Since 2011, CSMC has pooled Hamburg's research expertise in manuscript cultures.
Manuscripts are the most important medium writing has ever had. For thousands of years, manuscripts have had a determining influence on all cultures that were shaped by them, their only serious rival arising in the early modern period, with the introduction of printing.
In the West, scholarly interest in manuscripts has increased significantly over the last two decades. This has surely been influenced by the rise of electronic media, which has stimulated historical and systematic inquiry, both in the humanities and cultural studies.
At the same time, in Asia and in Africa manuscripts have been rediscovered as a part of cultural heritages, and the vast quantities of manuscripts (conservatively estimated at approximately 10 million) have begun to be catalogued, recorded and made accessible.
Based on the work of the DFG-Research Group 963 - "Manuscript Cultures in Asia and Afrika" (2008-2011) the Centre for the Studies of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) is engaged in fundamental research, investigating from both a historical and comparative perspective, based on material artifacts, the empirical diversity of manuscript cultures. It will establish a new paradigm that is distinct from the research on manuscripts undertaken until now, which has been limited in its approach by region and discipline. On one hand, the cultural dependency of what has usually been considered given will particularly be brought into question, and on the other hand, universal categories and characteristics of manuscript cultures will be delineated, as one possible result of the comparative research.
The great variety of fields and disciplines, as well as the large number of cultures under investigation will ensure that unreflected attitudes, such as considering historically contingent European developments to be generally legitimate, or naive dichotomies ("East-West"), considered self-evident not only in Europe, but also in Asia and Africa, are surmounted. Long-term goals include the establishment of an interdisciplinary research field dealing with general manuscript studies, and the development of sustainable and functional tools.