Manuscripts, Printed Books, and Near Eastern Studies in North America: The Manuscripts in Arabic Script of Columbia Libraries

Riedel, Dagmar A.

The about 600 Islamic manuscripts which entered Columbia Libraries between 1890 and 1960 form one of the lesser known U.S. collections.4 Its relative obscurity reflects that Columbia Libraries ceased to actively acquire manuscripts in Arabic script, once the university had reorganized its Semitic and Indo-Iranian Studies departments as Area Studies programs, which were increasingly oriented towards the Social Sciences. I will use this collection, which is quite modest if compared to the collections of more than 10,000 Islamic manuscripts in the libraries of Princeton and UCLA, to explore the interdependence between the emergence of Near Eastern Studies in North America, collection development in Columbia Libraries, and book trade in the Muslim Near East. Because the oldest layer of this collection was established at the end of the nineteenth century, during the last phase of the Islamic manuscript tradition, the collection reflects how the manuscript-to-print transition impacted the book trade. After 1850 large-scale commercial publishing houses began to dominate the Islamic book production in the Near East and India, so that the interplay between indigenous book production and book trade also determined the format in which Islamic books circulated in Europe and North America. Not all known and popular texts were immediately available in both formats so that a collector could not always choose between a manuscript copy and a printed book published in the Near East or India. Although a collector could only be more selective whenever texts were available in more than one format, different formats were never traded equally. A future in-depth analysis of this collection promises to provide evidence for the intellectual and cultural history of the Near East, while shedding new light on the history of Near Eastern Studies in North America.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Center for Iranian Studies
Published Here
August 29, 2012


This is the written version of the conference paper about "The Analysis of a Manuscript Collection as a Contribution to the History of Printing in the Middle East: The Manuscripts in Arabic Script in Columbia University Libraries," presented at the 4éme Colloque de la codicologie et histoire du livre manuscript en écriture arabe, Madrid, May 2010.
A slightly revised, illustrated version of this manuscript is published as: Dagmar A. Riedel, "Manuscripts, Printed Books, and Near Eastern Studies in North America: The Manuscripts in Arabic Script of the Columbia University Libraries," Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 6 (2015): 280-310. doi:10.1163/1878464X-00602009