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Islamic Manuscripts Collection

Information about using the Islamic Manuscripts Collection held at the University of Michigan Library.

Collection Statistics

1,800 titles
1,099 codices
4       rolls
3 single leaves
829 volumes with texts in Arabic
218 volumes with texts in Persian
123 volumes with texts in Ottoman or Chagatai Turkish
1,374+  texts in Arabic
259+ texts in Persian
188+ texts in Turkish (mainly Ottoman, 3 in Chagatai)


The collection is organized by acquisition and provenance into several subcollections – the Abdul Hamid, Tiflis, Yahuda, McGregor, and Heyworth-Dunne Collections being the largest, alongside several smaller collections (87 manuscripts in the Walter Koelz, Nuttall, Richard Ford, Stephen Spaulding, Horace Miner, Sulaiman, and Frank Schulte Collections).

Abdul Hamid Among the Abdul Hamid manuscripts are several exemplars of the highest level of artistry in binding, illumination, calligraphy and illustration carrying works chiefly of Persian and Ottoman poetry, mysticism, and history.

Tiflis The vast majority of these manuscripts contain Arabic texts dealing with Islamic legal topics (jurisprudence), doctrine, mysticism, philosophy, dialectic and Arabic grammar. They show great signs of wear and were likely consulted often by scholars and practitioners. Many of the manuscripts became part of two 19th century Eastern Anatolian waqf collections endowed to support scholars.

Yahuda Carrying chiefly Arabic texts (though 15 volumes do carry Ottoman texts and 9 carry Persian texts) addressing Islamic legal topics, Qur'an commentary, hadith, mysticism, grammar, poetry, etc., these manuscripts are among the earliest in the collection with sixty-five percent copied prior to 1700 and twenty-five percent prior to 1500. Most are of Syrian or Egyptian provenance, though a few Yemeni manuscripts are also included.

McGregor The texts carried in these volumes are again chiefly in Arabic, but with some in Persian and or Turkish, and cover mainly astronomical and mathmatical topics. Most were acquired in Egypt and carry owners' marks of the notable Dr. Max Meyerhof (d.1945).

Heyworth-Dunne Carrying almost exclusively Arabic texts (with one text in Arabic and Persian), the vast majority of these manuscripts were copied on lined paper in the early part of the 20th century and address philosophy and mysticism. Several texts are found in multiple copies, often incomplete or deliberately abridged or excerpted with commentary. They likely represent modern manuscript facsimiles (handwritten copies of manuscripts found in other noteworthy collections, most likely in Egypt) and companion notes, produced for a scholar's archive. They were eventually bound for James Heyworth-Dunne, likely in Egypt.


The Islamic Manuscripts Collection within the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Michigan Library consists of more than 1,800 texts chiefly in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish preserved in just over 1,100 volumes dating from the 8th to the 20th century CE. The manuscripts reflect a wide diversity of manuscript production, collecting and readership across the historically Islamicate cultural areas, with manuscript cultures of the former Ottoman Empire especially well-represented. The collection is among the most accessible in North America, fully catalogued with digital copies freely and openly available online. With attendant curatorial expertise, the range of languages, subjects, geographies and manuscript cultures represented make for an exemplary teaching collection which enriches undergraduate and graduate courses as well as palaeographical and manuscript studies training for students and visiting researchers.


The Islamic Manuscripts Collection at the University of Michigan consists of 1,103 volumes (codices and rolls) and a small number of single leaves, dating from the 8th to the 20th century CE and carrying roughly 1,800 titles chiefly in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish. 3 volumes carry texts in Chagatai Turkish (Isl. Mss. 415, 447, 450), 1 volume carries a text in Panjabi (Isl. Ms. 853), and 1 volume carries a text in Maranao (Isl. Ms. 839).

For the most part the manuscripts were produced in the Islamicate cultural areas of the Middle East and North Africa (along with areas of Europe, Central Asia, and South Asia), though Egyptian Christian (Coptic) communities and Filipino Muslim communities are also represented (see Isl. Ms. 219, Isl. Ms. 656, and Isl. Ms. 839). Manuscript production in the areas of the former Ottoman Empire is especially well-represented.

Subjects covered by the texts carried in the manuscripts include the Qur’an and sciences (exegesis, readings, recitation, etc.), collections and studies in the science of ḥadīth, and works of theology, jurisprudence (fiqh), Sufism, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, rhetoric, grammar, poetry, belles-lettres, history, geography, and medicine.

Artistry in calligraphy, binding, illumination and illustration is also well-represented, calligraphy in particular. Among the exquisite calligraphic specimens (employing poetry, ḥadīth, prayers, etc.) are pieces by Ottoman masters Şeyh Hamdullah of Amasya (d.1519 or 20), Hafız Osman Efendi (d.1698), Seyyid Abdullah of Yedikule (d.1731), Yesari Mehmed Esad Efendi (d.1798), Mahmud Celâleddin Efendi (d.1829), and Hasan Rıza Efendi (d.1920). Another 158 calligraphic specimens exhibiting a range of illumination and decorative paper techniques appear in four albums (Isl. Mss. 438, 439, 440, 441) — possibly bound in the Yıldız Palace workshop for someone close to Sultan Abdülhamid II (r.1876-1909), within the family or diplomatic circle.

Numerous manuscript notes document transmission, reading / study, borrowing, purchase, ownership and collecting as well as births, deaths, travel, etc. A number of transmission certificates (ijāzāt) appear. Several waqf collections are represented by waqf statements or waqf seals. Seal impressions often accompany the many ownership notes.

Overall, the collection offers a vast range of raw material for philologists and historians of various fields, including Islamic social history, knowledge transmission and acquisition, manuscript production and ownership, and the arts of the book.

The collection ranks among the largest and most significant Islamic manuscript collections in North America, after those at Princeton, UCLA, Yale, the Library of Congress, and Harvard.


Acquisition and Provenance

The bulk of the manuscripts were acquired via purchase in the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with the Abdul Hamid and Tiflis manuscripts in 1924, the Yahuda manuscripts in 1926, and the Tracy W. McGregor manuscripts in 1933-34. The purchase of the Abdul Hamid, Tiflis, and Yahuda manuscripts was orchestrated by the University of Michigan’s Francis W. Kelsey (1858-1927) with funds provided (initially anonymously) by Horace H. Rackam (1858-1933). Acquired as having been once part of the personal collection of Sultan Abdülhamit II (1842-1918), the so-called Abdul Hamid manuscripts were first offered to Kelsey in 1923 by Cairo-based antiquities dealer Maurice Nahman (1868-1948). [1] 

In 1924 as the Abdul Hamid purchase was coming together, the Tiflis manuscripts were offered to Kelsey by the British Museum, upon which they'd apparently been pressed by the British Foreign Office "without adequate expert examination." [2] 

Kelsey also facilitated the subsequent Yahuda acquisition in 1926, when a colleague at the British Museum brought to his attention an offer brought by the famous Orientalist and manuscript collector Abraham Shalom Yahuda to purchase a number of manuscripts from his brother, the bookseller and scholar Isaac Benjamin S.E. Yahuda. [3] 

In 1933-34 the Tracy W. McGregor manuscripts were acquired by University of Michigan professor L.C. Karpinski (1878-1956) with funds from the McGregor fund of Detroit. A number of these manuscripts were formerly in the possession of Dr. Max Meyerhof, historian and ophthalmologist who resided in Cairo, Egypt until his death in 1945.

The manuscripts of the Walter Koelz, Nuttall, Stephen Spaulding, Horace Miner, Heyworth-Dunne, Sulaiman, and Frank Schulte Collections were acquired separately, by purchase or donation (even from other departments within the University), mainly during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Notable are the F.E. Nuttall manuscripts, which reached the library in 1965-68, [4] and were likely once in the personal collection of Frank E. Nuttall (1875-1943), a librarian who concluded his career at the University of Manitoba and was known for his collection of Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Hindi books and manuscripts. [5]

Also notable are the Heyworth-Dunne manuscripts, purchased by the library in 1950 and formerly part of the personal collection of James Heyworth-Dunne (d.1974), a senior reader in Arabic at SOAS, University of London from 1928-1948, who thereafter became a member of the staff at the Middle East Institute Washington, D.C. [6] These manuscripts were left unaccessioned until 1992-93, when Roberta Dougherty prepared a handlist with detailed inventory cataloguing for each volume.

Research into further details of provenance for the manuscripts is ongoing.

[1] There is so far no evidence to support this asserted provenance. Numerous other former owners are attested in the manuscripts, however. The manuscripts are certainly of exquisite quality and were supposedly obtained in Constantinople [Istanbul] around 1912 by the dealer Tammaro De Marinis who went seeking "any valuable manuscripts that might be being sold out of the estates of the country's former rulers" on behalf of J. Pierpont Morgan. The mark of De Marinis appears in most of the manuscripts. The manuscripts were eventually obtained by Nahman who identified the former owner as one Halis Paşa and offered them claiming they had belonged to Sultan Abdulhamid II (r.1876-1909). For further discussion of the Abdul Hamid acquisition, see the details highlighted in the history traced for one manuscript from the collection, Isl. Ms. 350 --- Evyn Kropf, "Following the peregrinations of Isl. Ms. 350 Part 1: From Delhi to Istanbul" (5 July 2017) and "Part 2: From Istanbul to Ann Arbor" (13 July 2017). For an earlier account of the acquisition see Roberta Dougherty, "Islamic Manuscripts at the University of Michigan: Summary of collection history" (1993). For more on De Marinis see Frederico Botana, "Tammaro De Marinis, Vittorio Forti, and the Acquisition of Islamic Manuscripts for J. P. Morgan in Constantinople in 1913," Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies 7, 2 (2022): 237-69. For more on Nahman see Iman R. Abdulfattah, "A Forgotten Man: Maurice Nahman, an Antiquarian-Tastemaker,” in Guardian of Ancient Egypt: Studies in Honor of Zahi Hawass Volume 1, edited by Janice Kamrin et al (Prague: Charles University, Faculty of Arts, 2020): 105–23.

[2] See Kelsey's report of the matter on p.10 of "University of Michigan Near East Research Memorandum  no.4, May 16 to July 31, 1924, Constantinople, Turkey, July, 31, 1924" housed in Special Collections administrative files, drawer labeled "Kelsey Material | Sanders’ Papers," file box labeled "Kelsey Memoranda." Upon examination, the bulk of the manuscripts were deemed "so nearly duplicating manuscripts already in the Oriental Department that the Museum would be willing to dispose of them, and wished to give the University of Michigan the first opportunity," again see Memorandum no.4, p.10. For a brief discussion of the Tiflis acquisition see Evyn Kropf, "Historical Repair, Recycling and Recovering Phenomena in the Islamic Bindings of the University of Michigan Library: Exploring the Codicological Evidence," In Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding vol. 1, edited by Julia Miller (Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2013): 31-32.

[3] For more details on the Yahuda acquisition see Evyn Kropf, "The Yemeni Manuscripts of the Yahuda Collection at the University of Michigan: Provenance and Acquisition," Chroniques du manuscrit au Yémen no 13 (2012) and “Agent and Architect: Abraham Shalom Yahuda’s Role in Developing the Islamic Manuscripts Collection at the University of Michigan” (forthcoming) 

[4] At least two volumes were brought from the attic by one Mr. Partington in 1965 (see slips in Isl. Ms. 860 v.2). The Nuttall manuscripts are likely at least partially represented by the “Persian MSS brought from attic by Mr. Partington – Total, May 1, 1968 – 51 v.” referred to in “Islamic and Oriental MSS Mostly Under Local Bibliographic Control” (Special Collections Administrative Files, folder Islamic Manuscripts Acquisitions & General), with the exclusion of the seven manuscripts in Turkish or Arabic.

[5] See the Manitoba Historical Society’s entry for Nuttall in their listing of “Memorable Manitobans” (

[6] University of Michigan. The President's report for 1950-1951. Ann Arbor, MI: The University, 1951, p.261; Behn, Wolfgang. Concise Biographical Companion to Index Islamicus.  Leiden, 2004-2006, p.75 ; Jajko, Edward. "Preliminary inventory to the James Heyworth-Dunne Papers, 1860-1949." Hoover Institution Archives, 1999.