Exchange of Knowledge Between Literate Cultures

This conference explores the different aspects of how knowledge is exchanged between literate cultures. We recognise that in exchanges between literate cultures, knowledge is often construed, constructed, and contextualized to adapt to a recipient’s culture. This transformation is subject to the historical, philosophical, sociopolitical, and scientific traditions prevalent among the recipient people. As these traditions change with the passage of time and the movement of people, so too does the locus and language of literacy in those cultures.

Here we speak of literacy as a part of this changing episteme of a society, noting in particular three varieties of literacy: prose, document, and numeracy. The ability to read and comprehend a text (the prose), understand and manipulate its format (the document), and interpret and calculate with the numerical symbols (the numeracy) that may accompany, compliment, influence, or even constitute the text offers a tripartite image of the society’s knowledge system. The movement of this knowledge between cultures, societies, or communities involves a translation of the mode, the medium, and the mathematics.

Every society experiences different levels of literacy—from the basic functional literacy that allows actors to read short texts, understand simple formats, and perform basic (numerical and metrological) calculations to the full erudite literacy where actors are able to interact with and manipulate all aspects of a text. As the locus of interactions changes, different knowledge systems from different cultures mark their presence in the literary practices of a society, e.g., Syrian numerical practices seen in Babylonian texts, or the multiple mathematical traditions at play in imperial China, or even the discussions on Islamicate astronomy in Sanskrit texts from Mughal India. These interactions create and nurture the conceptual space in which ideas are continually appropriated, assimilated, or repudiated with the varying levels of literacy in those societies.

To understand the dynamics of these movements, we bring together scholars working on diverse aspects of knowledge transfer within and between literate cultures and in historical periods spanning from the ancient to the modern. The titles and abstracts of the talks to be presented at the conference are included here in the alphabetical order of the contributors’ names.

Please email Anuj Misra in advance if you wish to participate on site in order to get access to the venue.

Download conference poster (pdf)

This conference is jointly organised by the research projects Literacy in the Old Babylonian City of Nippur (MESOPOLIT, grant No. 841928, Robert Middeke-Conlin) and Early Modern Exchanges in Sanskrit Astral Sciences (EMESAS, grant No. 836055, Anuj Misra). Both project have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship Agreement.

Booklet containing Schedule of Talks & Book of Titles and Abstracts (pdf)

Copyright notice

The Schedule of Talks & Book of Titles and Abstracts is made available to all participants with the understanding that no part of an abstract will be cited, circulated, or reproduced without the express permission of the author. The copyrights of all titles and abstracts rest with the respective authors.


Conference videos can be seen here. Links to the abstracts can be found below.

Day 1 (19 July)

On literacy and cognition

11:00 Conference introduction
11:15 Introductory talk, Day 1
11:30 Keynote address Karine CHEMLA
12:30 Lunch
13.30 Collective literacy, knowledge systems and memory: blurring the lines between orality and literacy in ancient Egypt Katharina ZINN
14:30 Pause
14:45 Representational modes and their effects on written signs Karenleigh OVERMANN
15:45-16:30 End-of-day discussions

Day 2 (20 July)

On knowledge changes and diversity within literate cultures

10:00 Introductory talk, Day 2
10:15 The Parvadvayasādhana of Mallāri: a Sanskrit table text to compute eclipses Clemency MONTELLE
11:15 Pause
11:30 The surveyor’s controversy: a condensed view of a changing knowledge economy Robert MIDDEKE-CONLIN
12:30 Lunch
13:30 On different cultures of computations with geometrical entities in Sanskrit mathematical and astral sources Agathe KELLER
14:30 Pause
14:45 Production of knowledge in West Asia in the Medieval Period: from linguistic to paradigmatic shift Hadi JORATI
15:15-16:30 End-of-day discussions

Day 3 (21 July)

On interacting cultures and knowledge translations

10:00 Introductory talk, Day 3
10:15 Religious polemics and natural philosophy in Islamic literate cultures from Christian Spain Mònica COLOMINAS APARICIO
11:15 Pause
11:30 Wisdom is out there! Roger Bacon and the epistemic reconstruction of lost books and missed knowledge Nicola POLLONI
12:30 Lunch
13:30 The ill-starred kisimā: an astrological technique lost in translation Martin GANSTEN
14:30 Pause
14:45 Thinking of language and the language of thought: exchanges in early modern Sanskrit astronomy Anuj MISRA
15:45-17:00 End-of-conference discussions