Calligraphic Africa

Notes toward the Location of Philology in Africa

In: Philological Encounters
Shamil Jeppie Institute for Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town

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Is it possible to productively bring together two seemingly exclusive ideas: Africa and philology? This essay presents a case for working at multiple levels and numerous sites in bridging these apparently disparate realms. Indeed, there is already a tradition of philological study about and on the continent that reveal the many different trajectories of Islamic scholarship in particular. While surveying this field, which has advanced substantially in recent decades, it also suggests that there are key issues that require examination such as the question of the archive and the collection, their constitution and movement. Philology, no matter how it is conceived, rests on the availability of texts and therefore the histories of the way texts come to accumulate in certain places and are discovered or recovered at specific moments is part of the project of the philological encounter. We thus have to be mindful of the histories and practices before, in, and after the practice of deep, close reading.

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