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Islamic Manuscript Studies

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


Catalogues address bibliographical, historical, and physical features, but vary enormously in level of detail, organization and presentation. Not all catalogues will include transcriptions, indexes, and citations for all features. Many will include transliterated forms as well as the vernacular. Some will list manuscripts by shelfmark (which usually suggests order of entry to the collection), others will list by language, subject, or some combination thereof. Some will include representative images, at least for dated and placed manuscripts.

Catalogues may be in print, electronic format, or both, and accessibility and navigability will obviously vary accordingly. Many catalogues originally issued in print have been digitized and made openly available in digital repositories, though not all are full-text searchable. Some electronic catalogues will include descriptive labels in multiple languages, allow for complex search on multiple features, and include links to full digital copies of the manuscripts. Just as with print catalogues, unless certain features are indexed (or specially tagged), it may be difficult to compare them in electronic catalogues. It will still be possible to retrieve them usually, via search, but comparison will require a more sophisticated strategy (with knowledge of terms used, catalogue layout, etc) and greater palaeographical skill. For example -- in some electronic catalogues, features such as incipit or explicit are not indexed or listed out for comparison, but are still retrievable for comparison via a search on the transcript of interest, provided one can decipher it and key it in for search.

Of course for many collections, no accessible catalogue yet exists. For some, only brief inventories or handlists enumerating titles, authors, subjects, extent and or date are available. For others, a handlist or even catalogue exists, but only in wandering document file or photocopy. In some cases, the existing handlist or catalogue can only be searched or browsed onsite at the manuscript repository (library, archive, museum, etc).


Surveys of catalogues

Surveys of manuscript collections and their catalogues are typically organized by the location (country, city, etc) and name of the repository and are helpful when you are looking for the catalogue(s) of a particular collection or library or for the catalogues of libraries in a particular area. Broadest in scope is:

Many such surveys are focused on manuscripts carrying works in a particular language, such as these "catalogues of catalogues" for Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts:

  • Afshār, Īraj. Kitabshinasi-ī fihristʹhā-yi nuskhahʹhāy-yi khaṭṭī-i Fārisī : kitābkhānah-i hā-yi dunyā [= Bibliographie des catalogues des manuscrits persans]. Tihrān: Dānishgāh-i Tihrān, 1958.
  • ʻAwwād, Kūrkīs. Fahāris al-makhṭūṭāt al-ʻArabīyah fī al-ʻālam. al-Kuwayt : Maʻhad al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʻArabīyah, al-Munaẓẓamah al-ʻArabīyah lil-Tarbiyah wa-al-Thaqāfah wa-al-ʻUlūm, 1984. (and supplements)
  • Birnbaum, Eleazar. "Turkish Manuscripts: Cataloguing Since 1960 and Manuscripts Still Uncatalogued: Parts [1-5]." Journal of the American Oriental Society 103, nos. 2-4 and 104, nos.2-3 (1983-1984). (see part 4 and part 5 in particular for European and North American collections)

For more on catalogues of Arabic manuscripts see "XII. 3 Catalogues of catalogues" and "XII. 2. Catalogues and lists of rare manuscripts" in Adam Gacek's The Arabic Manuscript Tradition (2001) and Supplement (2008).

For more on catalogues of Persian manuscripts (and printed works) see the following Encyclopædia Iranica articles

  • J. T. P. de Bruijn, "BIBLIOGRAPHIES AND CATALOGUES i. In the West" Encyclopædia Iranica, IV/2, pp.214-219 (available online)
  • Aḥmad Monzawī and ʿAlī Naqī Monzawī,  "BIBLIOGRAPHIES AND CATALOGUES ii. In Iran" Encyclopædia Iranica, IV/2-3, pp. 219-235 (available online / continued)

For more on catalogues of Turkish manuscripts, see the Birnbaum articles referenced above and:

  • Şeşen, Ramazan. "Turkish Manuscripts and the Publication of Their Catalogues." In The Significance of Islamic Manuscripts. Proceedings of the Inaugural Conference of Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation 30th November-1st December 1991, edited by J.Cooper (London: Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 1992): 55-70.

Finding print catalogues at our Library and others

Print catalogues can also be located by searching our library catalogue (Library Catalog Search)  and WorldCat.

If you wish to find catalogues of manuscripts carrying works in a particular language, it is ideal to search by subject. For the broadest search, use terms such as:

  • "manuscripts arabic" and "catalogs"
  • "manuscripts persian" and "catalogs"
  • "manuscripts turkish" and "catalogs"

If you wish to search for the catalogues of a particular repository (library, archive, museum, collection) include the name of the country where the repository is found in your subject search. Searching by the name of the repository is more complicated given the variety of forms in which the name might appear, but you could begin with a keyword search of the name in the vernacular. For example:

You could find this catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the Uppsala University Library by searching any of the following:

  • by subject >> "manuscripts persian" AND "catalogs"
  • by subject >> manuscripts persian sweden
  • by subject >> manuscripts persian AND by keyword >> uppsala
  • by keyword >> uppsala universitetsbibliotek manuscripts persian
  • by keyword >> uppsala manuscripts persian

Finding online catalogues

Many catalogues (digitized print and electronic) are now available online