Interview with Dr. Shuaib Ally, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University

  1. Tell us a little about yourself. (Background, field of research, etc)

I work on pre-modern traditions of commentary in two fields: commentaries written on the Qur’an, a genre called tafsīr, and commentaries on works of balāgha, a field that encompasses aspects of Arabic linguistics, stylistics, and literary theory. The bulk of my research is in the period widely referred to in Islamic studies, for better or for worse, as the post-classical period, covering from around the twelfth century to modernity. I work on the content of commentaries from this period, as well as broader questions related to the history and development of that genre of writing, and the scholarly cultures and environments in which such practices of writing emerged. Much of the scholarly output from that period remains extant in manuscript form, and even when the works are published, their manuscripts contain a wealth of other types of information that is invaluable for reconstructing intellectual history. That is a roundabout way of saying that I also work quite a bit with manuscripts.

a. Follow up question: what drew you to this area of research?

I find commentary writing fascinating, especially in the fields of tafsīr and balāgha. The nature of commentary writing is that it is integrative, meaning that it brings in a number of other disciplines to bear on whatever it is discussing. In many ways, commentaries reflect the latest in the field from a variety of disciplines in the pre-modern period. As you get into more expansive commentary literature, you start to see what pre-modern scholars thought was the horizon of interpretive possibilities when it came to language use. Oftentimes – not always – you find that what they have to say about the Qur’an and language interpretation is directly relevant to theories that are being offered on these topics today.

I have long been interested in the language and style of the Qur’an, as well as issues related to how language is interpreted. How the Qur’an is and/or ought to be interpreted is of course a continuing matter of debate outside of academic circles. When I was an undergraduate, I began to write papers on some aspects of Qur’anic style, and I drew on the Qur’an commentary tradition, the natural place to look for insight on those matters. I wrote a paper on Qur’anic rhyme, and another paper on Qur’anic humour. Neither of those papers were very good, but both of them inform a larger project I am now working on related to the intertwined development of balāgha and tafsīr. It is nice to see these undeveloped ideas turn into something substantial much later. Sometimes you don’t know how what you are researching will come together or show its importance later.

I would go on to receive substantial training in reading commentaries. After my MA, I moved to the Middle East, where I was trained for many years in the close reading of a range of texts, including some texts in tafsīr and balāgha, and related fields like grammar, and made use of commentary and supercommentary writing, the latter being commentaries written upon commentaries. This was invaluable training for me because this type of close attention is a feature of traditional Islamic pedagogy and requires a large time investment from the end of both student and teacher. I am very grateful for those who invested substantial amounts of their time in me. I was able to study some medieval handbooks word for word, like al-Taftāzānī’s Mukhtaṣar al-maʿānī, a fourteenth century primer in balāgha that was central to balāgha and tafsīr. It engendered its own commentary tradition, and it is still studied to this day. That book is also an important piece of the research I do today. That kind of training had – and continues to have – a significant impact on my ability to read and engage with the texts in my field, and it also shaped how I think about the traditions from which those works derive.

I am also drawn to these areas of research precisely because they are under-researched. This is in part because scholars have long been interested in origins in Islamic studies. As a corollary, works from later times have often been depicted as originating from a period of decline, and stamped by their period. For these reasons, most of the works in what we can call the post-classical period have received little to no attention. Just as an example, even though the Mukhtaṣar I just mentioned was central for hundreds of years, and even though there is probably no major manuscripts library without a copy of this work, if not dozens of copies, there is nothing substantial written on it in the western academy. This, at least to me, creates this strange dissonance in how we present and engage with the past, where works like this that were clearly important are understudied, while other works which were relatively less important enjoy the continued attention of scholars today. Even worse, the ideas and theories that developed in this long period of scholarship remain relatively unknown, which creates its own host of problems. For example, sometimes the same theories are assumed to have no precedent and are simply replicated today. The long and the short of it is that because of my training in these areas, I want to make substantial contributions to our knowledge of two fields which are critical and have relevance today but remain understudied.

I should say something about manuscripts. Using manuscripts is unavoidable in the field because so much of the heritage of Islamic scholarship is available only in manuscript form and restricting yourself to printed works severely limits the scope of your scholarship. Even before any type of formal training in manuscripts, I was using manuscripts for research or just for interest. A lot of the time when I would look for a book, its manuscripts would come up in internet searches; someone had helpfully uploaded a copy to some internet forum or site. Some of those forums have unfortunately gone defunct and have been replaced to varying degrees with other sites or types of social media. In my undergrad and MA, I started to work on some of Walid Saleh’s manuscripts projects related to tafsīr, and that was my first formal training in that area. For example, I read with him the entirety of a treatise he was editing by a Mamluk scholar named al-Biqāʾī, and did some work for Professor Saleh on the introduction another scholar, al-Aṣfahānī, wrote for his tafsīr. During my PhD, I worked on another manuscripts project with him; we edited a lacuna that was missed in a recent printed edition of an eleventh century tafsīr work by al-Wāḥidī. I also worked on a manuscripts project for Jeannie Miller on using marginalia in manuscripts of al-Jāḥiẓ’s Kitāb al-Ḥayawān, or Book of Animals, to trace the transmission of that work. That project informed some of the focus on paratexts in my dissertation. Those were some of the influences in my work on manuscripts.

2. What can you tell us about your dissertation?

I wrote my dissertation at the University of Toronto, although from home would probably be more accurate, because I actually researched and wrote it almost in its entirety during the worst of the pandemic. I had received a grant from U of T to do some manuscripts research at the Süleymaniye library in Istanbul, which I did for a couple of months in the fall of 2019. When I was there, I looked at manuscripts of the two main works of an eleventh century grammarian, ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī, his Dalāʾil al-iʿjāz (Markers of Inimitability) and his Asrār al-balāgha (Secrets of Eloquence), because I was working on ʿAbd al-Qāhir for a larger project. During the pandemic, in the Spring of 2020, I began to work on these manuscripts in earnest, thinking that the research on their paratexts would result in an article. But that one article became two, then morphed into three, and then I realized I had a whole new project. I think that’s probably a common experience for scholars doing continued research in the humanities. And that became my dissertation. It recently won the Malcolm H. Kerr dissertation award, honorable mention for the humanities.

The dissertation itself was meant to show how we can trace an intellectual history, in this case primarily related to balāgha and tafsīr, through the use of paratextual material. In this case, I made use of paratexts, here meaning any written material other than the main text itself, taken from over thirty manuscript copies of ʿAbd al-Qāhir’s works. ʿAbd al-Qāhir’s works, especially the Dalāʾil, were foundational for the emerging discipline of balāgha. They would serve as the basis for later textbooks and commentaries in that field.

I used paratextual evidence – ownership notes, colophons, and substantive marginal notes written by scholars who owned copies of his works – to show how these classic works were not lost, as is sometimes claimed, but were rather used, engaged with, and reintroduced throughout the postclassical period up to the modern era. In a specific sense, my dissertation was about these two works, and balāgha and tafsīr, and commentary writing in the post-classical period. However, because I was primarily using paratextual evidence, the project was in a larger sense about broader concerns in book history, scribal and scholarly communities, and intellectual history.

3. What are you working on right now, any specific project?

I have a few projects occupying me. I am currently working here at McGill on the tradition of supercommentary writing on the Qur’an and what it meant to practice Qur’an commentary by the seventeenth century in the pre-modern period. Supercommentaries, by this time, had become a massive endeavour and had become their own genre of writing: they had their own set of concerns and references. I am working on a type of pre-modern footnoting, which is one strategy to manage the information in these large projects. I discovered this strategy in manuscripts of a supercommentary in tafsīr by a seventeenth century scholar, Shihāb al-Dīn al-Khafājī, who wrote his commentary on the tafsīr of al-Bayḍāwī, a fourteenth century scholar. This dovetails nicely with my dissertation, because supercommentary writing is part of that engagement with ʿAbd al-Qāhir, and also because Shihāb al-Dīn al-Khafājī, coincidentally, is one of the most famous owners of ʿAbd al-Qāhir’s works. I am also working on a monograph that traces the interrelated history of balāgha and tafsīr, with a focus on some broader issues, including verbal irony and rhyme in the Qur’an. That is a project that focuses on the content of the commentary and supercommentary traditions in those disciplines, and so it complements the focus on paratexts in my other project. Finally, I am working on revising my dissertation into a monograph for publication.


4. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I received a grant from the Max Weber Foundation to do some manuscripts research this year in Italy, Istanbul, and India, so I am very excited about that. I am presently in Rome now. I saw a massive flock of starlings swarming by the Vatican, which was my first time seeing that. It’s spectacular! I am examining copies of commentary works in my two primary fields for their paratextual evidence. I am optimistic that they will contain a wealth of evidence useful for reconstructing how these works were transmitted and used. In general, I hope that even more scholars will study the content of commentary writing and manuscripts from this period. It is mostly untouched material, and there really is no shortage of amazing discoveries awaiting the unsuspecting researcher.

At the end, we would like to thank you for participating in this interview for the library blog, this is greatly appreciated. And we wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavors!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Islamic Studies Library nor McGill University

Interview with Sabeena Shaikh

PhD Candidate at Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University

1.Tell us a little about yourself.

  • My name is Sabeena Shaikh and I’m a PhD candidate in the Institute of Islamic Studies. Originally, I’m from Texas where I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin. After, I completed my M.A. at Columbia University and then made my way to McGill in the Fall of 2016. My field of study is the intersection of literature, history, and gender/sexuality in the Indian Subcontinent from approximately the 17th– 20th centuries. In particular, I am interested in courtesans who authored poetry in Urdu and Dakkani and have embarked on a project to recover their voices devoid of an exoticizing, fetishizing, and orientalising gaze. Outside of McGill I enjoy teaching Bollywood fitness classes and spending time with Cilantro (Cilly pronounced silly), my rambunctious and adorable dog.
Cilly

2.What made you want to come study at McGill?

  • I was welcomed at McGill by a very enthusiastic and friendly supervisor named Pasha Khan. Aside from the allure of living in a Francophone city in North America, I was immediately drawn to the kind of pluralistic and diverse society I found in Montreal. It is a truly unique place that I am fortunate to call home.

3.How do you enjoy the student life, work life, and social life at McGill?

  • The PhD is sometimes a lonely process, but I have found a good group of colleagues with whom I can celebrate and commiserate. My absolute favorite aspect of the PhD is teaching, and I have been fortunate to instruct and serve as a T.A. [Teaching Assistant] or grader for various courses over the years. While it often makes managing time difficult, I find the most fulfillment from my teaching responsibilities. I think my social life is a bit more active than most PhD students, but perhaps that is because I am naturally an extrovert. McGill has plenty of opportunities to meet, engage, socialize, and interact with other graduate and undergraduate students and its centrality in the city makes it a perfect place to meet young professionals as well.

4.What is your research area?

  • My research area is pre-modern history and literature in South Asia.

5.what drew you to this area of research?

  • I began my language journey as an undergraduate in the Hindi-Urdu Flagship at the University of Texas at Austin. I think I fell in love with Urdu poetry while participating in a study abroad program as a Junior and the rest is history!

6.What are you working on right now, any specific project?

  • Right now, I am reading an 18th century manuscript written by a Deccan courtesan in which there is a very interesting masnavi that seems to be autobiographical. I hope to read this masnavi against the ghazals that this person has authored to say something substantial about their personality.

7.What courses are you currently teaching?

  • Currently I am teaching Introductory Urdu-Hindi and I have a great group of students that make our early 8:30 am class time tolerable.

8.Are/were you involved in any extra curricular activities (i.e. committee service, volunteering, organizing a conference/workshop, etc.)? If yes, tell us about them.

  • I have participated in various extracurricular activities (perhaps why I’m still writing my dissertation!) but the most substantial were perhaps my role as the ISLAC [Islamic Studies Library Advisory Committee] representative for MIISSC [McGill Institute of Islamic Studies Student Council] for which I received funding to provide some renovations in the Islamic Studies library, my role in organizing an Islamic paleography and codicology workshop in 20181, and my role as the president of MIISSC  many times over. Currently I am serving as the BIPOC [Black Indigenous and People of Color] Graduate Network Coordinator for PGSS [Post Graduate Students Society] and learning about equity and inclusion in various departments at McGill. I like to think that I am an engaged member of McGill and particularly the Institute of Islamic Studies because it is a home away from home for me and many others. I’m simply trying to do my part to make our time here more enjoyable, memorable, and impactful.

9.What is –so far– your most vivid memory of your times as a student time at McGill?

  • Every year I look forward to the MIISSC Graduate Student Symposium and some of my favorite memories are from the friendships and conversations I shared with other graduate students from around the world. I also really enjoyed the Islamic Studies Poetry Night I held in 2019 where people recited in Persian, Kurdish, Urdu, French, Arabic, German, Albanian, and so many more languages to give the vibe of a true mushaira (poetry gathering). It was a truly magical evening of polyglots and poetry lovers.

10.Do you have any suggestion or recommendations for other students like yourself? Is there anything you would like to share about your experience of working and studying?

  • I am perhaps not the perfect example of this, but I think it’s important to have a life outside of the PhD, to have interests and hobbies where you can unwind and relax and to find a support system on which to rely. Graduate school is difficult, and I am a big believer in celebrating the small wins to stay motivated and excited about your project.

At the end, we would like to thank you for participating in this interview for the library blog, this is greatly appreciated. And we wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavors!

1. see picture 1- 3.

3. Islamic Paleography and Codicology workshop in 2018 poster.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Islamic Studies Library nor McGill University

Palestinian Oral History Archive (POHA)

The POHA project was launched in 2011 and is based at the American University of Beirut (AUB). This project is a “collaboration between the AUB Libraries, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), the Nakba Archive and the Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts (AL-JANA).”

The Palestinian Oral History Archive digitizes, indexes, catalogues and provides access to over one thousand audio and video testimonies by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Through producing a multi-media database of audio-visual interviews, testimonies and life stories, this project aims to document and preserves the collective experience of Palestinians about Nakba (1948-49) where 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and forced to their neighboring Arab countries.  

The beginning of this project goes back to mid- 1990s when Nakba Archive and the Arab Resource Centre for Arts (AL-JANA) started to collect and document these testimonies, by interviewing the members of the first-generation Palestinians refugees in Lebanon. Creation of more than eight hundred video and audio testimonies was the result of their work, which later was incorporated into one collection by POHA.

The value of Oral history collections resides in the fact that it allows for learning about the perspectives and individuals’ narratives that otherwise might not have a voice or not being recorded in the history. (WALBERT, 2011)1. Moreover, at times in history, interview is the only source for collecting information about a place, event or individuals. (Baylor University, 2012)2.

As such this collection is an important resource and Sleiman and Chebaro (2018)3 also mentioned:

This collection is important because it provides a unique primary source on perspectives that are almost not recorded or acknowledge officially. Moreover the oral history gives voice to more people and includes marginalized populations as well as the ordinary people. Palestinian oral history collections have immense potential to contribute to a new historiography of the Nakba since they provide a unique primary source that captures perspectives rarely recorded or acknowledged in official narratives.

POHA organized the collection into four categories:

“1.Uprooting,” constituting the majority of the collection, comprises the entirety of the Nakba Archive series (558 hours of video recordings) and a part of AL-JANA’s (136 hours of audio recording). Here, the focus is on the refugees’ experience of mass displacement during the Nakba, their “uprooting”; this section also comprises accounts of life under the British Mandate and during the 1948–49 war, including the experiences of exile and displacement in Lebanon.

“2.Folktales” (172 hours of audio interviews) encompasses pre-1948 elements of intangible culture in the form of Palestinian folktales, storytelling, traditional songs, proverbs, and poems.

“3.Ayn al-Hilwat” comprises 36 hours of video recordings of women from the ‘Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp in South Lebanon talking about their occupations, their family lives, and their roles in the establishment of the camp.

“4.Biographies” includes 160 hours of audio, recording the life stories of men and women who played important roles in their communities, or served as models and inspiration there.”

Access the collection from here : https://libraries.aub.edu.lb/poha/Search/Advanced

The interviews are thoroughly indexed and are searchable. Each entry is fully catalogued and has the proper subject(s). Furthermore, each entry has all the details such as the name of the interviewer, interviewee, the duration of the interview and etc.

  1. Walbert, Katheryn, 2011. The value of oral history http://baltimoreuprising2015.org/oralhistorytraining/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Reading-Sheet-1-Lesson-4.pdf Accessed 26 October 2022.
  2. Baylor University Institute for Oral History (2012). Understanding oral history: Why do it? Baylor University Institute for Oral History: http://www.baylor.edu/oralhistory. https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/66420.pdf Accessed 26 October 2022.
  3. Hana Sleiman & Kaoukab Chebaro (2018) Narrating Palestine: The Palestinian Oral History Archive Project, Journal of Palestine Studies, 47:2, 63-76, DOI: 10.1525/jps.2018.47.2.63

Mizna مزنه

Founded over in 1999 by Kathryn Haddad and Saleh Abudayyeh, Mizna is an Arab-American not-for-profit organization promoting the artistic and cultural production of contemporary South West Asian and North African (SWANA) artists. Mizna is based in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-Saint Paul), Minnesota, USA.

The online platform aims at “reflect[ing] the depth and multiplicity of [the] community and has been committed to being a space for Arab, Muslim, and other artists from the region to reclaim [their] narratives and engage audiences in meaningful and artistically excellent art.”

Through Mizna, audiences have the opportunity to engage in the work of Arab and Muslim artists on its [sic] own terms. And our community has a critical opportunity to see some facet of their own experience reflected on the page or the screen.

https://mizna.org/about/

Since the beginning, the organization has been publishing a biannual literary journal entitled Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America. As of 2021, 38 issues had come out, some of which are still available for purchase on the website. Over the years, more than 400 writers have contributed to Mizna among whom Suheir Hammad, Mahmoud Darwish, Laila Lalami, etc.

In 2003, Mizna engaged in producing the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival (TCAFF) which has become “the largest and longest running Arab film fest in the Midwest”. TCAFF has been showcasing contemporary cinema from the Arab World and from the Arab diaspora, produced by emerging, independent, and established filmmakers, with the objective to present the Arab and Arab American communities in all their complexity far from the stereotyped ways in which they are often depicted in mainstream Western media.

Today, Mizna is run by a Board of Directors and a team of eighteen staff members: an artistic director numerous program curators, event and communication coordinators, editors, and teachers.

The organization was named a Regional Cultural Treasure in 2021 by the Ford Foundation and McKnight Foundation, and received several cultural awards such as multiple Knight Arts Challenge Awards, and the Ordway’s Sally Award for Social Impact. Mizna is funded and supported by:

To be informed of their activities, it is possible to sign up for the newsletter, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube.

Islamic Manuscripts at Morgan library and museum

Morgan Library & Museum, located in New Your City, is a museum and an independent research library and is famous for its manuscripts’ collections which mainly consists of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, yet Morgan Library and Museum houses various important Islamic manuscripts as well.

An online exhibition, “Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan” show cases some of these manuscripts containing exceptional paintings as well as religious and secular documents. These manuscripts range from the one that highlight works of “science, biography, history, and poetry” to Qur’an manuscripts. This exhibition provides access to a rich and diverse collection of Islamic manuscripts dating from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.

“Included are such important manuscripts as the Manāfi˓-i hayavān (The Benefits of Animals)—one of the finest surviving Persian examples—and the richest illustrated life of the beloved poet Rūmī (1207–1273). Also featured are pages from the Mughal and Persian albums that Pierpont Morgan acquired in 1911 from Sir Charles Hercules Read, Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities at the British Museum, and miniatures illustrating the work of great Persian poets.”

Manuscripts are digitized with high resolution which makes it easy to look at various details and vivid colors in paintings. Each page or painting comes with a more detailed information about its time of creation as well of a description about its content.

Youth Flexing a Bow
Al-Su˓ūdī, The Valley of Diamonds and Jewels

To read more about how the Morgan’s Islamic collection came to existence click here .

CEDEJ carto portal

Established in 1968, CEDEJ (Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques Juridiques et Sociales) is a French Research Institute whose main Branch is located in Cairo, Egypt. The core objective of CEDEJ is to facilitate and support multidisciplinary field research focusing on Egypt and surrounding countries like Sudan where a small Branch is located.

CEDEJ is home to an important collection of books (35,000 volumes), journals, newspapers, statistical data as well as maps and plans (over 5,000 items). Part of this collection came from the collection of Cairo French Law School (founded in 1891 and closed in 1956). Among the numerous resources available through CEDEJ, one will find thematic Press Reviews, a digital Press Archive and digital monographs collection -both in collaboration with Bibliotheca Alexandrina-, and a Census Portal (CAPMAS):

CEDEJ map library per se is quite unique: it holds “a multi-scalar collection of cadastral, topographic, and geographic maps covering all of Egypt” running from the end of the 19th century to the 1990s. In November 2021, CEDEJ launched an ergonomic, dynamic and interactive online catalog allowing users to access, extract, and explore textual and geo-referenced data: CEDEJ carto.

cedejcarto.org

We carry an open data policy in strict compliance with the legislation and in the spirit of Plan S, namely “that data should be as open as possible and as closed as necessary”.

https://scienceeurope.org

cedejcarto.org Portal offers to discover the collection via three different options:

  • The advanced search allowing to cross-search location, scale, series and date of publication
  • The search by index allowing to access maps/plans based on the series they pertain to (among the 71 existing series)
  • The search by location allowing to access maps/plans by a simple a click on a large map of Egypt.

Scholars should note that cedejcarto.org is not a database of scanned maps where they will find high resolution images available for download. This portal is a dynamic and interactive online catalogue that will help them identify maps and plans relevant to their research among the large collection of cartographic documents held by the CEDEJ library. Materials can then be requested by filing out the dedicated form and submitting to hala.bayoumi@cedej-eg.org & directioncedej@cedej-eg.org. For more information about usage permissions, people can visit the map library webpage.

cedejcarto.org interface is only available in English.

The Timbuktu Manuscripts

The Timbuktu Manuscripts: discover a trove of Timbuktu’s ancient manuscripts digital exhibition and collection is the result of a collaboration between a Malian association called SAVAMA-DCI whose main goal is to preserve and make widely available Arabic manuscripts from Timbuktu and Google Arts & Culture.

Back in 1973, a preservation campaign of the Timbuktu’s collection made of approximately 400,000 codices was initiated by the Ahmed Baba Center (CEDRAB). In 1996, the newly founded association SAVAMA-DCI started raising awareness among private owners about the value of their family manuscripts, providing technical and financial support for the processing and conservation of these materials, and encouraging them to keep the manuscripts in their possession. If funding was limited at first, the association was over time able to collect enough funds to ensure the preservation and inventory of the collections. In 2012, with the jihadist occupation of Northern Mali, the fear that manuscripts would be destroyed lead to the transfer of Timbuktu’s manuscripts collections to other towns in the region like Bamako. According to SAMAVA-DCI over 370.000 codices were rescued.

« Dans la nuit noire de notre existence, les manuscrits sont les projecteurs qui éclairent le passé. »

Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, fondateur de SAVAMA-DCI

The Timbuktu Manuscripts virtual exhibition is incredibly rich (more than 40.000 manuscripts from libraries and private collections) and provides many options to learn about the collections, their history, and the rescue and preservation processes.

The website includes:

  • shorts videos documenting the manuscripts’ preservation
  • pictures documenting the rescue operations, and the digitization of manuscripts
  • topical sub-collections of digitized manuscripts (astronomy, ethics, jurisprudence, mathematics, medicine, geography, etc.)
  • general information about the Arabic manuscripts tradition with a focus on the African tradition
  • detailed descriptions of the collections composing The Timbuktu Manuscripts collection
  • historical and literary information situating these manuscripts in the larger context of knowledge production and dissemination in Africa and beyond.

The most incredible experience offered via this virtual exhibition is the digital archives of the Timbuktu Manuscripts:

The main page gallery is staggering.

The archives includes more than 400,000 handwritten pages from the Qur’an, mathematical, astronomical and medical treatises, sex and black magic manuals, etc. dating from the 11th to the 20th century. A selection of manuscripts are accessible full-text from section 2. The Books. Section 3. Grid View allows to glance at individual pages displayed in a table view when section 4. A Universe of Verses gives access to individual pages in what appears like a much less organized display:

At the very bottom of the main page, The Timbuktu Manuscripts virtual exhibition links to other Google Arts & Culture projects to learn more about Malian music, modern art, architectural heritage, etc.

The Timbuktu Manuscripts website will default to the language of your Google Account. But the interface is accessible in any language available in Google (although some content may not translate).

And for those eager to learn more about the Timbuktu manuscripts, we suggest they go visit the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project website. This project focusing on the “content of the manuscripts, the circulation of scholars and ideas, the economy of the manuscript book, and other aspects of the “work of scholarship” in Timbuktu” was established in 2003 by an Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and remains very active.

Reading Muslims Project

Reading Muslim is an inter-and multi disciplinary project funded through the university of Toronto’s Connaught Global Challenge Grants Program.

Reading Muslim project is a Network of academics, scholars and researchers, and is re-examining the place of textuality in the Islamic Studies. This project is aiming to “elevate the understanding of Islam, Muslims and society”, by examining a set of methodological and political questions about the Islam today through the lens of textuality.

  • “Who are the privileged readers of Muslim texts?
  • What is the relationship between texts and Islamic tradition?
  • Who gets to decide the relationship between textuality and orthodoxy?
  • How do texts support the legal and bureaucratic institutions of the modern state in its project of governance?

This project provides access to three different types of content such as articles, podcasts and videos. Each item provides an introduction about the author along with the full access to the content.

“Reading Muslims begins from the premise that consideration of texts and textual methods are indispensable to the study of Islam. Islam began with a book : al-Kitāb, the Qur’anic revelations. From this first textual experience came others: Qur’anic exegesis, the Law, Sufism, etc. Islamic studies scholars, whether Muslim or not, read Muslim texts to understand the Islamic tradition. But they also read Muslim bodies and practices through an ethnographic lens. And, to make things more complicated, they read Muslims as readers of their texts, paying attention to various interpretations within Muslim communities.”

This platform is comprised of four research hubs. Hub 1: Muslims as Readers, Hub, 2: National Security and Anti-Muslim Racism, Hub 3: Reading Practices, Hub 4: Anthropology of Islam. Under each hub researchers and community partners are looking “textuality in Islamic studies and its place in the formation of community identities in dynamic societies.”

Each hub provides a brief introduction to the aspects that will be examined, name of the researchers and community partners as well as access to the various available contents through the Reading Muslims platform.

Moreover, Reading Muslims provides information about their upcoming events on their website.

Qur’an Tools

Qur’an Tools [login page] is a free and open source software facilitating the critical study of the Qur’anic text. It was created and developed by Dr. R. Michael McCoy former Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Notre Dame and Dr. Andrew G. Bannister, Adjunct Research fellow at Melbourne School of Theology, and an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Toronto.

In order to use Qur’an Tools, you will need to create an account (email/password). Once logged in, all functionalities become accessible: searching, browsing, text mining, grammatical analysis, cross-referencing, and so much more.

To get started, we suggest consulting the User Guide that provides an outline and explanations of the many features available.

From the homepage, you can already conduct a great variety of searches in Arabic, English transliteration or English. It is important to point that English translations used by Qur’an Tools are:

  • M. Pickthall’s The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: an Explanatory Translation published in 1930
  • A. Yusuf Ali’s The Holy Quran Translation released in 1937
  • A. J. Arberry’s The Koran Interpreted first published in 1955
  • M. H. Shakir’s The Holy Quran originally issued in 1968.

The ‘Roots’ window offers to add a specific word root to your search box, the ‘Verse Picker’ allows to access directly a particular verse, and the virtual keyboard enables to type either Arabic letters or transliterated characters.

Qur’an Tools is so rich in terms of options and functionalities, that it would impossible to provide a screenshot of every single result page that may display. However, we can highlight some commonalities accross results pages: the Arabic text always comes accompanied by its transliteration in Latin characters, and a translation; also, search terms are highlighted.

Reader Mode
Interlinear Mode
Parse Mode

More advanced features can be found at the top of the page:

Among those, we will only highlight the ‘Chart” functionality that provides visual representations of the textual analysis:

Last, from the Preferences and Account Settings page, users can customise display options such as the search result highlight colour, or the default English translation. And for more insight on how to use the software, a video tutorial is available. Students and scholars whose research involves textual analysis of the Qur’anic text will benefit greatly from this powerful tool.

Qur’an Tools is an open source project, released under the GNU General Public License with terms of use.

Digital Ottoman Studies

Digital Ottoman Studies (DOS) is a hub contributing to growing field of Digital Humanities by presenting projects, publications, tools, and events through the lens of Ottoman and Turkish studies.

This website seeks to create a digital network for future projects by bringing together diverse platforms, institutions, studies, and individuals. Thus, DOS provides access to projects and data bases that are created by other organization which includes Ottoman Archives, maps, manuscripts and etc.

Information on DOS is classified into 6 categories of Projects, publications, Tools, Databases, Platforms and under each category, there are sub-categories that direct the users to the respective projects which are encompassing “600-year-old Ottoman Empire’s archival heritage, diverse ethnics and geographical regions., etc.”

The Project category brings together variety of works in GIS, Network Analysis, Text Analysis, Databases, and 3D-AR-VR, each provides access to a wide range of research and academic projects form historical urban and industrial comparative analysis to Mapping Ottoman empire and region, or a digital history research project on Travels in the 19th century Ottoman empire.

Also, users can browse different database projects like Ottoman Inscriptions, Digital History, The Open Islamicate Text Initiative, etc. When possible, the DOS has provided the name of the project managers and then directs the user to the project’s main website.

Moreover, in the Publication tab users can have access a list of published articles, books and dissertations that are classified based on the topic/subject and some are accessible as an open access publication. 

The tab of Databases has organized a list of various type of databases such as Archives, Map collections, manuscripts collections, dictionaries, E-resources, Photo collections, calendar convertors and Gazetteers.

https://www.getty.edu/research/tools/digital_collections/notable/gigord.html

The Platform tab introduces the users to wide range of websites and podcasts including Hazine, Hajj Trail (Game), Ottoman History Podcast, Digital Humanities Turkey

“DOS is founded by Fatma Aladağ and she is coordinating the platform, whilst Assoc. Prof. Yunus Uğur is leading the project.”