Beyond words: dancing letters in Islamic calligraphy was on display in the Islamic Studies Library (ISL) from February 8th to March 13th, 2020. The library closure and service disruptions, caused by Covid-19, made the exhibition inaccessible to our students, professors and visitors. In this blog post, we will provide an overview of the exhibition, featured calligraphers, the ISL calligraphy panels collection and two events organized in conjunction with the exhibition.
Arabic calligraphy is one of the most recognizable forms of Islamic Art. While originally used to preserve the Word of God (Qur’an), Arabic calligraphy also appeared in other written texts (philosophy, literature and poetry). It further developed to represent figurative depictions and decorations that were uncommon in Islamic Art. Distinct scripts and styles like Kufic, Naskh, Raqaa, Diwani, Thuluth or Nastaliq flourished across the Muslim world often unified by specific common principles. Major elements of the Arabic script such as fluid lines and ornamentation offer contemporary calligraphers the flexibility to create a free-form twist on classic techniques, repositioning calligraphy for today’s context.
This exhibition brought together a new wave of calligraphy artists from various corners of the world united by the art of writing and the desire to break through barriers, tell a story and reach other cultures.
Massoudy chooses a word from the chosen quote and recreates it in much larger dimensions, with its straight lines and its curves and a new geometrical structure. Then, he writes the whole sentence underneath or on the side.
eL Seed is a street artist who uses Arabic calligraphy and a distinctive style, he calls Calligrafitti to spread messages of peace, unity and to underline the commonalities of human existence.
He is the great master of Calligraphy, praiser of the divine word. All the routes of the Mediterranean and the Middle East meet in the qalam of Ghani Alani, without contrast. His writing is not of dualities, but of harmony.
The master calligrapher, who has made the ancient Arabic tradition evolve from its religious roots, is creating deeply intellectual work that reflects his interest in modern poetry and literature, alongside Christian and Sufi philosophy.
Mahdaoui’s work inspired by Arabic calligraphy is remarkably innovative as the aesthetic dimension of letters brings forth a sense of the poetic, highly rhythmic, arresting us with its rich abstracts compositions.
Karaduman considers calligraphy art as a drawing science in aesthetical terms and conducts research and examinations in this field. He completed approximately 50 Holy Korans, verses and hilye-i sharifs by renovating, revising and imitating artworks of which some belong to calligraphy masters.
Haji Noor Deen brings an immense learning in traditional thought and Islamic art to a modern audience, juxtaposing them in a new calligraphic style all his own, both Eastern and Western.
Zenderoudi has a superb style arising from juxtaposition and simultaneous use of freedom of Western modern art and the power of decorative and visual elements of the Oriental and Iranian traditions.
A wealth of Arabic/Islamic calligraphy titles were on display and were available for browsing. Now, these titles can be can be found via the McGill library catalog. In addition to the circulating collection, the McGill Islamic Studies Library has a permanent digital exhibit Arabic/Islamic Calligraphy displaying a selection of dry black and white calligraphy and colorful illuminated pieces dating from the 10th to the 19th century.
The ISL hosted two events following the launch of Beyond words: dancing letters in Islamic calligraphy exhibit.
Calligraphy workshop with Mehdi Sharifi
Mehdi Sharifi is a trained calligrapher who masters a number of calligraphic methods. In January 2008, he was awarded the Best Momtaz Degree from the Iranian Calligraphers Association. In the workshop, he exhibited some of his artistic works, and demonstrated different methods for writing Nastaliq. The workshop was well attended. Participants had the chance to see firsthand various calligraphy tools and papers used in Calligraphy art. Almost everyone left with a souvenir from the calligrapher ( individual name written in calligraphic style).
A presentation by Dr. Hela Zahar, entitled Modulations du calligraffiti arabe & tensions arabo-occidentales
Dr. Hela Zahar is the director of the Lavallois Centre for Higher Education in Digital Arts and Creative Economics. Multidisciplinary, Zahar is a practitioner in calligraphy and digital arts, a teacher and researcher in urban and digital culture. Recipient of the INRS “Best Doctoral Thesis” Award (2018) and the “Cust of the Jury” Award – 5th Gala of Excellence, Maghreb Congress in Quebec (CMQ): The Way of Success (2017).
This fascinating and original talk was based on Dr Zahar’s PhD thesis defended in 2018 at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (Université du Québec, Montréal). Her thesis analyzed “the political implications (…) of Arabic calligraffiti, a form of urban art that is inspired both by graffiti and Arabic calligraphy” in both Arab and Western cities. After conducting a digital and physical ethnography of calligraffiti that developed in Montreal, Paris, and some Tunisian cities between 2008 and 2017, Zahar examined the “various conflicts and power relations, such as Arab-Western tensions in the visual culture of Western cities, tensions around the religious role of Islamic calligraphy in Arab cities, tensions around urban art in all cities, and around the various digital spaces where these works are disseminated.”
The Beyond words: dancing letters in Islamic calligraphy exhibition was curated by Anaïs Salamon (Head Librarian, ISL) and Senior Library Assistants, Ghazaleh Ghanavizchian and Samah Kasha.
Based at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations at the Agha Khan University, in London U.K., KITAB is a project including both a searching tool for the textual exploration of the medieval Arabic written heritage, and an online discussion forum on Arabic texts. Since its creation in 2017, KITAB received funding from the Aga Khan University, the British Academy and the European Research Council.
Under the guidance of the principal investigator, Sarah Bowen Savant -cultural historian of the Middle East and Iran between 600-1500 A.D. and professor at AKU-ISMC- and the Advisory Board composed of eight international leading scholars in the fields of Islamic, Persian and Arabic studies, KITAB team of twenty-one scholars and computing specialists and five partners work relentlessly to develop new capabilities (i.e visualization tools, Optical Recognition Character, etc.)
The searching tool developed by KITAB team is able to detect proper names occurrences within a large corpus uncovering the complex relationships between medieval Arab authors and how ideas and knowledge circulated throughout the Arab World across time. The most recent developments have focused on the gathering of statistics on the reuse of ideas across the tradition including “the extent and precision of reuse.”
The KITAB corpus of Arabic texts produced between the eighth century and the fifteenth century A.D. largely comes from the Open Islamicate Texts Initiative, another collaborative project of Sarah Bowen Savant, Maxim Romanov and Matthew Thomas Miller. KITAB corpus is continually growing in order “to increase both the number and the diversity of texts.”
Anyone can use KITAB corpus and searching tool. The Our Pilot page provides a brief overview of the data and tools created by KITAB. One of the goals of the project is to “bring all of [their] data and sources into the public domain and with the field to take best advantage of what digital technology now allows […] to see and to discover.”
One of the main roles of today’s academic libraries, besides acquisition and classification of information materials, is facilitate access and -when necessary- provide guidance and training on how to access resources and information through a wide-range of digital tools and services or online platforms.
It may appear that technological development and digital tools have broadened our access to information, but sometimes we need guidance on how to use these tools to be able to benefit most from them. In order to avoid any unnecessary complication in accessing resources, libraries usually help users by creating step-by-step guides on how to use these tools. In the event of the COVID-19 pandemic, most library services moved online, and so did library guides and tutorials. Over the Summer, the Islamic studies library team produced video tutorials on how to use three important library tools and services: the Hathi Trust Emergency temporary access (ETAS), the McGill Virtual Private Network (VPN), and Islamic Studies library Subject Guides.
In this blog post, we will briefly introduce these tutorials.
“Hathi Trust digital library is a partnership of academic and research libraries offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world.” However, In response to this pandemic, this platform provided a new service in order to provide support for research, teaching and learning during the time of interrupted library services. As such, Hathi Trust Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) provide access to digital material that corresponds to physical material that is held by the libraries. So for McGill library material over two million books from library’s print collection made available online, which counts for over half of McGill’s print collection. This temporary service is only available to McGill students, staff and faculty.
To learn how you can benefit the most from this service, and some tips on how to access the digital books, please watch the video:
McGill Virtual Private Network or VPN is one of the services/methods that provides students, faculty and staff with remote access to Library e-materials. For example, they can access e-books, or e-journals, etc., while they are not on Campus.
Please note that only some of the Library’s e-resources requires VPN connection to grant you access, the rest of e-resources will simply ask you to login with you McGill credential and then you will have access to that e-material.
Whether you chose to or you were required to use VPN to access library’s e-resources, you need to install and configure VPN on your computer/device and set it up. In this video, we will show you how to do this, and where to find the help that might need.
In doing research we need various range of resources tailored to our very specific topic, more over we need different types of resources from primary resources to online or open access materials and print resources.
Subject guides are one of the useful services that are usually created by the specialized librarian and link you to various resource available in your topic. Islamic Studies Subject Guide is tailored to the courses offered by the McGill Institute of Islamic Studies and is consist of 11 guides related to Islamic studies topic such as Islamic history, Islamic languages: Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Urdu, Middle East history, Ottoman & Turkish studies, Islamic thought and science and etc,. Each Guide provides a list various relevant and current resources that are available at McGill library or elsewhere.
In the event of COVID-19 pandemic, Islamic Studies specialized librarian created a comprehensive list of relevant resources that are available online or can be accessed remotely.
In this video we will show you where to find these guides and how to use them.
Blog post editor: Anaïs Salamon, Head Librarian;
Videos credits: Islamic Studies Library team : Anaïs Salamon, Head Librarian; Dr. Charles D. Fletcher, Head Library Clerk; Samah Kasha Senior Library Assistance and Ghazaleh Ghanavizchian Senior Library Assistance
Kashkul is a collective composed of Iraqi, Kurdish and American students, artists, and researchers based at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). The group aims at collecting, preserving, translating when necessary, and making available to the general public literary, artistic, and archival materials produced in Iraq. A partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) allows Kashkul to publish their collections through the International Digital Ephemera Project (IDEP).
Directed by Dr. Elizabeth Campbell, Professor of Middle East History at Daemen College in Amherst, New York, and Dr. Marie LaBrosse, an independent writer, translator and poet, who both used to work at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), Kashkul also includes six scholars focusing on the numerous projects. In 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, the collective welcomed two artists-in-residence: Kurdish painter and sculptor Ismail Khayat and Mexican poet David Shook.
Past and current Kashkul projects include:
If you want to learn more about Kashkul and be informed of their activities, you may follow them on Instagram: @kash_kul
Ten years ago, the first items from the Islamic Studies Library (ISL) collection located in Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) were digitized. Over the years, the Islamic Studies Library and Digital Initiatives (DI) have developed a strong link, and the history of this decade-long collaboration is worth sharing with our community. This continuous teamwork resulted in launching multiple digital exhibitions, an Internet Archive ISL Collection and various research projects.
Digital Exhibitions and Collections
The first collaboration, Beautiful calligraphy ensures entrance to Paradise, started with a physical display in the Islamic Studies Library from November 1st, 2010 to March 31st 2011. The Calligraphy panels came from McGill University’s Rare Books and Special Collections and the Islamic Studies Library holdings located in RBSC. The physical exhibition included sixteen items representing various styles of Arabic calligraphy: from dry black and white calligraphy of the 10th century to colorful illuminated pieces of the 19th century, all of which recounted a brief history of Arabic/Islamic calligraphy. The Digital Exhibit: http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/islamic_calligraphy/index.php.
The second collaboration, The Shahnameh by Ferdowsi, also started as a physical display in the Islamic Studies Library, from April 1st to October 31st, 2011. Here again, the physical exhibition included sixteen Shahnameh folios coming from McGill University’s Rare Books and Special Collections and the Islamic Studies Library holdings located in RBSC. Shahnameh by Ferdowsi offered the visitor an opportunity to experience some of the heroes and villains of this remarkable epic poem and to gather a diverse overview of this celebrated text as well as the magnificence of Persian painting. The Digital Exhibit: http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/shahnameh/index.php.
The third collaboration, Arabic Lithographed Books, drew upon selections from Arabic lithographed books. The collection was on display in the Islamic Studies Library between February 1st and September 30th 2014, and later formed the basis for the Islamic Lithographs digital collection. Since then, the digitization of Islamic lithographs at McGill has become a work in progress, and the resulting digital collection a continually updated resource. This Collection includes many examples of lithographed books in Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Urdu, dated from the eighteenth century until the mid-twentieth century showcasing different calligraphic styles, graphic designs, and publishing houses from the Muslim world and Europe. Items from the Islamic Lithographs digital collection were the first to be uploaded to the Islamic Studies Library Internet Archives collection. The Digital Exhibit: http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/islamic_lithographs/.
Exhibits photo credit: Klaus Fiedler
Since 2014, an increasing number of digitized materials from the ISL’s various collections have become accessible on Internet Archive, a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more. Digital Initiatives uploads digitized materials twice a year. This unique collaboration began with 395 items and today includes digital copies of well over 1279 Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Urdu manuscripts, lithographs and rare books from the ISL collection. The materials can be viewed and browsed using the Internet Archive book reader, or downloaded in PDF format. The RSS feed feature of the Internet Archive website offers the opportunity to stay informed of new additions to our collection. Internet Archives Islamic Studies Collection : https://archive.org/details/mcgilluniversityislamicstudies
On demand digitization
Among the first to use this service were two faculty members from the Institute of Islamic studies; Professors F. Jamil Ragep and Robert Wisnovsky selected around 30 manuscripts from the ISL collection and the Osler Library of the History of Medicine collection to be digitized for a joint research project. (Rational Science in Islamic (RASI) project: https://islamsci.mcgill.ca/RASI/). In general, items for personal or scholarly use can be submitted for approval to be digitized by consulting McGill University’s on demand digitization service. Digitized items become available online in full in accordance with Canadian Copyright Law.
Behind the scenes: Digitization at the Library (Video)
A short video created in December 2019 highlights the meticulous work that takes place at Digitization and Digital Initiatives. The Library’s digitization service captures and provides access to millions of pages and objects from the vast and varied collections of McGill Libraries. This service is now even more important and essential during this unprecedented period of remote instruction and library online services.
Blog post editors: Anaïs Salamon, Head Librarian, Dr. Charles Fletcher, Head Library Clerk, and Greg Houston, Digital Initiatives
SANA is an online database that provides access to digitized periodicals published in Iran from the Qajar era- that marks the beginning of publishing newspapers, up until now.
This platform has been very recently made available publicly by National library and Archives of Iran, in accordance with free access to information and in order to provide equal access to information and knowledge for all. Also to facilitate access to valuable resources available at the National library for scholars and researches.
This platform includes lists and full text digitized periodicals, newspapers and Iranian journals from the beginning up until now in various topics such as Iran’s historical, social, political and economical situation, Persian literature, Islamic related topics; as well as publication about Tehran, Isfahan and other cities.
SANA also includes few periodicals in other languages such as German, English, French and some of them dates back to 1906. Such as :
In this database resources are organized chronologically and then under each era periodicals are listed alphabetically. Also when available, description or information about the history of the publication has been given.
Here is the list of four different time categories of publication accessible through this platform:
Free registration is required in order to access the resources available at SANA platform.
To register please go this address: https://sana.nlai.ir/register
For more information about National library and Archives of Iran and its many different databases and platforms please go to this page : http://www.nlai.ir/
Launched in 2016 by Nafisa Bakkar, a 27th years-old entrepreneur based in London, U.K., Amaliah is an online media-platform aiming to serve as an amplifier for Muslim women’s voices. Rich of contributions from over 300 women living all around the World, Amaliah allows for different feminine experiences within Muslim communities to be made pubic and widely accessible. Amaliah is committed to inclusion trying to take a broad-range of perspectives into consideration when addressing issues.
Over the years, Amaliah and its founder received a lot of attention from main-stream media: they were featured in Forbes, The Telegraph, CNN, and The Guardian -to name only a few- increasing the platform’s visibility and leading to a digital footprint of over 3.2 million every month.
The platform categorizes its multimedia content (text, video & audio) in seven main categories:
The Amaliah Podcast won the 2019 ‘Grassroots Production of the Year Award’ from the Audio Production Award, and was nominated for the 2020 British Podcast Awards in the ‘Best Sex & Relationships Podcast’ category. The Podcast discusses Muslim life, culture and politics in the U.K.
The Afternoon Map is a cartography blog brought to you by Ottoman History Podcast
“We firmly believe that every book needs more maps, and would be delighted if these maps could be useful toward that end”The Afternoon Map
The blog is dedicated to presenting quality Ottoman/Turkish/Middle Eastern/Balkan maps with a maximum pixel-to-word ratio. A range of original, visually appealing and intellectually engaging maps harvested from archives and libraries around the world.
The afternoon Map will appeal to history buffs, travelers and map enthusiasts. Each map is provided with some background and analysis when available. Historians and other researchers will find these maps useful for their work.
“The Afternoon Map is a member of MENAlab, a constellation of independent internet destinations focused on the history, society, and culture of the Middle East and North Africa”The Afternoon Map
The blog uses content generated by scholars and researchers from a variety of disciplines. The afternoon Map is open access and free from advertisement.
Under Afternoon Map’s Comprehensive Map List, one can find the following:
Blog posts in this section varies in topics (geographical, touristic, ethnic, etc.), in dates (as old as 1874) and in length (from one map to 14 maps)
Home Made Maps
In this section, things get really interesting! Treasure map, food maps, Folk song map, etc.
Topics in this section, not necessary related to maps, but it is worthwhile exploring!
A list of published articles authored and/or co-authored by Nick Danforth on various media platforms and academic journals. There is a couple of articles that are marked unpublished.
Provide a link to Ottoman History Podcast, a podcast about the Ottoman Empire, the modern Middle East, and the Islamic world.
In this section, blog posts are randomly displayed. This may appeal to those who like the surprise factor.
“Stories From The Middle East And North Africa, And The Spaces In Between”
Kerning Cultures is a female-led podcast founded in 2015 and is based in UAE. It is the first venture-funded podcast company in the Middle East. This podcast is Hebah Fisher’s idea; she is the co-founder of Kerning Cultures. This podcast formed in response to the lack of mainstream media in the Middle East, that young generation can relate to, also it came to existence aiming to open a new window to this misunderstood parts of the world.
This podcast started as a start-up and with very little help, the first three years Hebah Fisher (co-founder and CEO) and Razan Alzayani (co-founder and former executive producer) of the project, invested all their savings in this project, they worked for their” mission of telling stories of places they call home”. They aim to re-introduce the region to themselves and Middle Eastern audiences, as well as to introduce it to non-Middle Eastern listeners through their stories, stories that anyone even from very far away can relate to. So This podcast is being produced in Arabic and English.
Usually the image of the Middle East, pictured by the main stream media is biased, one-sided and heavily politicized.
This podcast tries give an image of Middle East and North Africa, beyond the stereotypical characteristic and common generalizations, by covering different topics and telling stories of history, science, culture, current affairs from these regions and Middle East. Each episode somehow unveils the reality of life in the region and aims to give a balanced picture of its people, and their nuanced lived experience.
Various topics are covered in this podcast. for example “Birthplace of the UAE” is about Public Health; “Fight or Flight” tells the story of a kite maker from Afghanistan who immigrated to the US and “Reviving Hamra Street” is about Beirut and its street art.
Or in the episode, “Not Just My Hijab” a two-part series, women with different backgrounds talk about their stories and experiences of wearing Hijab or, discontinuing wearing Hijab and what it means to them. This narrates the lived experience of those women with their voices, which is different from the narrative of an article in a prestigious International journal picturing women wearing Hijab and mostly in relation to religious matter. There are many factors that impact and form people’s lives, belief system, culture and collective memories , though usually these factors are excluded from media narrative, Kerning Cultures is trying to shed light on those factors and various dimension of life in the Middle East.
In addition to its valuable content, Kerning Cultures choice of media, podcast and use of voice, makes a meaningful connection to the region through the old tradition of oral history and story telling.
Kerning Cultures was described by its listener from different corner of the world as: informative, touching, intriguing and a must listen.