TextWorlds: Digital Perspectives on the Composition and Distribution of Writing from the Ancient World

Venue: Thursday 16 June 09.00 - 17.00 CEST (UTC+2) (in-person and remote, see below for registration details)

Cassiopeja Meeting Room, Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (CIRCUS), the Old Observatory, Kyrkogårdgatan 8 A, 75210 Uppsala, Sweden


Text, the basis of historical inquiry, is a medium for human communication that transcends time and space. Text forms a preeminent empirical and epistemological starting point for the understanding, structuring and shaping of knowledge on worlds past. Yet the understanding of historical sources as particular material horizons, as corpora with a tangible physical makeup, composition, and distribution, is only rarely appreciated. The fragile and unique, or sometimes vulgar and omnipresent, character of the text as a material object is seldom delved upon precisely because of the ability of the text to reach beyond such feeble, worldly boundaries (Andrén 1998, Moreland 2001).

While the study of ancient writing systems or the experiential aspects of practices of pre-modern text production have seen growing scholarly interest recently (e.g. Piquette and Whitehouse 2013; Steele 2017), indexing and approaching text as material artefacts on a larger, corpus-wide, comparative, and global scale remains a largely unexplored aspect of humanities research (but see Heřmánková et al. 2021). Yet, the increasing digitisation and dissemination of primary text catalogues online, the steady growth of metadata indices for their temporal and spatial ordering with the use of geographic information systems (GIS), and the availability of a great many of such datasets as open access resources (e.g. Rossi and De Santis 2019) now allow for the explorative integration of datasets on early writing at a global level.


TextWorlds: Digital Perspectives on the Composition and Distribution of Written Corpora from the Ancient World aims to explore comparative perspectives on the scale and distribution of written corpora from the ancient world. Contributing projects and researchers traverse a timeframe of some five millennia of human history, offering expert, data-driven insights on written corpora from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas, and introducing databases representing close to half a million individual records. The conference is organised by TextWorlds: Global Mapping of Texts from the Pre-Modern World, a two-year research network initiative at Uppsala University funded by the Uppsala University Center for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (CIRCUS) for 2020-2021. Bringing together a diverse and interdisciplinary group of researchers with a shared interest in text, writing, and language from all corners of the globe, the network proceeds from a basic curiosity as to the distribution and composition of text corpora in the pre-modern world, that is, from the emergence of writing c. 3400 BCE and up until the rise of the printing press c. 1500 CE. 

The conference builds on discussions and findings from preparatory workshops held 9 March and 4 May 2022 at the Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (CIRCUS) at Uppsala University. These meetings sought to evaluate the scale and extent of various participating datasets, the definition and application of basic catalogue variables in a comparative perspective, and to explore and discuss derived questions of corpus formation, deposition, and discovery, the characteristics of the historical context that produced these corpora, as well as the ways in which epistemological conventions frame and delineate digital text collections. In light of the insights and discussions emerging from these meetings, individual conference contributions are encouraged to consider the digital corpus as a particular lens on the scale and composition of written corpora, inviting reflections on and discussions of quantitative and qualitative aspects of the following points:

  • How do particular processes and histories of corpus formation, deposition, and discovery impact upon the composition of the textual corpus, for example through the historical use of perishable and non-perishable media of writing? How does the resulting biases express themselves in the prevalence of particular materials, artefact types, and genres?

  • In which ways do the historical and social context of text production, usage, and discarding influence the formation of a textual corpus, as seen for example through the affinity of attested materials, artefact types, genres, scripts, and languages towards particular social strata or communities?

  • To what extent can the spatial and temporal representation and distribution of particular materials, artefact types, and genres be deemed regular or representative of a historical reality?

  • How can variation in corpus formation over time and space be detected? For example the changing uses of writing across a corpus life-cycle or the use of specific subsets of genres in certain geographical areas or at the interfaces with other corpora. 

  • How does the basic quantifiable and qualitative characteristics of a digital text catalogue reflect and represent a material body of historical sources, in terms of corpus scale, composition, extent and duration?

  • The ways in which such a catalogue is shaped by disciplinary conventions, for example by established divides between epigraphy and manuscript studies, and how this works to define the empirical outlook of the catalogue.

  • The ways in which the catalogue distinguishes and disregards particular types of artefacts, genres, materials, scripts or languages due to scholarly convention


Please see the timetable below for conference papers, speakers, and contributing digital resources. A full programme, including paper abstracts, can be downloaded here: TextWorlds Conference 2022 - Programme.

First session
09:00-09:15 Introduction
09:15-09:45 All the Things They Wrote on Clay: Exploring the Quantitative Dimensions of the Cuneiform Corpus
Rune Rattenborg, Seraina Nett (Uppsala University), Émilie Pagé-Perron (Oxford University)
Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative
Geomapping Landscapes of Writing
09:45-10:15 DAMOS - Database of Mycenaean at Oslo
Federico Aurora (Oslo University Library)
Database of Mycenean at Oslo
10:15-10:30 Break
Second session
10:30-11:00 A Survey of Andean Knotted String Records in the Open Khipu Repository
Manuel Medrano (University of St Andrews)
Open Khipu Repository
11:00-11:30 The Materiality of Classic Maya Textual Corpora
Christian Prager (Universität Bonn)
Textdatenbank und Wörterbuch des Klassischen Maya
11:30-12:00 The Australian Message Stick Database: Representing a Variable System with Partial Sources
Piers Kelly (University of New England)
Australian Message Sticks Database
12:00-13:30 Lunch
Third session
13:30-14:00 Latin Inscriptions from the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg (EDH): one piece of a puzzle
Petra Heřmánkowá (Aarhus University)
Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg
14:00-14:30 The Palaeohispanic corpus of inscriptions, and the Hesperia database
Eduardo Orduña (Institut El Pont de Suert)
Hesperia - Banco de Datos de Lenguas Paleohispanicas
14:30-15:00 From an expanded database of papyrological metadata to an interdisciplinary portal for the study of ancient world texts, the case of Trismegistos
Tom Gheldof (KU Leuven)
15:00-15:30 Break
Fourth session
15:30-16:00 The Scandinavian Runic Corpus and Chronological Categorization
Hannah Åkerström (Uppsala University)
Scandinavian Runic-Text Database
16:00-16:30 Studying the textual corpus of Ancient Arabia in a comparative perspective: quantitative and qualitative aspects
Irene Rossi (CNR-ISPC)
Digital Archive for the Study of Pre-Islamic Arabian Inscriptions
16:30-17:00 Response
Anna Foka (Centre for Digital Humanities Uppsala)


The conference is open to everyone. Attendants will need to register in advance and indicate whether they will participate in-person or remotely. Please note that several speakers will be participating remotely, and that in-person seats are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis at the organiser's discretion. Refreshments for in-person attendants will be provided. Please submit your registration via this link before 9 June 2022. For questions and queries, please contact carolin.johansson@lingfil.uu.se.

Last modified: 2022-06-04