Writing practices in Dunhuang manuscripts: Content, function, and materiality

Costantino Moretti 

Jean-Pierre Drège

Pioneering studies concerning medieval Chinese manuscripts (5th–10th century) have highlighted elements of characterization in material supports produced at various times, allowing researchers to formulate periodization hypotheses on specific forms of manuscript books. However, the links between the different types of texts, the organization of the “frame” containing them, and the material supports chosen to display them remain insufficiently analyzed.

This project aims to develop a digital tool for analyzing the relationships between production, organization, and dissemination of writings by exploiting not only data regarding the characteristics of the material support, its formal organization, but also the texts contained therein. More precisely, the objective is to establish a digital base to facilitate the cross-study of the available data concerning the “hallmarks” of the writing support (paper), the variations relating to the structuring of its sub-units (text layout) and the texts they contain, in order to identify trends in choices of production, organization, and use of manuscript books. To establish this data, we will rely on an unpublished corpus of 1000 handwritten files prepared by members of the “Research team on Dunhuang manuscripts” (EPHE–CNRS ERA 438) during the elaboration of the catalogue of Chinese Dunhuang manuscripts from the “Pelliot collection” of the French National Library (BnF), files containing essential unprocessed codicological data. It is the first such tool for medieval Chinese manuscripts. It will allow targeted new research on different aspects of the history of medieval books in manuscript form.  This tool will also facilitate the formation of hypotheses on possible genetic relationships between dated and undated manuscripts with common characteristics, or to establish a date range for one or more specific documents.
















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