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Islamic Manuscript Studies

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

Getting started

You will find references to manuscripts of potential interest for your research in a number of sources, chiefly:

  • Citations in secondary literature relevant to your topic
  • Bio-bibliographical surveys (such as Brockelmann, Sezgin, Storey, Hofman, etc.)
  • Catalogues and handlists (for collections, exhibits, and dealers)

Beyond your literature review, secondary literature is especially helpful for identifying points of departure for your corpus and method, i.e. a few exemplary manuscripts exhibiting the features of interest to you (be they textual, visual or physical) and approaches to their study.

Bio-bibliographical surveys (see the Bio-bibliographical surveys page on this guide) are especially helpful as you begin a manuscript census of particular works or even of works attributed to a particular author.

Catalogues and handlists (see the Finding catalogues page on this guide) are essential for expanding your corpus regardless of topic, and are especially helpful for identifying manuscripts by historical period and locale (i.e. copied, read, owned, etc. at a particular time and/or in a particular place). Of course specialized catalogues such as those addressing particular painting styles or artists, watermarks, bindings, transmission certificates, hands (i.e. palaeography albums), etc. will also be helpful as both a point of departure and to expand your corpus.

For example:

  • If your project involves compiling a substantial corpus (or even a comprehensive census) of manuscript witnesses for a particular work, you might begin with citations in the relevant literature and listings by author, title and subject in the bio-bibliographical surveys, but would then go on to check as many catalogues and handlists as possible (browsing beyond title to author and subject given the number of title variants you may encounter). Knowlege of collection strengths and scope can help make this project more manageable, and collection surveys (such as "catalogues of catalogues") are essential.
  • If your project addresses historical, palaeographical or codicological phenomena, you might begin with the relevant literature and theoretically proceed on to suitably structured catalogues which allow for search or browse by such features as date, place of transcription, names (of copyists, collators, former owners, readers, auditors, etc.), hand, type of ornament, presence of illustrations, and or physical qualities such as structure (composition of gatherings, sewing, and cover), dimensions, writing surface, layout, etc. Unfortunately, given the current state of the field and of progress with manuscript cataloguing in particular, the task of identifying said catalogues (to the extent they exist at all) will prove tedious and for most collections you will find it necessary to identify manuscripts of potential interest on the basis of the few relevant features noted in the catalogue which you must then confirm via examination.

Once you have identified manuscripts of potential interest (or even an entire collection), you should also consider where they are currently kept and how accessible they are.

  • Is a catalogue or handlist for the collection available and if so where? (obviously if you identified the manuscript(s) this way you already know the answer)
  • Are surrogates or reproductions available for your use? In what format(s) and at what cost?
  • Can the collection items themselves can be physically examined or only surrogates?
  • Where is the repository located? Is visiting the repository financially and logistically feasible? Are official permissions necessary? Do you have any personal connections (with research colleagues, librarians, etc.) that you could leverage to gain access?

Feel free to be in touch for advice with navigating catalogues, collections, and description.

World Collections (Al-Furqan Digital Library Portal)

World Collections (Al-Furqan Digital Library Portal)

Database drawn from the World Survey of Islamic Manuscriptsallowing browse and search on the collections featured in the Survey

"In 1989 the Foundation set up a research project to investigate, as comprehensively as possible, the present state of Islamic manuscript collections extant worldwide. Scholars were identified and commissioned to carry out a survey in more than 100 countries. The outcome of this project was the World Survey of Islamic Manuscripts publication...The World Collections area of the Digital Library Portal presents the libraries of the World Survey in geographical context for the user to browse and explore interactively. For example, hovering over a library on the world map provides a quick preview of the library and its holdings."

MANUMED Libraries search

Browse or search for details on libraries located in the Mediterranean regions via MANUMED's search engine (interface available in French, Arabic and English)

Local Archives and Libraries Directory

Browse or search for information on many international libraries and archives in the LALORC Directory (Local Archives and Libraries Directory)