3-5 Sept. 2019, Yuelu Academy, Hunan University

We are glad to announce the launch of 'Materiality of Knowledge in Chinese Thought: Past and Present'. 

The Conference of the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures at The Queens’ College in the University of Oxford will be held at Yuelu Academy, Hunan University from the 3rd (Tuesday) to the 5th (Thursday) of September, 2019. 

All are welcome but attendance is by registration only. 

                                                                                       - Dirk Meyer, Stefano Gandolfo and Peter Ditmanson


Knowledge is shaped, sustained, and framed by socio-material factors and this conference aims to explore the ways in which materiality has affected and will continue to affect the perception, processing, and production of knowledge in China. The conceptualisation of knowledge – which functions as a nexus between a pre-theoretical worldview and the institutionalisation of learning – lends itself as a gateway into understanding China (and beyond) both more deeply and broadly. We consider the following questions central to our project: How do changes in materiality over time affect the ways in which knowledge is perceived, processed, produced, and presented? What is the impact of materiality on the conceptualisation of knowledge? And how does it influence the means by which knowledge is put together and held apart? 

We think of ‘materiality’ in its broadest sense. We use it as an umbrella term for everything that is constitutive in the formation of knowledge. This includes things such as the material conditions of texts and collections of texts as encompassed by the physical media through which they are produced, transmitted, and (trans-)formed; strategies which produce meaning beyond the purely lexical level of signification as encoded in structure, layout, and function; the location of carriers of knowledge in the world, as well as their relation to the world. 



Contemporary rubbing of a 10th century stele said to be a copy of an inscription taken from Mt. Yi in Shandong. The inscription eulogises the virtuous power of Qin and was ordered by the First Emperor around 219-210 BC when he visited various mountains around his empire. Written in small seal script by chancellor Li Si (d. 208 BC). 
© The Trustees of the British Museum

'Materiality' as an analytical category therefore describes the summation of elements that contribute to the formation of knowledge, in both production and reception, which are, however, habitually overlooked.

‘Knowledge’, for the intended purposes of the conference, is understood as encompassing both information and facts as well as argumentation and meaning. How different and changing conditions of materiality affect or even determine what ultimately qualifies as knowledge lies at the core of this conference. 

We invite abstract submissions for papers that deal with issues of materiality of knowledge in the following three spheres:


  1. The Materiality of Text Production and Text Performance

Issues to explore are: (a) the mechanisms through which changes in materiality alter the content of recorded knowledge and the processes of recording meaning; (b) the impact of material stationary on the production of texts; and (c) the impact of materiality on the performance texts.


List of topics includes but is not limited to:

  1. Oracle bones and bronzes

  2. Bamboo and silk

  3. Paper, printing, and binding

  4. Steles and rubbings

  5. Internet Literature(s)


   2. The Materiality of Collections and Anthologies

Issues to explore are: (a) the transformations of knowledge organization in congshu (叢書) and leishu (類書) collections as a result of changes in material conditions; and (b) the nature, structure, and make-up of compilations and anthologies.


List of topics include but is not limited to:

  1. Anthologizing canonical texts

  2. Material change and genre formation

  3. Congshu and leishu

  4. Encyclopedias and primers

  5. Digitization


  3. The Materiality of Libraries and Archives

Issues to explore are: (a) the impact of paper, printing, and digitization on the conceptualization and organization of textual storage; and (b) the influence of changes in the material conditions of record keeping and structure of libraries and archives.


List of topics include but is not limited to:

  1. Libraries and archives

  2. Buddhist and Daoist monastic libraries

  3. The Internet and search engines


We envision this to be one of two conferences: the first, conceptualizing the field on the materiality of knowledge in China and the second, reaching out into cross- and inter-disciplinary research with a cross-cultural focus.