Mediterranean Manuscript Collecting and the Rise of the Oriental Library

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:40 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Alexander Bevilacqua, Princeton University
Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe saw a remarkable effort to acquire Islamic manuscripts. This endeavor resulted in the formation of major collections of Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts in Oxford, Leiden, Paris and Rome. The creation of these “Oriental Libraries” was equally indebted to trans-Mediterranean networks, private and royal patronage, and the new ambitions of European philology. This confluence of interests produced new knowledge that would inform European understandings of Islam and Islamic cultures into the Enlightenment and beyond. First, the paper reviews the chronology of the major European collections’s accessions in order to identify the golden age of acquisitions in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Second, it examines different means through which manuscripts were obtained: diplomatic gift-giving, war booty, missionary and merchant networks and finally specialized research missions. The most important of these was the specialized mission to collect manuscripts: the paper discusses the theory and practice of this form of learned travel, as well as its huge impact on European collections of Islamic books. Finally, through the case study of a set of Arabic manuscripts sent from Istanbul to Leiden in the middle of the seventeenth century, it demonstrates how Islamic manuscript collecting informed the production of Oriental knowledge in Europe well into the eighteenth century.
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