In March 2018, the Forms of Law project co-funded a two-day Persian manuscript reading workshop at the Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The workshop included 10 themed sessions, led by my colleague Prof. Sajjad Rizvi (IAIS, Exeter), Dr Nur Sobers-Khan (Lead Curator, South Asia Collections, British Library), and myself. Around 20 scholars, about half of them women, and most of them with advanced Persian paleographic skills, attended the workshop. While leading sessions in such a gathering could be a daunting experience, the generosity, good humour and intellectual openness of the participants made it a very productive experience.
The benefits for the project were very significant; I learnt about other relevant Persian-language genres and/or compositional features in genres that I had not realized to be relevant thus far. (For example, I understood that vocabulary choices in the opening parts of a Persian text were often intended to supply keywords that signaled the content and theme of the text as a whole. Thus, where I was used to seeing bāb or kitāb in referring to sections of a book of jurisprudence or epistolary compositions, a Sufi text offered list of lama‘ (illumination) when tabulating its contents. I was also able to establish professional connections with scholars working with relevant Persian manuscript collections in Lahore and elsewhere in Pakistan, about which I shall write in more detail in Punjab survey part I.
As for the participants themselves, when asked how the workshop had benefited them, several responded that it offered them a wider view of the Persian manuscript world, and that it had offered them a sense of scholarly community. A Whatsapp group called “manuscript lovers” was set up after the end of the workshop, and it is proving to be a lively forum for the exchange of information about books, manuscripts and libraries, especially in Pakistan.