Happy Eid!

I kind of lost the blogging spirit during my summer of Arabic immersion in Oakland, but I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. This semester I’m undertaking an NEH Curatorial Internship at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where I’m working with Dr. Renata Holod and one of her students, Michael Falcetano, to catalog and analyze ceramic material from Rayy. I’m focusing on the stonepaste lustre-glazed fragments at the moment, so I’m looking mostly at small sherds of stuff similar to this beautiful piece:

MMA - sf1974-161-9b

A Ewer from Rayy - MMA - sf1974-161-9b

I also recently attended the Historians of Islamic Art Association biennial symposium, “Looking Closely, Looking Widely.” It was wonderful to see papers presented by scholars working on such interesting and varied material, and to get a sense of where the field of Islamic Art History has been and is currently headed. In a few weeks I’m off to the American School of Oriental Research Annual Meeting in Chicago, where I’m looking forward to several panels devoted to Islamic archaeology.

Gertrude Bell on the 1910 Masterpieces of Muhammadan Art Exhibition

[21 August 1910]
Sunday Munich

Dearest Mother. I had a delightful day at the exhibition today. All the professors were taking a holiday so that I had the library to myself. I read a great big book all through – it was about carpets, but it had lots of other things in too, and I felt at the end that I had got a good way forrader. The exhibition is in the Ausstellungs-park – you know, near the huge statue of Germany. I lunch in a little open air restaurant near it, which saves time and is pleasanter than the hotel. It’s broiling hot – I love it.

Today before I came away I found in the park a place where a lot of orientals are sitting and carrying on their trades. So I sought out the Syrians – they are from Damascus – and had a long gossip with them. One was a Druze and he told me all the news of the Hauran. I was delighted and so were they for they never have anyone to speak to.

I am going to lunch with the Pagets tomorrow and then I shall hang about till Hugo comes. I have used these evening when I have been alone to write an article on the Persian and Arab poets for Mr Richmond. I hope it is all right. I think it is. And I am glad to have it off my mind. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

I’m writing to Father tonight.

(from the Gertrude Bell Archive, via Eva-Maria Troelenberg’s fantastic article on the exhibition in the latest Journal of Art Historiography)

Foundations of Faith: Islamic MSS in the Cambridge Digital Library


Fragments of a Hijazi Qurʼān probably written in the second century A.H. / eighth century C.E., containing verses from the Sura al-Anfāl (سورة الأنفال).

Several important early Qur’ans and Qur’anic fragments are now available on the Cambridge Digital Library website as part of their Foundations of Faith digitization project. Here’s an excerpt from the site’s About page describing the project and its counterpart, the Foundations of Science.

The Foundations of Faith Collection will include important works from many religious traditions, particularly Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. The Library’s faith collections are breathtaking. They include some of the earliest Qur’anic fragments on parchment, the first known Qur’anic commentary written in Persian, an important selection of devotional works and mystical treatises and an outstanding collection of theological works including the unique extant copy of the Kitāb al-Tawhīd by al-Māturīdī.

The Library has a collection of over 1000 manuscripts in Hebrew covering a wide range of texts; Bibles, commentaries, liturgy, philosophy, kabbalah, literature and legal documents. Most of these are in codex form though there are also scrolls and fragments; some date back to the earliest collections in the Library. The oldest manuscript in the collection is a copy of the Ten Commandments written on papyrus, and thought to date from the 2nd century B.C. The Library also holds the world’s largest and most important collection of Jewish Genizah materials, including the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection – 193,000 fragments of manuscripts considered by many to be as significant as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Our Christian holdings include the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, one of the most important New Testament manuscripts, the Moore Bede and the Book of Cerne. Among the Library’s substantial Sanskrit collection are some of the earliest surviving Buddhist manuscripts.

In short, the project should be relevant to medievalists working on the three big Western monotheistic traditions, and I’m hoping that the Foundations of Science project includes equally important medieval material. Perhaps most exciting is the fact that images from the project can be downloaded and used under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial license. The site is also remarkably transparent about data collection and privacy.

Also, be sure to check out the PDF Faith and Fable: Islamic Manuscripts from Cambridge University Library.

In Our Time: The Abbasid Caliphs


Hugh Kennedy, Robert Irwin, and Amira Bennison get together for a discussion of the Abbasid caliphate on Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time.”

Check out the BBC Radio 4 summary, curiously illustrated with something that looks more Ottoman than Abbasid, or just stream the audio.

Satellite photo of Samarra, taken on 27 February 2003 by the Ikonos satellite. Three by six kilometres, one meter resolution.

Here’s their suggested further reading:

  • Robert Irwin, For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies (Penguin, 2006)
  • Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nights: A companion (Penguin, 1994)
  • Hugh Kennedy, The Court of the Caliphs: When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World (Phoenix, 2004)
  • Hugh Kennedy, The Armies of the Caliphs (London, 2001)
  • Saleh Said Agha, The Revolution which Toppled the Umayyads (Leiden, 2003)
  • Roger Allen, The Arabic Literary Heritage (Cambridge, 1998)
  • Jonathan Bloom, Paper before Print: the history and impact of paper in the Islamic World (London, 2001)
  • T. El-Hibri, Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography: Harun al Rashid and the Narrative of the Abbasid Caliphate (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Dmitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture (London, 1998)