MATERIA III: New Approaches to Material Text in the Ancient World

Conference organized by Joseph Howley (Columbia University), Stephanie Frampton (MIT), and David M. Ratzan (ISAW Library)

The MATERIA Conference is a series of colloquia dedicated to presenting new research on books and other media in antiquity, bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines—history, literature, epigraphy, papyrology, archeology, manuscript studies, etc. The first two MATERIA meetings, held at 2016 (Columbia University) and 2017 (MIT), pursued a more traditional focus on the book and the literary in order to advance a broader understanding of the history of the book in the Roman world. With MATERIA III at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, we extend this discussion to consider approaches to material text in Greco-Roman antiquity and other ancient civilizations between 500 BCE and 500 CE in terms of, but also beyond, the category of “the book.” We will explore a variety of objects ancient readers and users would have encountered that looked like books, but weren’t, as well as practices related to reading and writing outside of books per se. Speakers will draw from evidence across the methodological spectrum of ancient studies and related fields to explore the wider world of literate activity, not by way of “literacy” or “the literary,” but by way of practice, technology, and ideology. The aim is to foster discussion between scholars who work on disparate aspects of ancient material text, reading and writing, in different cultural traditions and who are interested in sharing their expertise with others who approach the topic from different perspectives.


9:00am: Welcome

9:10am: Alexander Jones (ISAW), "Inscribed Science: Greek Astronomical Texts on Stone and Metal"

10:00am: Coffee Break

10:30am: Alexandra Schultz (Harvard), "Libraries in Stone: Book Lists and Literary Identity in the Late Hellenistic Polis"

11:30am: Michele Faraguna (Università degli Studi di Milano), "Documentary, Epigraphic, Literary Boundary: Paragraphoi"

12:30pm: Lunch Break

1:15pm: Heng Du (Univeristy of Arizona), "Making 'Books' in the World of Slips and Scrolls: Paratext in Early Chinese Textual Culture"

2:15pm: Grant Parker (Stanford), "Why inscribe obelisks?"

3:15pm: Coffee Break

3:45pm: AnneMarie Luijendijk (Princeton), "Cacata carta: actual and imagined use of manuscripts as toilet paper"

4:45pm: John Ma (Columbia University), Response and Discussion

This conference is co-sponsored by ISAW, Columbia University Faculty of Arts & Sciences Lenfest Junior Faculty Development Fund, and NYU Classics.

Registration is required at

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