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Sorenson (2013 Congress)

David Sorenson
(Quincy, Massachusetts)
“Islamic Paper:  A Closer Look”

Abstract of Paper at the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2013)

Session on “Medieval Writing Materials:  Texts, Transmission, and the Manifestation of Authority”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Mildred Budny (RGME)
2013 Congress

Given the large quantity of miscellaneous paper manuscript material surviving from the part of the medieval world usually described as Islamic, the difficulties are many in determining even the most basic facts concerning the origin of most of it, as colophons are rare, and in most fragments lacking entirely.  As handwriting styles can be treacherous, especially to the non-specialist, other means are necessary to confirm or reject attributions of date and place of origin.

This paper, as part of my series of presentations for the annual Research Group sessions on “Material Writing Materials” focusing on the paper materials used, is concerned with two aspects of paper studies, both involving careful macro-photographic study.

The first aspect is the impression left by the mould on the surface of the paper, which can tell us something about the mould and its structure even when the usual examination of the paper structure tells us nothing, as when the paper has no mould-lines visible by transmitted light.  It may be of use in the study of both early paper (of the tenth and eleventh centuries) and paper from areas such as Yemen, where the paper is notorious for lacking any visible mould-structure.

The second aspect is the study of the fibres, and in particular the “impurities”, that is, the “bits and pieces” which stand out from the rest of the matted fibres.  These features can be used to determine primarily the location of origin of the paper, as it can be demonstrated, through the use of provenanced samples, how these “impurities” vary in type from West to East, from the Levant
to India.  They can easily be compared with non-Islamic samples, whether contemporary European paper, Indian Hindu or Jain samples, or even more exotic materials from Nepal, Mongolia, China, or other locales.

The data-set for analysis consists of a collection of samples which may be attributed approximately — with some precisely — to date and place of origin.  These specimens we first examine for surface features and visible mould-lines, and next we examine closely to determine the fibre structure.  We then attempt to identify any patterns in manufacture which may be of use for document study.


This is the third of the presentations by Dr. Sorenson in our annual series of sessions on “Medieval Writing Materials” at the 2011 Congress Sessions, 2012 Congress Sessions, 2013 Congress Sessions, and 2014 Congress Sessions. The Abstracts for the other presentations appear here: Sorenson (2011 Congress), Sorenson (2012 Congress), and Sorenson (2014 Congress).