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Vestiges of Dissolved Libraries: Tracing Damascene Manuscripts

Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation

Wednesday, 5 April 2017 from 17:30 to 19:30 (BST)

Vestiges of Dissolved Libraries: Tracing Damascene...

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Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation

requests the pleasure of your company and guest at a public lecture entitled:

Vestiges of Dissolved Libraries: Tracing Damascene Manuscripts 


 Professor Konrad Hirschler

Professor of Islamic Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin


To be held on Wednesday 5th April 2017, at Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation

22A Old Court Place, Kensington, London W8 4PL

 Please note that there will be an informal reception before the lecture, starting at 5.30 pm, where we will be serving refreshments and snacks. We would be grateful if you could RSVP so that we can cater for you.


The Evening’s Programme:  


5.30 - 6.00          Reception and networking




6.00 - 6.10          Welcoming words 




6.10 - 7.00     Lecture by Professor Konrad Hirschler on Vestiges of Dissolved Libraries: Tracing Damascene Manuscripts




7.00 - 7.30          Discussion




7.30                     Closing of the event 



 Dress code: not applicable


Refreshments: from 5.30 to 6.00 pm.


Invitation: for you and a guest





On account of the current war in Syria cultural artefacts, including manuscripts, have been damaged or are in danger of being taken out of their pre-war location. Consequently identifying the provenance of manuscripts will be a major task in the years to come in order to prevent their dispersal. This paper discusses the rich manuscript and library culture of Damascus up to the 20th century in order to suggest possible approaches for future provenance research.


Starting with the 13th century endowed libraries emerged on a significant level in the Middle East and thus the city of Damascus. None of these libraries has survived until the present day so that the main evidence for their history are extant manuscripts. Manuscript notes sometimes explicitly link a manuscript to one or more library in which it was held over the last centuries. However, in most cases this evidence is incomplete or entirely absent and has to be supplemented with information from additional sources. A case in point is the library of the ʿUmarīya Madrasa on the slope of the Qāsyūn mountain to the west of Damascus’ Old City. This library was a major institution within the scholarly landscape of Damascus with thousands of manuscripts. Yet this library was dissolved in the late 19th century and no catalogue has survived of its stock. Even before its dissolution, numerous manuscripts were taken out of the library and sold on the city’s book markets. The paper will discuss ways of how to identify the trajectories of former ʿUmarīya manuscripts which are today held in libraries in Damascus, but also Cairo, Istanbul, Paris, Princeton, Berlin etc.


Konrad Hirschler is Professor of Islamic Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin since 2016 and was previously Professor of Middle Eastern History at SOAS (University of London). His research focuses on Egypt and Syria in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods (c. 1200-1500) with a focus on social and cultural history. Over the last years, he has primarily worked on the history of reading, of the book and of libraries in the Syrian lands. His main current project is concerned with the materiality of Arabic manuscript cultures. This includes the digital reconstruction of Damascene legal documents during the Mamluk period. Scribes regularly cut such documents into pieces to produce new manuscripts. Research on such reuse practices allows entirely new insights into legal practices and manuscript cultures.


Konrad Hirschler is the author of Medieval Damascus: Plurality and Diversity in an Arabic Library (2016; funded by the British Academy), The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands: A Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices (2012; awarded the BRISMES Book Prize, currently translated into Italian) and Medieval Arabic Historiography: Authors as Actors (2006; awarded the Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize for best doctoral dissertation on Middle Eastern topic). Among his co-edited volumes are Alliances and Treaties between Frankish and Muslim Rulers in the Middle East (2013) and Manuscript Notes as Documentary Sources (2011).  


Do you have questions about Vestiges of Dissolved Libraries: Tracing Damascene Manuscripts? Contact Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation

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When & Where

Al-Furqan headquarters in London
22A Old Court Place
London, w8 4PL

Wednesday, 5 April 2017 from 17:30 to 19:30 (BST)

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Vestiges of Dissolved Libraries: Tracing Damascene Manuscripts

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