Stories of Survival

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

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.

New project associate Salam Rassi

The Stories of Survival project would like to extend a warm welcome to Salam Rassi as  Project Associate.

Salam Rassi is Post-Doctoral Fellow in Eastern Christian & Islamic Manuscript Cataloguing at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML). His current research focuses on the history of theological encyclopaedism among Christians in the medieval Islamic world and the Syriac reception of Avicennan philosophy. . In addition to his own research, he is currently working on an extensive digital catalogue of Arabic and Syriac manuscript collections from Aleppo, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Mali. Salam hopes that his cataloguing efforts will help further the impact of Oxford’s ERC-funded project Stories of Survival, which, among other things, seeks to document the literary output of Middle Eastern Christians between 1500 and 1750.

Public lecture, January 31st, at the Central European University

On January 31st, research associate Dr Lucy Parker will be giving a public lecture at the Central European University entitled ‘The poet-patriarch Abdisho of Gazarta (d.1570) and the Church of the East in Schism’, as part of CEU’s lecture series Global Minorities in the Early Modern Period.  More information can be see here

Feras Krimsti on the Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century

In November 2017, a workshop took place at the German Historical Institute in Paris, exploring the mechanisms of diplomacy in a transcultural context.  It focused particularly on the social life of the diplomatic milieu of Istanbul from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.

At the workshop, entitled ‘Politics and Sociability in a Transcultural Context: The Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century’, Research Associate Dr Feras Krimsti gave a paper which examined how Ottoman and Venetian processions were depicted in the travelogue of Ḥannā ṭ-Ṭabīb, a physician from Aleppo (1764/65).

A conference report and more information can be found here: 

Workshop on Christian societies of Aramean tradition

In October, PI Dr John-Paul Ghobrial and Research Associate Dr Lucy Parker spoke at a workshop in Frankfurt on ‘Christian societies of Aramean tradition’ organised by Forschungsstelle für Aramäische Studien Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main . Dr Ghobrial gave a paper on ‘The conversion of the Christian community in Mosul to Catholicism in the 17th century’, and Dr Parker presented on ‘Reassessing the schism of 1552 in the Church of the East ‘. The full workshop programme can be seen here and a report on the workshop can be read here.



CALL FOR PAPERS: Syriac and its Users in the Early Modern World, c.1500 – c.1750

A workshop at the University of Oxford, 15-16 March 20181

The vast majority of scholarship on Syriac has focused on Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Yet Syriac continued to be used, as a liturgical, literary and living language, across the early modern period and beyond. Guides to Syriac literature sometimes give the impression that new textual production had effectively ceased by 1500. But new texts did continue to be produced, both in ‘literary’ genres, such as hymnography and poetry, and in other forms equally valuable to historians, including professions of faith, inscriptions, and letters. The majority of the churches and communities which still at this time used Syriac in some contexts, including the Maronite and Melkite churches, and, in particular, the Syrian Orthodox and East Syrian churches, were located within the Ottoman Empire or on its eastern frontiers. The story of early modern Syriac is thus closely tied to the history of Christianity within Ottoman society. Yet Syriac had a global reach. Perhaps the most under-studied body of Syriac sources in the world is the material from the ‘St Thomas Christians’, the Syriac-using Christian communities of India. And it was in this period, in the context of the Renaissance, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, that Syriac began to be a subject of scholarly study and (polemically-motivated) theological interest in western Europe. Contacts between European and eastern Christianity increased across the early modern period, with far-reaching consequences, including the splintering of many eastern churches into pro-Catholic and traditionalist parties. Other, less easily traceable, changes may also relate to these contacts, including the increasing turn towards Arabic as the dominant eastern Christian literary language, and, in the Church of the East, the first written use of the vernacular Neo-Aramaic. The evolving uses and role of Syriac are thus closely tied to questions of societal change, global connectivity, and religious and community identities.

We invite papers on all themes relating to Syriac and the communities who used it in the period from c.1500 to c.1750. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • New Syriac literature
  • The history of the Syriac churches and their communities
  • The relationship of language and identity; the social position of Syriac in comparison with Arabic and neo-Aramaic
  • Syriac among Indian Christians
  • Contacts between Syriac-speakers and the West; Syriac scholarship in the West; the representation of Syriac by western writers

Although the predominant focus of the workshop is on the early modern period, proposals relating to earlier or later periods may be accepted if they relate their discussions to developments in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The workshop is intended to result in a collected volume of essays on Syriac in the early modern world, the first such volume produced on this subject.

To submit a proposal, please send an abstract and title (of no more than 400 words) to by 31 October 2017. Please direct any questions to the same email address.

1 To be held in association with the ERC-funded project ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’

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