate interdisciplinary and intercultural connections with awareness of the different scientific approaches.

For non attending students

The assessment will be based on an oral exam, in which three questions will be asked on the compulsory readings. The questions will assess the capacity of presenting the course topics with critical awareness of the methodological implications and interdisciplinary/intercultural connections, clarity of oral expression, use of appropriate vocabulary. Quality of autonomy in the assessment of the digital tools and methods related to specific case studies.

good/excellent final grade: critical analysis of topics with use of proper terminology and autonomous capacity to apply the appropriate methods and analytical tools to a given context.

sufficient/fair grade: description of the main issues learned or analysed, use of appropriate language even if with some uncertainties. Guided capacity to apply methods, based on replication of class examples or examples found in readings

fail: Serious or extensive shortcomings, inappropriate language, inability to correctly frame the topics dealt with, lack of orientation within the bibliographical materials indicated will be evaluated negatively.

Orario di ricevimento

Consulta il sito web di Giulio Iovine