Alba Fedeli: Never Stop at the First Reading of Your Manuscript

During the second day of the recent ReIReS School, Alba Fedeli, Research Associate at Hamburg University, guided us into the wonderful world of Qur’anic manuscripts and fragments from the 7th to the 10th century. Alba is studying these for more than 20 years, reason for us to ask her some questions.

Alba, why is working with Qur’anic manuscripts and fragments so fascinating to you?

I have been always fascinated by manuscripts from any textual tradition and, then, by chance, I focused on early Qur’anic manuscripts probably because of the passion for and knowledge of these artefacts that my late mentor, Sergio Noja, was able to transfer to me.

Tell us how you transferred your main lessons learned during the 20 years of research to the attendants of the ReIReS School.

As the group was very diverse in terms of expertise and skills, I tried to understand their possible interests and needs by talking with them before starting the session in order to facilitate a conversation (unfortunately, online). Moreover, the majority of the attendees were students at the beginning of their career, even still in search of a specific topic for their PhD thesis and thus, I focused more on the process for formulating a research question rather than on the details of my research.

Alba Fedeli, University of Hamburg

During your training you referred to the quote: “No one should employ a personal system of signs in his book which no one else can understand and which throws others into confusion.” Can you tell us why this is so important in your eyes?”

We should investigate the system(s) used in our documents as independent structures rather than reading them in lights of interpretations that make partial sense of the complex. The beauty of any manuscript and its writing system is in the discovery of the pattern of partial or random annotations. Moreover, this statement by Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ al-Shahrazuri – who died in the 13th century CE – perfectly agrees with the very core of the Text Encoding Initiative and its aim of developing and maintaining a standard for the representation of texts in digital form. Here, manuscripts meet the digital horizon in their transmission of a message that can be decoded (and processed).

What would you answer be if someone would ask you: is this manuscript fragment a part of the whole or not?

There is not one single answer as each manuscript must be understood with its specific features. I should look at “this” manuscript fragment and understand its traces of a codicological structure.

Do you have a special advice for scholars working with manuscripts and fragments?

Never stop at the first reading, being it someone else’s reading or yours. Each time you look at your manuscript, it will reveal to you something more.


Thank you so much for the interview, Alba!