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Library Research Guides

Islamic Manuscript Studies

Resources for the study of manuscripts produced in the Islamic world and the manuscript cultures they represent.

Workforms / Datasheets Resources

For a guide to structuring your descriptive notes (particularly helpful as you prepare for a visit to a manuscript repository) see:

"Appendix V. Describing the Manuscript" in Adam Gacek's Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers (Leiden: Brill, 2009): 333-338.
"The present appendix constitutes a manuscript data-sheet, a check-list of the major components of a manuscript's description. The data-sheet is only a guideline and can be adapted according to a particular angle of investigation and/or need. In a nut-shell, it reflects the various aspects of Arabic manuscript studies discussed in the present vademecum (AMVR)."

The COMSt Handbook should also prove helpful.

For copies of such workforms in electronic document format, please contact me directly.

For an opensource manuscript cataloguing software, see Kabikadj, developed by Vlad Atanasiu

For a project larger in scope (e.g. entire collection, multiple collections, etc.), see the resources of The International Treasury of Islamic Manuscripts, a TIMA sponsored initiative offering online manuscript catalogue hosting free of charge. 

Physical Examination Resources

Physical examination is incredibly important for adequately assessing a manuscript's history and for properly characterizing its material qualities.

Essential elements:

  • Binding / structure
  • Writing material (support)
  • Dimensions
  • Layout
  • Collation
  • Overall condition

Essential equipment:

  • measuring tape or ruler
  • light source
  • clean hands
  • weights and supports (typically provided by the repository)
  • pencil / paper and or electronic device for recording notes, etc.

Essential techniques:

  • Collation
  • Measurement
  • Viewing in transmitted light
  • Viewing in raking light
  • Touch (where possible)

Contact me directly for a sample physical description workform in electronic format.

See the manuals and readings listed elsewhere on this guide for a more in depth introduction to the various elements.

Hands-on experience is ideal for guidance and training in physical examination. Watch for workshop opportunities and feel free to contact me to set up a hands-on session to step through techniques together.

Terminology Resources

Binabīn, Aḥmad Shawqī and Muṣṭafá Ṭūbī. Muʻjam muṣṭalaḥāt al-makhṭūṭ al-ʻArabī: Qāmūs kūdīkūlūjī. Marrākush: al-Maṭabaʻah wa-al-Wirāqah al-Waṭanīyah, 2004.

CCAHA’s "An Illustrated Guide to Book Terminology. Part One: Book Structure"

Codicologia / كوديكولجيا (, a glossary of codicological terminology in French and Arabic. "Codicologia est une application informatique qui fournit un vocabulaire multilingue pour la description des manuscrits. Elle entend proposer un instrument de travail à tous les catalogueurs de manuscrits, les éditeurs de textes et plus généralement à tous ceux qui s'intéressent aux manuscrits anciens."

COMSt Handbook =  Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction, Eds. Alessandro Bausi et al. Hamburg: Tredition, 2015. Available online 

Déroche, François, et al. Manuel de codicologie des manuscrits en écriture arabe. [Paris] : Bibliothèque nationale de France, c2000.

-------. al-Madkhal ilá ʻilm al-kitāb al-makhṭūṭ bi-al-ḥarf al-ʻArabī. Landan : Muʼassasat al-Furqān lil-Turāth al-Islāmī, 2005.

-------. Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script. London: Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2006.

Gacek, Adam. The Arabic Manuscript Tradition: A Glossary of Technical Terms and Bibliography. Leiden: Brill, 2001.

-------. The Arabic Manuscript Tradition: A Glossary of Technical Terms and Bibliography – Supplement. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

-------. Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers. Leiden: Brill, 2009.

Ghelichkhani, Hamid Reza. A Dictionary of Persian Calligraphy and Related Arts. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

al-Ḥalwajī, ʻAbd al-Sattār. Naḥwa ʻilm makhṭūṭāt ʻArabī. al-Qahirah: Dar al-Qahirah, 2004.

Hepworth, Paul and Karin Scheper. "Terminology For the Conservation and Description of Islamic Manuscripts." Available online​ (see also

Language of Bindings Thesaurus (LoB) (from Ligatus Research Centre) Available online

Māyil Hiravī, Rez̤a. Lughāt va iṣṭilāhāt-i fann-i kitābsāzī: hamrāh bā iṣṭilāhāt-i jildʹsāzi, taẕhi̲b, naqqāshī. [Tehran] : Bunyād-i Farhang-i Īrān, 1353 [1974].

Miller, Julia. Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings.  Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2010.

Roberts, Matt and Don Etherington. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington : Library of Congress : 1982 (available online in HathiTrust and in full-text searchable form via CoOL

Ṣafarī Āqʹqalʻah, ʻAlī. Nuskhahʹshinākht: pizhūhishnāmah-ʼi nuskhahʹshināsī-i nusakh-i khaṭṭī-i Fārsī [= Handbook of Persian codicology: an introduction to the study of Persian manuscripts]. Tihrān: Markaz-i Pizhūhishī-i Mīrās̲-i Maktūb, 2011.

Sayyid, Ayman Fuʾād. al-Kitāb al-ʻArabī al-makhṭūṭ wa-ʻilm al-makhṭūṭāt. al-Qāhirah : al-Dār al-Miṣrīyah al-Lubnānīyah, 1997.

Özen, Mine Esiner. Yazma Kitap Sanatları Sözlüğü. İstanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi, Fen Fakültesi, 1985.

Seal Impressions Resources

see also the Bibliography of the Chester Beatty Library Islamic Seals Database project

Afshar, Iraj. "ʻArz (عرض) dans la tradition bibliothéconomique irano-indienne." In Scribes et manuscrits du Moyen-Orient, Eds. François Déroche and Francis Richard (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1997): 331-343

Gacek, Adam. "Ownership statements and seals in Arabic manuscripts." Manuscripts of the Middle East 2 (1987): 88-95

Gallop, Annabel Teh and Venetia Porter. Lasting impressions :seals from the Islamic world. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.

Hammer-Purgstall, Joseph. Abhandlung über die Siegel der Araber, Perser und Türken.  Wien : Kaiserlich-Königlichen hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1850 (available online via HathiTrust)

Kalus, Ludvik. Catalogue of Islamic seals and talismans. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. (available via the Ashmolean Publications Online,

Kut, Günay and Nimet Bayraktar. Yazma eserlerde vakıf mühürleri. Ankara : Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 1984.

"Stamps." In François Déroche, et al. Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in the Arabic Script (London: Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2006): 330-344

Porter, Venetia. Arabic and Persian seals and amulets in the British Museum. London : British Museum, c2011.

Seyller, John. "The Inspection and Valuation of Manuscripts in the Imperial Mughal Library." Artibus Asiae 57, iii-iv (1997): 243-349.

Chester Beatty Library Islamic Seals Database

"Seals are usually inscribed with the name of an individual, often in conjunction with a pious phrase, and are used in manuscripts to denote ownership. Knowing who the individual named is and when and where that person lived can help one to trace the history of a manuscript, which may in turn shed light on notes and commentaries added or other alterations made to the manuscript since it was first produced. However, the individual or institution named is often unknown to the researcher or the text may not be easily deciphered: the ink may be smudged or otherwise unclear or the script itself might be difficult to read. Therefore, as a visitor to the site, you are invited to participate in deciphering the seals, identifying the individuals or institutions named, and adding information such as other sources of the same seal impression or other seals that name the same individual or institution. 

As there is currently no convenient means by which to find or share information on seal impressions, we hope that this database will be a useful resource for anyone working on Islamic manuscripts.

Initially the database will contain mainly images of seal impressions found in the more than 2600 manuscripts that make up the Chester Beatty Library’s Arabic Collection. The number of images will increase steadily until the seals in all of these manuscripts are included as well as all of those found in the Library’s other Islamic manuscripts (those in its Qur’an, Persian, Turkish and Mughal-era Indian Collections). We are happy to include seals from other collections if proper permission to do so and photographs are provided. We may be contacted at"

Seal impressions (Islamic Manuscripts Collection, University of Michigan)

Images of seal impressions appearing in the manuscripts of the Islamic Manuscripts Collection, Special Collections Research Center, University of Michigan. Soon to also be shared with Chester Beatty Library Seals project.