Structuring Magic: Towards a Digital Infrastructure of Texts and Artefacts (atelier)

Du 20 au 24 février 2023 a lieu l’atelier « Structuring Magic: Towards a Digital Infrastructure of Texts and Artefacts » organisé par Korshi Dosoo (University of Würzburg), Raquel Martín Hernández (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Ortal-Paz Saar (Utrecht University, Department of History and Art History) et Panagiota Sarischouli (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) sur cinq jours au Lorentz Center à Leyde (Pays-Bas).

Affiche de l'atelier « Structuring Magic »
Affiche de l’atelier « Structuring Magic »


In the past decades magic has become an important field of academic study. The definition of the term remains fluid, as it also was in antiquity. What constituted “magic” (and religion) changed not only according to time and place, but also according to the group or person who defined it. Today magic is studied both as a theoretical construct and as a tradition of texts (written or recited), artefacts, and practices. One feature that awaits further development is the complex interrelation between magical texts and artefacts from different cultures, across time and space. It is high time that this interrelation is explored systematically, in a structured and methodical manner. 
Our “Structuring Magic” workshop aims to lay the basis for this.

“Structuring Magic” will take steps towards creating an infrastructure for the systematic cross-cultural study of magical texts from antiquity to the modern day, within Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. The aim of this infrastructure is to allow magical texts and artefacts to reveal larger stories of intercommunal relations, interlinguistic contact, and the processes of transmission and transformation of ritual practices over thousands of years. While such a feat would be unthinkable several decades ago, the novel tools and methods of digital humanities (DH) and computational linguistics turn it into a real prospect.

The workshop intends to:
1. Devise the model of a digital infrastructure for the analysis of magical texts and artefacts, using methods 
and tools from computational linguistics and digital humanities.
2. Devise an initial index of motifs that appear in magical texts, similar in concept to folklore indices. 
3. Establish an interdisciplinary academic network for the study of magic. 

At the conclusion of “Structuring Magic” we will produce a workshop report, to be published in a widespread academic venue. The report will summarize the workshop findings, invite wider comment and engagement from colleagues, and launch the academic network mentioned above. This network of scholars will work together in future years, both on developing the digital infrastructure and motif index, as well as advancing novel avenues for the field. Taking this discipline to the next level can only be obtained by structuring magic.


Lundi 20 février 2023
Introduction, types of sources and workshop aims

09h30 : inscription

10h00 : mot de bienvenue par l’équipe du Lorentz Center, mot de bienvenue des organisateurs et exposition du plan de l’atelier

Short presentations (10 minutes+10 minutes discussion): types of sources, related challenges and aims
1. Connections and delimiting boundaries, e.g., magic and religion. Magic texts – monolingual and multilingual. State of digitization (existing databases and desiderata).
2. Motief index.
3. Iconography and magic signs (charakteres).
4. Voces magicae.
Short presentation: digital infrastructure – preliminary ideas.

12h-13h30 : déjeuner

Brainstorm session in small groups, based on three of the four sections above: texts, iconography, signs.

15h00-15h20 : pause café

Plenary session: each group presents their notes, and group ideas are discussed.
Day summary and results (ca. 20 minutes)

17h00 : Lorentz Center wine and cheese party

Mardi 21 février 2023
Motif index: Towards a digital database

Motif index: existing models (folk literature, ritual studies). 20 minutes + 20 minutes plenary discussion
Coffee break
Motif index of magic: case-studies from different cultural and religious settings. 2 short presentations, ca. 15 minutes each + 10 minutes discussion
Motif index: ideas from DH and computational linguistics. 20 minutes + 20 minutes discussion.

12h-13h30 : déjeuner

Brainstorm session in small groups: classification of motifs, digitization of index

15h00-15h20 : pause café

Writing/reading time for all participants

Plenary session: preparing a draft of the motif index
Day summary and results (20 minutes)

Mercredi 3 février 2023
Text, image and sign: Towards a digital infrastructure

Plenary session: DH perspectives on magic infrastructure

Mini coffee break

Hands-on session in small groups: DH models for working with multi- language texts, images and signs/symbols.

12h-13h : déjeuner

Travel by public bus to: Leiden University Library: Papyrology Institute (Witte Singel 27, 2311 BG Leiden).
The Library is ca. 25 minutes travelling distance from the Lorentz Center.

17h00-18h00 : temps libre

Workshop dinner: Restaurant Het Prentenkabinet
The restaurant is 6 minutes walk from the library.

Jeudi 23 février 2023
Encoding magic words: Towards a digital glossary

“Non-sensical” utterances in religious settings, folklore, and nursery rhymes. 15 minutes + 10 minutes discussion.
Magic words (voces magicae) in different cultures. 15 minutes per presentation + 10 minutes

Coffee break

Glossary of magic words: the benefits, requisites, and challenges. 15 minutes per presentation + 10 minutes
Magic words: views from computational linguistics and DH. 15 minutes + 10 minutes discussion


Travel by public bus to Restaurant Oudt Leyden:
The restaurant is ca. 20 minutes travelling distance from the Lorentz Center

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (RMO)
The museum is ca. 5 minutes walk from the restaurant

Museum visit and viewing of selected magical artifacts and manuscripts.
Discussion of visual elements database: magical papyri as a case study
Day summary and results

Optional: Attending public lecture by Prof. Gideon Bohak at the RMO: “Jewish Magic from Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century”

Vendredi 24 février 2023

Introduction: revisiting the three workshop aims: 20 minutes + 10 minutes discussion.
o digital infrastructure for the interdisciplinary study of magic o motif index for magic
o academic network for the study of magic
Plenary session: draft of digital infrastructure 1: texts, including magic words (voces magicae). 30 minutes

Coffee break

Plenary session: draft of digital infrastructure 2: images. 30 minutes
Plenary session: draft of digital infrastructure 3: magic signs. 30 minutes

12h-13h30 : déjeuner

Plenary session: concrete summaries of the workshop elements and achieved results.
Plans for the future.
Workshop conclusion.

Citer ce billet
Jean-Charles Coulon (2023, 14 février). Structuring Magic: Towards a Digital Infrastructure of Texts and Artefacts (atelier). Le monde des djinns. Consulté le 26 février 2024, à l’adresse

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1 réponse

  1. 15 février 2023

    […] Structuring Magic: Towards a Digital Infrastructure of Texts and Artefacts (atelier) […]

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