Bibliotheca Arabica – Micro-Perspective

Bibliotheca Arabica – Micro-Perspective: On the Reception and Collection of Arabic Literatures

MS Leipzig, Vollers 118, fol. 1r: Seals, such as this one from the governor Ahmad al-Jazzar of Akka, are a primary source to uncover book collections. © Leipzig University Library

On the Reception and Collection of Arabic Literatures

The micro-perspective module focusses on geographically and historically defined case studies of Arabic book and library culture. Key sources here are the manuscript notes to be compiled in the project, which, by documenting information on individual manuscripts, enable their specific local and social contexts to be identified.

MS Leipzig, Vollers 593, fol. 1r
Some manuscript pages are littered with notes documenting provenance, readings, and other interactions with the book. © Leipzig University Library
The first exemplary individual project is dedicated to libraries at the time of the Mamluks and Ottomans. Narrative sources and historical studies abound with references to individual bibliophilia and book collections. But very little is known about how libraries spread and what their characteristics were, what was kept on their shelves, and how they developed, nor on the owners and users of single libraries or library types. By researching libraries from many locales during Mamluk and Ottoman times, the Bibliotheca Arabica explores a thematic field that has been accorded scarce attention in Arabic Studies.

In a first step, this project will identify libraries that were operating in the vast territories between Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, Anatolia, and Southeast Europe during the Mamluk and Ottoman eras, mapping their relative distribution. Then, specific libraries will be investigated, with a focus on their holdings and the people they served (owners, endowers, readers). Attention will be given to the—usually endowed—institutional libraries, lending libraries, and private libraries.

Methodologically, this project will expand on the systematic analysis of manuscript notes, a dimension that has been introduced in the analysis of the Damascene al-Rifāʿīya library. These notes, by documenting information on individual manuscripts, enable their specific local and social contexts to be identified. Where available, they will be paired with narrative literary sources. Accumulative analysis of the individual notes will enable us to draw far-reaching conclusions about the types of libraries in existence, the social profiles of their owners and users, and the fate and itineraries of individual manuscripts, which often travelled between different libraries and locales throughout the centuries.



More information


Introduction (main page)

Macro-Perspective: On the production, transmission, and reception of Arabic literatures

Research platform: On people, books & manuscript notes

Team: About us


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Dr. Boris Liebrenz
Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Karl-Tauchnitz-Str. 1
04107 Leipzig/ Germany

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