Stories of Survival

Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World

Workshop in Oxford: Signatures, Subscriptions, and Marks as Sources for Early Modern History (26–27 Sept. 2019)

On 26 and 27 September 2019, Stories of Survival will bring together a select group of researchers at Balliol College in Oxford to explore the potential of using signatures and comparable marks as sources in their own right for the study of the social, cultural, diplomatic, and legal history of the early modern period. By and large, we take signatures and signature-like marks inscribed in written documents for granted. When scholars think about their functions, they usually restrict themselves to discussing them in the context of identifying individuals, for instance the author of a letter, or authenticating documents as the sultan’s tuğra lends force to an Ottoman ferman or the signature under a cheque authorizes a financial transaction. It is telling that one of the most fundamental scholarly explorations of signatures, Béatrice Fraenkel’s La signature (1992), devotes considerable space to discussing them as legal devices and ‘the vestiges of a veritable system of signs of identity’ (p. 7).

Yet even signatures fulfilling this primary purpose often encode more than just the name and title, for instance the writer’s handwriting proficiency, preference for and practice in certain scripts, as well as degree of literacy. In addition, these signs often served a multitude of purposes in different contexts. The workshop will examine these different functions and their relevance in varying settings to further our understanding of how signatures and comparable marks can be used to generate new insights into historical phenomena. Presenters include Alicja Borys (Masaryk University, Brno), Christina Brauner (Tübingen), Richard Calis (Princeton), Feras Krimsti (Oxford), Hannah Murphy (King’s College London), Gauri Parasher (Heidelberg), Robyn Dora Radway (Central European University, Budapest), Henning Sievert (Heidelberg), and Tracey Sowerby (Oxford).

View the full programme. The meeting is organized by John-Paul Ghobrial and Tobias Graf (both Oxford).

Because of the particular nature of this workshop and the constraints of the venue, we regret that there is only a very limited number of places for additional participants. While attendance is free, we kindly ask those interested in participating to pre-register by emailing

Programme now published: The Early Modern Christian Cultural and Literary Heritage in the Eyes of Nahḍa Scholars – a workshop in Oxford

The full programme for the workshop, which will take place at Balliol College on June 26th – 27th 2019, has now been published and is available to download here.

There are limited spaces available for the workshop. If you wish to attend, please register by contacting Feras Krimsti (

Seminar presentation at the University of Göttingen, 21 May 2019

Tobias GrafOn 21 May 2019 at 6–8pm, ‘Stories of Survival’ research associate Dr Tobias Graf will be giving a talk on ‘Prinzen vom Berg Libanon: Flüchtlinge und “galante Bettler” aus dem osmanischen Syrien im Heiligen Römischen Reich des 18. Jahrhunderts’ (Princes of Mount Lebanon: Refugees and ‘noble beggars’ from Ottoman Syria in the Eighteenth-Century Holy Roman Empire) as part of Professor Marian Füssel’s research seminar (Forschungskolloquium) at the University of Göttingen. The seminar will meet in room 1.601 on the first floor of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Zentrum (KWZ) in Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14. A map with a location of the venue is available here.

Seminar in Cambridge: Syrian Refugees in Eighteenth-Century Germany: A Chapter in the Connected History of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World

‘Stories of Survival’ research associate Dr Tobias Graf will be giving a paper at the University of Cambridge’s Early Modern History workshop:

Date: 31 January, 2019

Time: 1-2pm

Venue: Senior Parlour, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Seminar programme:

Paper Title: Syrian Refugees in Eighteenth-Century Germany: A Chapter in the Connected History of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World

Paper abstract:

Although usually ignored in mainstream historiography, there has been a long history of contact between Eastern Christians and Europe. Throughout the early modern period, a substantial number of Arabic-speaking Christians travelled from the Levant and Iraq to the countries of Latin Christendom to collect alms, levy political support, and acquire as well as share knowledge. The eighteenth century, however, witnessed what could provocatively be called a ‘refugee crisis’ during which Christian notables from Syria (encompassing present-day Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon), particularly Maronites from Mount Lebanon, turned to their Christian sisters and brothers for support to alleviate the worst of the hardships they claimed to be facing at home. Such supplicants were particularly frequent in the German lands where they soon formed a readily recognizable stereotype of ‘Arabian princes’, leaving behind a paper trail of petitions and administrative records in the courts and cities they visited. Examining this paper trail and particularly the rhetorical strategies employed by the petitioners, this talk will showcase research undertaken in the context of the ERC-funded project Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World directed by Dr John-Paul Ghobrial at the University of Oxford. I will argue that the construction of the stereotype required the complicity—even collaboration—of several parties, thus promoting particular visions of the Eastern Mediterranean.



Call for Papers: The Early Modern Christian Cultural and Literary Heritage in the Eyes of Nahḍa Scholars – a workshop in Oxford


Feras Krimsti, University of Oxford (


26-27 June 2019 (one and a half days)


When the two hundredth anniversary of Jirmānūs Farḥāt’s death was celebrated in Aleppo in May 1932, a new statue of the Maronite Bishop was erected and ceremonial speeches were given. In these speeches, Farḥāt and his contemporaries were lauded as “pioneers” of the Nahḍa who flourished in dark times of intellectual stagnation. This powerful image of the past contrasts with the self-understanding of Nahḍa thinkers, who worked towards religious reform and cultural and political change. While scholars tend to approach the Nahḍa by looking forward – in line with its own teleology of progress –, looking back allows for tracing how Nahḍa thinkers imagined and engaged with the early modern cultural and literary heritage that preceded them.

This heritage had an important impact on the thought of Nahḍa scholars. How did they conceptualize the early modern past? How did intellectuals like Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq and Buṭrus al-Bustānī appropriate the writings of Christian thinkers like Farḥāt? What did they dwell on and what did they leave out, when working with the philological and cultural traces of the past that surrounded them?

During the nineteenth century, significant contributions were made to the preservation and processing of this philological heritage. Journals were founded, in which texts were edited and discussed, such as Al-Mashriq. Most churches had their own print journals. Indices were made and catalogues created (e.g. Louis Cheikho’s Kitāb al-Makhṭūṭāt). But how did such works come into being? Which manuscripts were selected and how was their language examined? Which ones were disregarded? What role did missionaries and Westerners play in this process? What role did intercommunal conflict play? More concretely, how was a Christian Arabic heritage created?

Christian intellectuals, priests, monks, and scholars like Louis Cheikho, Paul Sbath, Būlus Qarʾalī, Qusṭanṭīn al-Bāshā, Asad Rustom, Yaʿqūb Sarkīs, among others, have scarcely received scholarly attention. Yet their work has had a decisive impact on how we approach the literary, cultural, and philological production of the early modern period up to the present day. Engaging with the contributions of the above mentioned individuals opens up the possibility for a critical study of the instrumenta studiorum in the field of early modern Arabic Christian (and Muslim) intellectual history. The criteria with which these intellectuals selected what was to be edited, discussed, and published, are important for understanding which parts of the heritage were preserved and what was obliterated, for example through the judgement of preference for certain poems over others, the ‘improvement’ of dialectal elements into classical Arabic, and the infusion of historical texts with a highly political, and often sectarian, agenda.

Additionally, the workshop will explore the various local, regional, and imperial contexts of cultural production. Modern Christian intellectuals thought in the framework of “nation states” and thus had little understanding of the context of empire. How did they come to grips with the many different ways in which early modern Christians navigated different worlds? How did they perceive of Ottoman rule?

As part of an ERC-funded project on Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World, a workshop is being held in Oxford in June 2019 for the purpose of addressing a wide range of questions related to the early modern Christian cultural and literary heritage as perceived by Nahḍa scholars and intellectuals.

Call for Papers:

We invite submissions for papers that deal with the nexus of nineteenth-century scholarship and early modern literary and cultural production. In addition to papers on Christian heritage and scholarship, we also welcome papers with an interreligious dimension.

Proposals should take the form of an Abstract (no more than 250 words, including title) and a short Cover Letter introducing yourself and including details of your current institutional affiliation. Proposals should be sent to no later than 8 February 2019.

Travel and accommodation:

We will provide accommodation for all participants for two nights in Oxford, checking in on 25 June 2019. Travel expenses will be reimbursed up to a limit.

Please direct any questions to:

Feras Krimsti (

Research Associate in the Project “Stories of Survival:  Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World”

Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College

University of Oxford

New article: Journal of Islamic Manuscripts

Dr Feras Krimsti has recently published a new article in the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts (: Volume 9: Issue 2-3) : ‘The Lives and Afterlives of the Library of the Maronite Physician Ḥannā al-Ṭabīb (c. 1702–1775) from Aleppo’.

In eighteenth-century Aleppo, books acquired an unprecedented significance among Aleppo’s Christians, against the background of an expanding “culture of the book”. This paper attempts to reconstruct the library of the Maronite physician Ḥannā al-Ṭabīb (c. 1702–1775), based on ownership statements in manuscripts purchased by the German scholar and Oriental traveller Ulrich Jasper Seetzen (1767–1811) in Aleppo, presently preserved in Gotha’s Research Library. Proceeding from an assessment of the ownership statements and a thematic analysis of the library, the paper will address the implications for our understanding of book ownership in the social and intellectual milieu of the owner. It will be argued that owning books was a facet of an intensifying and active—not passive—preoccupation with literature among Christians.

The article is open access and can be freely viewed or downloaded here

Lucy Parker introduces the project in The Oxford Historian

Dr Lucy Parker writes about the Stories of Survival project in the online magazine The Oxford Historian – her article can be read here.

Workshop Report: Syriac and its Users in the Early Modern World

The workshop ‘Syriac and its Users in the Early Modern World, c.1500-c.1750’ took place at Christ Church, University of Oxford, on March 15-16 2018. The workshop brought together, for the first time, scholars from across the globe working on this neglected period of the history of the Syriac Churches. The papers touched upon many of the distinctive features of this period, including the increasingly close contacts between Syriac Christianity and Catholicism, the growth of Syriac studies in western Europe, and the renewed contacts between the Syriac churches and the St Thomas Christians of India. They addressed Syriac and its users in a multitude of contexts, including Ottoman history, global history, and Reformation history. Many papers highlighted the particular methodological challenges of working on this period, for which fewer literary and narrative sources survive than for the Middle Ages, but for which other forms of evidence, including archival material and inscriptions, are increasingly abundant. Discussion was lively throughout the workshop and the participants agreed that further events on early modern Syriac could and should be organised. It is hoped that a publication of select proceedings from the conference will ensue. The organiser, Lucy Parker, would like to thank all the participants for their contributions to making the workshop so successful.

The workshop participants at Christ Church, Oxford

The speakers were: Colin Clarke (Toronto), Theodor Dunkelgrün (Cambridge), Erica Hunter (SOAS), Ephrem Ishac (Salzburg/Bologna), George Kiraz (IAS Princeton/Beth Mardutho), András Mércz (Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, Hungary), Sergey Minov (Oxford), Heleen Murre-van den Berg (Radboud University), Radu Mustaţă (CEU, Budapest), Lucy Parker (Oxford), Hidemi Takahashi (Tokyo), David Taylor (Oxford) and Joanna Weinberg (Oxford). Philip Forness (Frankfurt) was unable to participate because of illness but his paper was read out. Lucy Parker delivered the opening remarks and John-Paul Ghobrial (Oxford) the closing remarks.

Other attendees and participants included: Philip Booth (Oxford), Sebastian Brock (Oxford), Richard Calis (Princeton), Chip Coakley (Cambridge), Bodgan Draghici (Oxford), Teresa Fitzherbert (Oxford), Tobias Graf (Oxford), Edmund Herzig (Oxford), Jijimon Joseph (Oxford), Luca Koronli (Cambridge), Feras Krimsti (Oxford), Alexandra MacFarlane (Oxford), Aslı Niyazioğlu (Oxford), Salam Rassi (HMML/Oxford), Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw Vevaina (Oxford), Seth Stadel (Oxford), and Cecilia Tarruell (Oxford).

The workshop received funding from both the Stories of Survival project and the University of Oxford John Fell Fund.

Conference programme: Syriac and its Users in the Early Modern World

Syriac and its Users in the Early Modern World c 1500 – 1750

March 15th – March 16th 2018, Christ Church, Oxford


  Thursday March 15 Friday March 16
09:00 (Lecture Room 2) Welcome and introductory comments  
09:30 First session (Lecture Room 2) Community Boundaries in the Middle East

Heleen Murre-van den Berg, ‘The Book of the Garden (ktābā d-gantā aw d-luqqāṭē) – a late sixteenth century witness to the early phases of catholicization of the Church of the East 

Lucy Parker –  The interconnected histories of the Syriac Churches

New Horizons

George Kiraz: The Patriarchate of Antioch in the Early Modern World

Radu Mustaţă: Liturgical poetry among the Saint Thomas Christians in the aftermath of the Synod of Diamper (1599): The case of the ‘canticles of glorification’


11:30 Second session

(Lecture Room 2)

Scribes, Authors and Scholars

David Taylor: Maphrian Basilios Shem‘un on Purgatory: Syrian Orthodox responses to Catholic theology in the early eighteenth century.

Hidemi Takahashi: On Some Syriac Scribes and Scholars of the Early Modern Period: Readers and Copyists of Barhebraeus’ Works

Syriac Christianity and Islam

Sergey Minov: The Marvels Found in the Great Cities, Seas and Islands: Appropriation of a Muslim Literary Genre by Syriac-Speaking Christians

Ephrem Ishac: Syriac Liturgy in the Sixteenth Century



14:15 Third session

(Lecture Room 2)

Syriac Scholarship in Europe, Part I

Philip Forness: Scholarship on Syriac Christianity and Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe

Joanna Weinberg: A Jew reads the Gospels in Syriac: Azariah de’ Rossi’s critique of the Vulgate (1577)

Texts Beyond Manuscripts

Erica Hunter: Syriac Amulets: Vernacular Traditions of the Christian Communities in Hakkari

Colin Clarke: Syriac Epigraphic Metrical Poetry: Origins and Expressions in Stone

16:15 Fourth Session, until c.17:45.

(Lecture Room 2)

Syriac Scholarship in Europe, Part II

Theodor Dunkelgrün: Syriac studies in Antwerp and Leiden, c.1565- c.1630: a material history of scholarship

András Mércz: The Syriac Correspondence of Moses of Mardin


John-Paul Ghobrial: Closing remarks, opening of round table


Nir Shafir (UCSD) on Rethinking global history through Ottoman travelogues

On 20th February 2018 at Balliol College,  Nir Shafir (UCSD) will be talking about ‘Rethinking global history through Ottoman travelogues: Arabic travel writing from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries’. The seminar will be chaired by John-Paul Ghobrial.

More information here.

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