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"The Writing on the Wall: Calligraphy and Islamic Architecture" Book Project

Dear Colleagues:

We are in the process of launching a book project on the subject of Islamic calligraphy and architecture.

This book will differ from most past publications on the subject in that it will focus not purely on epigraphic content but rather on the relationship between content and form. More specifically, the book will analyze textual content, calligraphic style,  material, and architectural function in their mutual interactions. Please see the following for more details, including a tentative time table. The book will be in English, but contributions in other languages could be considered for translation.

We currently have a significant number of pledged contributors planning to write on the Ottoman Empire, but other areas are not as well covered as of now. In particular, we would enthusiastically welcome contributions on the Persianate World, Central Asia, China and India.

Whatever your specific interest, please let us know whether or not you would be interested in being part of this effort by 20 August 2010. The deadline for 300-word abstracts is September 10, 2010.  If you have any questions about your potential topic or see any problems, including the time table, please let us know.

Thanks and best regards,

Mohammad Gharipour and Irvin Cemil Schick

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The Writing on the Wall: Calligraphy and Islamic Architecture
Editors: Mohammad Gharipour and Irvin Cemil Schick

The advent of Islam in Arabia was a turning point in the development of architecture over large territories formerly belonging to the Byzantine and Sassanid empires.   One dimension of this development was the enhanced role of writing on the built environment.   To be sure, the Roman Empire had a long and distinguished history of monumental writing, but the centrality of the written text in Islamic faith and practice resulted in an innovative use of script in and on buildings. As calligraphy was established as a principal field of art in Muslim territories, it overflowed the confines of books and came to cover virtually every surface, whether of wood, metal, glass, textile, ivory, clay, or stone.  The calligraphy on the interior and exterior of buildings was much more than a purely aesthetic or formal element. In specific zones of buildings, such as the entrance or the mihrab, the script often referred to issues related to construction and patronage.  Carefully chosen texts contributed to establishing the sacrality of the space in which they were written, or to proclaiming or legitimating the power of the patrons who had commissioned the building.  Different types of script transmitted messages about the nature of the political structure and the ruling establishment. Sometimes, albeit rarely, writing also functioned as an ornamental element that helped architects define spaces.  By choosing diverse styles of calligraphy, which varied in size, density, and direction, and using different materials, architects and artists could stress centrality, verticality, or horizontality within spaces and even divide the interior into zones with different spatial qualities. Moreover, the level of abstraction and the type of material (e.g. tile, stucco, brick, and wood) determined the readability and visibility of the text and, consequently, affected the interaction between the users and the building.  Above technical aspects was the spiritual role of calligraphy, which mostly captured eligious quotes from the Quran, the hadiths, and even mystical poetry. The employment of calligraphy in relation to the use of light and materials allowed architects, artists, and craftsmen to enhance the spirituality of spaces.

The book chapters will explore the following topics, with special emphasis on the interrelations between form and textual content:

- Typology of the calligraphy in terms of form and style (e.g. naskh, Kufi, thulth)
- Function of inscriptions (e.g. decorative, informative, spatial, formal)
- Context of inscriptions (e.g. foundational, space-defining, tombal, graffiti)
- Textual content of inscriptions (e.g. religious, patronage, poetry)
- Cultural, social, economic, and religious contexts
- Placement of the inscriptions and their relation to spatial qualities (e.g. circulation, pause, spatial hierarchy, and view)
- Aesthetic value of the calligraphy and its relationship with other aesthetic elements (e.g. light and color)
- Materiality (e.g. inscriptions on tiles, stucco, stone, or wood, and influential factors such as climate and masonry)
- Stylistic schools of calligraphy (e.g. Seljuk, Mamluk, Safavid, Ottoman, and Mughal)
- Patronage behind the creation of calligraphy/epigraphy/inscriptions
- History of the building (e.g. use, design, construction, artwork))
- Development of the building in different historical periods Â
- The symbolic role of calligraphy as the connector between city, building, and art

The book chapters will focus on the use of inscriptions in buildings  constructed from early Islamic age through the twentieth century in different Islamic regions from China to North Africa. Preference in the selection of papers will be given to the diversity of topics and geographical locations.  The papers will be analytical and authors will be encouraged to avoid a purely descriptive language in their writings.  Since there are numerous published catalogues on the architectural epigraphy of various cities or regions, authors are urged to focus not simply on the content of the inscriptions, but on their formal elements and on how their contents interact with those formal elements.

Tentative Timeframe

- July 2010: Personal invitations sent to selected scholars
- August 2010: General call for papers
- September 2010: Deadline for abstracts
- October 2010: Selection of proposals
- February 2011: Deadline for the first draft of papers
- April 2011: Review of the papers
- July 2011: Second draft of papers
- October 2011: Completion of the book draft
- November 20111: Submission of the final manuscript and images to the publisher

Estimated Length

The book is expected to include an introduction and twelve to fourteen papers.  Each paper will be 5500-6500 words (total: 75,000-95,000 words) and include 3e 3-8 images.  The book will include a bibliography, contributors' biographies, and an appendix on terminology.
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