With video: University of Michigan's Islamic Manuscripts collection going online
The University of Michigan Special Collections Library needs help cataloguing its vast Islamic Manuscripts Collection.But the library doesn't plan to hire an expert. Instead, almost all of its 1,250 pieces are being scanned in-house to put the work on the Internet.
And the library hopes interested scholars will get involved.
The manuscripts are mostly in Arabic, but also include works in Turkish and Persian, with one in Chaghatai. Works date from about 750 to 1906.
Subjects covered are varied, including Quran texts, commentaries and criticism, Islamic traditions, philosophy, and poetry, history and mathematics, among others - and all of it is hand-written. "It will be presented to the public in Wiki or blog-type interface, so people can comment on what they see. In that way, we hope we can get help from scholars all over the world in identifying the manuscripts and cataloguing them properly," said Peggy Daub, director of Special Collections. Daub hand-selected the texts to be scanned, leaving out only the most delicate. Pieces in the collection are especially noteworthy for the beautiful script throughout and ample, intricate gold leafing found in the religious texts, Daub said. Some of the texts are not known in any other copy.
Now, the pages are being scanned with special equipment in the Buhr Building by U-M's in-house digital library production service. The scans can't be digitized for searching using the typical Optical Character Recognition process because the manuscripts are handwritten. University of Michigan Professor Francis W. Kelsey acquired the collection 1924 with funds from an anonymous donor, Daub said. About 285 pieces of the collection were once part of the library of Sultan Abdulhamid II of Turkey, the 34th ruler of the Ottomon Empire. About a quarter of the collection was entered into the library's old card catalogue system over the years, as far back as 1925. A few hundred records from the old catalogue system have been entered into Mirlyn, the U-M Library's digital card catalog.
The goal is to get the new Web site, which will feature entire manuscripts, up in a few months, Daub said. "There's a lot of studying to be done, and that's the point of cataloguing, so people can find out about them and really study them," Daub said. The Web site will eventually work with Mirlyn and HathiTrust, a shared digital library repository that stores digitized library content from a number of organizations, including U-M. The project is funded with a $225,000 grant administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellow Foundation. The principal investigator is Jonathan Rodgers, head of U-M's Near East division. The Islamic Manuscripts project is not the first time U-M has made scans of its special collections available to scholars and the public online. The university made its collection of ancient scrolls available online in the '90s to provide preservation and greater scholarly and public access to the materials. That program evolved into the Advanced Papyrological Information System, or APIS, an series of online databases that encompass almost all American universities which have papyrological collections as well as several European partners. The Islamic Manuscripts effort marks the first time a collection will be published on the Web using a blog interface, Daub said.