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Reader, Author, Scholar in a Context of Information Overflow. How to master and manage knowledge when there is too much to know?

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RASCIO (Reader, Author, Scholar in a Context of Information Overflow.How to master and manage knowledge when there is too much to know?)

Reporting period: 2018-01-15 to 2020-06-14

RASCIO —« Reader, Author, Scholar in a Context of Information Overflow. How to manage and master knowledge when there is too much to know? » (Grant Agreement 749180) — is a research project dealing with history, but is at the same time perfectly timely. Indeed, it aims at understanding better a scholar of the Mamluk period, Khalīl b. Aybak al-Ṣafadī (d. 1363), and in particular his methodology, in a context very similar to ours: a context of information overflow.
Actually, the Mamluk period is an example in terms of intellectual vivacity. Encyclopaedism flourished, the sum of knowledge available was always augmenting, scholars and books traveled easily, and ideas were extensively discussed and shared, just like today. Understanding better the tricks used by scholars of that period sheds a new light on our strategies and help us finding efficient ways of thinking.

Practically speaking, the research focused on
- on al-Ṣafadī’s reading journal (his "tadhkirah"): all the preserved volumes have been examined, chronologically ordered, and a previously unknown volume has bee discovered, improving our knowledge of the genre, of al-Ṣafadī's biography and methodology;
- on his correspondence and traces of collaboration with fellow-scholars, thanks to the study of his tadhkirah, and of his Alḥān al-Sawājiʿ (the biographical dictionary of his penfriends);
- on his library, thanks to the study of the ownership statements or consultation marks he left on the manuscripts he owned and/or perused, his readings being confronted to his writings.
Our knowledge of this eminent scholar of the Mamluk period, of his biography, of his network, of his methodology and of the methodology of Mamluk authors in general has thus drastically improved.

Another scholar, of the 20th cent., this time, was also approached: Seeger A. Bonebakker (d. 2005), a specialist of the oeuvre of al-Ṣafadī. He was chosen as a second minor case study because he bequeathed all his library and professional papers (notes, correspondence, drafts…) to Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. I thus had all the material directly available for study.

To sum up, this research project was a chance to deepen our understanding of our times and of our intellectual practices, through the lenses of two great scholars of the past, thus shedding light on today, in addition of augmenting our knowledge of Mamluk intellectual history in large. The building and maintaining of a network of trustful friends and colleagues, a cooperative approach to the intellectual production, the updating of previous works, or the composition of reference works are as many cultural convergences observed then and now, as good practices to deal with the overabundance of information. Shedding light on them makes us conscious of their importance for our society, and for the education we provide to the youngest.
Organization of and participation to the Workshop “Launching RASCIO”: 9 speakers, invited for their implication in research topics parallel to different axes of the research project.
Several intensive courses (on Mamluk poetry and on Digital Humanities, one specifically applied to the Islamic studies).
Participation to four international conferences.
Participation to 2 European Researchers' Nights.
3 invitations as keynote speaker.
2 participations to the Supervisor's seminars.
1 article published
2 articles forthcoming
1 thematic volume forthcoming (sort of proceedings for the closing conference of the project that had to be canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic)
The greater progress is the discovery of an unknown holograph fragment of the Tadhkira in Berlin.

Besides, my work on the mawlid and on different other holograph manuscripts of al-Ṣafadī eloquently showed the elaboration of knowledge was much more fluid than previously thought, during the Mamluk period. Moreover, through the study of these sources and of biographical accounts about al-Ṣafadī, it appeared that the construction of knowledge could be a collective process, the name of the author being actually the name of the initiator of the work.

These are the main unforeseen progresses of the project.
al-Ṣafadī's Tadhkira holograph volume in Princeton University Library
Newly discovered holograph fragment of al-Ṣaafdī's Tadhkira
Reasearchers' Night2019