Call for Papers | 5000 Years of Comments: The Development of Commentary from Ancient Mesopotamia to the Age of Information

Dates: August 7-10, 2018
Sponsored and hosted by the Center for Hellenic Studies
Organized by Joel P. Christensen (Brandeis University) and Jacqueline Vayntrub (Brandeis University)

Commentary on the written word is nearly as old as writing itself and has developed alongside scholarship, literature and the writing cultures in critical and influential ways. As an activity, commentary has helped define categories of textuality and literature. As a type of discourse, commentary has been shaped over millennia by emerging technologies, from clay tablets to multi-user digital interfaces.

This two-day conference seeks to bring together specialists and investigators from various fields who are interested in the history of commentary and its study, in its theoretical underpinnings and its effects, and in exploring new forms commentary has taken in the information age. All fields of inquiry are open, but we are particularly interested in assembling papers that draw on the history of philology from the Ancient Near East (Mesopotamia through Biblical philology) through Classical Greece and Rome in antiquity, the middle ages, and reflecting on this history in light of the emergence of modern Digital Humanities. 

Thematically, this conference invites reflections on what commentaries do (what or who are they for); how they create authoritative texts and affect future reception; how commentaries have changed (or failed to change) with new technologies; the relationship between philology and commentary; and how a comparative study of commentary traditions can inform us. This workshops’ discussions and papers will help participants develop nuanced ideas about what commentary—and indeed scholarly engagement with primary texts—is for and what are its future possibilities.

This conference will be a hybrid conference, allowing some participants to be present via video-conferencing and providing space for others to be present in person.  Please send proposals (up to 300 words) for papers of 20-25 minutes to applications[at] and any inquiries to joel[at] or vayntrub[at] by December 1, 2017. Acceptances will be issued no later than February 1, 2018.