Sorenson (2012 Congress)

David W. Sorenson
(Quincy, Massachusetts)
“Varieties of Islamic Paper:  Laid-lines Only”

[First published on our first website on 28 May 2012]

Poster for "Medieval Writing Materials" Congress Session (12 May 2012)Abstract of Paper at the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2012)
Session on “Medieval Writing Materials:  Manufacture, Use, and Trade”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Mildred Budny and Eleanor A. Congdon
2012 Congress Sessions

One of the most frequently encountered, and certainly the longest-lived, paper-mould pattern seen in paper produced throughout the Islamic world shows only laid lines, without chain-lines.  Despite its apparent lack of obvious characteristic distinguishing varieties, a study of subtle changes can yield sufficient information to allow us to begin to use these changes as evidence for location and/or date of production, and hence of the material written on it.  With so much of the written material from the Near East being unlocalized and undated, any clues to be had from the paper could be helpful.

At present much of the material is assigned approximate dates based on such characteristics as writing style and general appearance.  Such dates can, for a variety of reasons, be off by three centuries or more — a difference that can be decisive for determining (or undermining) the authority of an undated text or fragment.  For example, if the cataloguer is inexpert, as most nonspecialists are, a fragment called “Mamluk,” based on the handwriting and ornaments, may in fact be Ghaznavid or Ottoman.  The mould-lines provide an easy and reasonably precise way of determining some general information about the origins of a text.

Detailed examination reveals that a characteristic which may prove to be very helpful is the presence of various types of fibrous “impurities” in the pulp, which can vary widely according to the locations of origin.  A comparison between Mamluk and contemporary Indian paper shows very significant differences, which we can exploit.

The paper provides a general survey of many of the varieties of laid lines, with both chronological and geographical coverage, from early examples to late Indian samples.  It places emphasis on material which shows specific characteristic varieties and can be securely dated and localized.


This paper is the second of the presentations by Dr. Sorenson in our annual series of sessions on “Medieval Writing Materials” at the 2011 Congress Sessions, 2012 Congress Sessions, 2013 Congress Sessions, and 2014 Congress Sessions.  The Abstracts for the other papers appear here:  Sorenson (2011 Congress), Sorenson (2013 Congress), and Sorenson (2014 Congress).

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