Perceptions of Writing in Papyri. Crossing Close and Distant Readings

Online Conference 7-8 December 2023, Basel University


organized from Basel by Claire Clivaz (DH+, SIB, CH & RSCS, UCLouvain, BE) and Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello (Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Basel)

Inscriptions are closed. The link has been sent to all the registered participants. For last minute registration and technical issues, please contact Olga Serbaeva Saraogi (

Possibility to attend in person in Basel (contact

Argument: This online conference will analyze how digital culture has changed the perceptions of writing styles in papyri. Studies conducted by modern scholars have always been the main way of evaluating papyri, determining their dates and content. From the beginning of the century, the clearly subjective nature of this research has been highlighted by scholars such as Kim Haines-Eitzen in Guardians of Letters (2000) and Brent Nongbri in God’s Library (2018).

We will evaluate the current ways scholars view the aesthetics of papyri in a world where close and distant readings are intersecting more every day. A large part of ancient scholarship successfully used the traditional close read, whereas today, a small group of newer scholars have integrated computer analysis into their research. The following questions will be addressed: To what extent is computer analysis of quantitative data bringing objectivity into the study of writing styles in papyri? What are the potential limits or biases of computer analysis? Does this confirm insights from the past, or to the contrary, does this change our evaluation of dates, content, and genre implications within papyri studies? We will review these questions considering the various fields currently working with papyri in different languages. Papers of the conference will be proposed to the OJS journal Pylon. Editions and Studies of Ancient Texts.

Presentations will be recorded and made available online after the conference unless marked with * on the programme.

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Click here to download the abstracts.



Thursday 7th December 2023, 9h30-16h30


          Opening Lectures, 9h30-11h (Chair: Claire Clivaz)

09:30Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello, University of Basel (CH): “State of the Art in Computational Paleography of Papyri: at Hand, Hopes and Wishes”
10:00Jean-Luc Fournet, Collège de France, Paris (FR), “Understanding a text before reading it? The contribution of a document’s form to its interpretation”
11:00 Break


          Distant View, 11h30-13h00

11:30 Dominique Stutzmann, IRHT, Paris (FR) and Humboldt-Universität, Berlin (DE), “Closeness, Distance, and Identification of Writers in Latin Paleography.”
12:00Sandrine Vuilleumier, University of Basel (CH), “Hieratic Script in the Graeco-Roman Period: New Perspectives in the Wake of a Project Devoted to Funerary Texts.”
13:00Lunch break


          Christian Papyri, 14h30-16h30 (Chair: Sandrine Vuilleumier)

14:30Claire Clivaz, DH+, SIB, Lausanne (CH) & RSCS, UCLouvain, (BE), “Looking digitally at a papyrus: P45 in scholarship.”
15:00Laurent Pinchard, Institut Catholique de Paris (FR), “Testing the Boismard-Lamouille Theory on Acts 16.13-17.10 in 𝔓127: Heresy or Evidence?”
15:30Roxanne Bélanger Sarrazin, University of Oslo (NO), “What a Magical Tool! Studying Coptic Apocrypha and Magic in the Age of Databases.”



Friday 8th December 2023, 9h30-17h


          Digital Palaeography, 9h30-11h30 (Chair: Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello)

09:30Mladen Popović, University of Groningen (NL), “Assessing Writing Style and Quality by Combining Traditional Palaeography and AI, the Case of the Great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls”
10:00Pedro Garcia-Baro, Giuseppe de Gregorio, Olga Serbaeva and Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello, Universities of Zurich and Basel (CH), “Biblical Majuscule: Computer Spotted Features and Palaeographer’s Perception.”
10:30Nicola Reggiani, University of Udine (IT), “The Artificial Papyrologist at work: automatic identification of scribes and dating of handwritings in an ongoing project at the University of Udine – theoretical outlines and case studies.”
11:30Lunch break


          NLP and Documentary Papyri, 14h-17h (Chair: Olga Serbaeva)

14:00Marja Vierros, University of Helsinki (FI), “Writer’s style in Greek Documentary Papyri: issues of orthography, linguistic style and authorship.”
14:30Victoria B. Fendel, University of Oxford (UK), “When the lines get blurred: Support-verb constructions in the documentary papyri.”
15:00Aneta Skalec, La Sapienza University, Rome (IT), “Misthosis monogram in the Late Antiquity Hermopolites lease contracts”
15:30C. Michael Sampson, University of Manitoba (CA), “To <g> or not to <g>: Paratext, Materiality, and the Digital Corpus of Literary Papyri.”
16:00*Leah Packard-Grams, UC Berkeley (USA), “Digital Papyrology as a Method for Reassembling an Archive: A Case Study in Digitally Reuniting Papyri Near and Far”