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Anchoring the Invention of Writing in Ancient Societies. A Global Comparative Approach

From:Th 15-12-2022
Until:Sa 17-12-2022
Where:Leiden University and online

‘Anchoring Innovation’ is a Dutch research program in Classics that studies how people deal with ‘the new’ ( It aims to understand the human factor in successful innovations through the concept of ‘anchoring’: the multifarious and creative ways in which people connect what they consider new to the already familiar.


Central to this conference will be the anchoring of one of the biggest innovations in human history, which was invented multiple times: writing. This topic will be explored from various perspectives, including the technology and materiality of writing, as well as its uses, functions and social status. How was the groundbreaking technology of writing effectively implemented in illiterate societies? In what ways was the introduction of writing combined with non-literate administrative, juridical and social practices? Or, in the case of literate societies, how was a new script (notably the alphabet) integrated with pre-existing writing systems? How were revolutions in writing techniques and materials secured into existing scribal conventions and practices? How was this new communicative practice represented? In what ways was literacy incorporated into oral tradition, performance (poetry, oratory) and memorization? Who had access to reading and writing competencies, and hence to knowledge?

The above questions touch upon multiple disciplines (philology, archaeology, epigraphy, ancient history, philosophy, sociology) and are pertinent to ancient literate cultures and societies worldwide. The conference aims to bring together specialists from all relevant disciplines and regions to explore the various ways in which writing was ‘anchored’ in ancient societies. What kind of similarities and differences can be detected, and are these differences real or only perceived because of the disparity in sources? The comparative and interdisciplinary scope of the conference will enable us to combine and compare data from different regions and disciplines, thus deepening our understanding of how writing came to be one of the most effective and long-lasting innovations of all times.

‘Anchoring Innovation’ is supported by a 2017 Gravitation Grant (Ministry of Education, NWO); please see our website for further information and bibliographical references.


For more information and the programme, please look at the website of Anchoring.


  • Dr. Willemijn Waal
  • Prof. Ineke Sluiter