Visualizing Ibn Tulun’s manuscript corpus: (1) From Palladio towards Gephi

It has been a while since I presented my first visualizations of Ibn Tuluns manuscript corpus with Palladio. Palladio is an easy-to-learn tool that works in your browser and thus is independent of your operating system. You just put your data in several simple tables and upload them there. Then you create the relevant connections between the tables in the interface. Basically, all you need is one table for the entities to be connected (nodes) and one for the connections between them (edges).

Also, you can add a second table with a different sets of nodes. In my case, I wanted to know which of Ibn Tulun’s works could be found in which manuscripts. As you can find in the first post, I added a second table for those (or actually the other way around). This table has further geographical information so you can plot the data on a world map and see where most of Ibn Tulun’s manuscripts or works are held today. The two variables give different results as one manuscript can contain up to more than thirty individual works.

In the meantime, however, the data sets uploaded in the prior posts have become somewhat outdated. I have discovered new manuscripts through archival visits and by simply cleaning up my data set. I also added more consistently information about when manuscript copies were produced and on which topics Ibn Tulun wrote the most works. Since I can be impatient and want to see results for the repetitive work that is data entry, I initially used Palladio again and I like the results. And this post will only deal with Palladio, its allure and shortcomings.  Number (2) will then move to Gephi.

The first image shows the most central themes in Ibn Tulun’s corpus. Note in the lower left center the big cluster of hadith related topics, including key words such as hadith, isnad, and so on. The bigger a circle is, the more works it is related to. One issue is, however, that this does not work the other way around: The light circles for works get bigger when you apply more keywords to them. That means that the better you know a work and the more effort you spend on defining it through keywords, the more important it appears in the graph.

Ibn Tulun’s works (light) in relation to topics covered (dark).

In a second step, I looked at the temporal distribution of copies of Ibn Tulun’s works. In order to estimate the diachronic relevance of an author, this is an important step and network visualization can actually be a helpful tool in making rhythms of reception apparent. The second graph shows how works (dark) relate to moments of production (light).

Ibn Tulun’s works (dark) by year of manuscript production (light).

The biggest cluster of works (top right) were produced by 950 AH, shortly before Ibn Tulun’s death. This is an oversimplification; I chose this date for most autographs that cannot be dated otherwise. The only exemptions are works not mentioned in Ibn Tulun’s work list. I assume that they were written even closer to his death in 953 AH.

In the lower half you see proof of an evenly distributed albeit low degree of reproduction between the 16th and 19th century. Finally, the cluster in the top left refers to more concentrated copying activities in the early 20th century. They took place exclusively in Egypt and Syria. There is a visible overlap between these four years as well as with the autograph cluster. It might be interesting to run this visualization again but with decades or centuries instead of individual years. It might also be interesting to include photographic reproductions of manuscripts. It would certainly emphasize the importance of that period for our current evaluation of the author.

Continuing in this line of thought, in what were later readers interested when referring to Ibn Tulun’s works? We cannot automatically assume that reading interests remained the same always and everywhere, unless we’d buy into tropes of an “unchanging Orient”. Let’s not do that.

Instead, one way to get an idea of diachronic developments in reading practices could be to look once more at the topics covered. This time, I related them to the type of manuscript: either autograph or copy.

Topics (dark) relating to type of manuscript (light)

We can see three clear clusters of topics emerging: those that are only covered in autographs, those covered only in copies, and those covered in both. The graph also gives away something about the number of manuscripts addressing certain topics: obviously, the most important topics can be found in the shared cluster. A next step could now be to identify those copies that deal with topics not found in the autograph or shared cluster. Whereas those clusters illustrate continuations of interest (through reproduction or preservation), this cluster could also show changes. To substantiate this hypothesis, we need to look at the times and places of the production of those copies.

This approach does, however, not account for the reproduction of individual works. For instance, the keyword “biography” to be found in the shared cluster refers to a rather significant part of Ibn Tulun’s corpus—overall some fifty works, some of which rank among the largest he has written (see e.g. here). If we only look at the three largest ones, al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyyaal-Tamattuʿ bi-l-iqrān bayn tarājim al-shuyūkh wa-l-aqrān, and its Dhayl Dhakhāʾir al-qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr, they show quite divergent patterns of transmission.

The first work, which focuses on Hanafis, was copied only once between the 16th and 17th centuries and is nowadays held in Istanbul (the autograph volumes are held in Cairo and London). It is possible that this copy was deliberately made for the Istanbuli context, whereas the other two works were reproduced in a decidedly Damascene framework. The second one only survives in an excerpt from early 17th-century Damascus (now held in Berlin). The final one exists in a fragmentary autograph and three copies made between the 18th and 20th century (held in Cairo and Gotha), thereby indicating different rhythms of reception. The final work indeed might have provided then influential Damascene families such as the Shuwaykis with social capital.

But I digressed. Let’s get back to Palladio and network visualization more general. Palladio shows itself as an easy tool to play around with your data. I think the graphs above make that clear enough. Yet, it has its limitations. Miriam Posner says that more clearly in her introduction to the topic than I can. Palladio does not allow you to use color schemes for your edges and nodes; it does not show the weight of the edges either. And finally, it gives you no tools for further analysis: which nodes are central in connecting clusters to each other and which have more connections to on another than others?

In order to answer these questions, we have to use a more powerful tool, which could be either Gephi or Cytoscape. But both tools require to enter data in a different way wich reduces the bipartite network described here to a monopartite network. In other words, we have to turn either manuscripts or works from nodes to edge attributes. And that will have to remain for a future post.

The history of MS Tarikh Taymur 631: vol. 1 of al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya

Still these Cairene manuscripts. Among others, they have one volume of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s biographical dictionary, al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyya. The British Library holds the second volume of the work. I have spoken about this work before here and here. Also, Guy Burak made use of an Istanbuli copy of it in his dissertation, “The Abū Ḥanīfah of his time? Islamic Law, Jurisprudential Authority and Empire in the Ottoman Domains (16th-17th Centuries)”. As can be seen from the collections where they are held nowadays, the different volumes of the Ghuraf were separated from each other at one point. The Cairo manuscript (MS Tarikh Taymur 631) contains the first part of this three-volume work on 386 pages, covering the introduction as well as biographies in alphabetical order until the letter ẓāʾ. The last biography is dedicated to Ẓuhayr b. Ḥasan al-Qurashī al-Makkī (745-819).

The London manuscript (MS Or. 3046) contains the other two volumes, the second entirely dedicated to names beginning with ʿayn, the final one containing names from mīm to yā and, in addition, entries for people known by their kunya or their laqab. It concludes with a short chapter on women, consisting of only three entries. The volume is about twice the size of the Cairo manuscript at 358 folios; yet, I counted 61 empty pages within this volume, indicating that the author never finished his original aim. These pages were not all counted in the catalogue, where only 320 folios are ascribed to the volume.

Both manuscripts give away some of their own trajectories. MS Or. 3046 entered the British Library from the British Museum, where it was part of Baron Alfred von Kremer‘s collection, who left an ownership mark dated 9 January 1886 (fol. 358b). According to the catalogue, this date refers to Kremer’s sale to the British Library and not to his own acquisition.

The Supplement to the catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts in the British Museum (pp. vi-vii) describes Kremer’s collection briefly, as containing almost 200 Arabic manuscripts most of which he acquired on several trips to Cairo and Damascus between 1849 and 1880.  Yet, Kremer does not even have an entry in the English wikipedia.

Apart from this note, there are no other ownership notes to be found, only annotations in the hand of Ibn Tulun’s student Akmal al-Din Ibn Muflih. These are more sparse than in other works. They include several marginal rubrications and explanations, e.g. on fol. 175b: “hādhā jadd Amīn al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUthmān al-Ṣāliḥī”. He also made an addition to the biography of Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. ʿUthmān al-Biqāʿī al-Dimashqī (fol. 125b), giving his date of death in 965 AH. The lack of further information on the manuscript’s history could partly be ascribed to a later framing of the first folio, which cut away or hid further potential owners’ or readers’ annotations.

fol. 1a of MS Tarikh Taymur 631

MS Tarikh Taymur 631’s first folio is also framed in a similar manner. And here it is visible that the framing affected at least one such statement, which states the manuscript’s belonging to Ibn Tulun’s original book endowment at the Umariyya Madrasa. The frame features a large stamp of Ahmad Taymur’s library.

Again, throughout the volume similar annotations by Ibn Muflih are interspersed, which is little surprising due to both being part of the same work. The main difference is another library stamp to be found on pages 39 and, twice, 387.

Stamp, MS Tarikh Taymur 631, p. 387

My first reading of its inscription was “hādhā min kutub ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muṣṭafā”. The first half seems to be something else, perhaps “kharāj” or “khodā”? The important thing, however, is that the name pops up in other Ibn Tulun autographs, and there we learn more about this book collector.

The Cairene MS 21201 b (for tafsīr) is a small collection of four Ibn Tulun autographs. They do not need to concern us now but what is more important is that it carries several annotations that testify to a prolonged engagement by one person with the manuscript. He first identifies the handwriting on the dust page (fol. 1a) as that of Ramadan al-Utayfī, a 17th-century chief judge of Damascus. He gives his name as Abd al-Salam and the date of his note as 4 Ramadan 1278 / 5 March 1862.

His whole name and familial background we learn from a collation note on fol. 17a, dated 1284 / 1867: “ʿAbd al-Salām b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muṣṭafā b. Maḥmūd [erased] al-Ḥanbalī”. In all likelihood, he was the son of the owner of MS Tarikh Taymur 631. While there is no evidence that Abd al-Salam also called MS Tarikh Taymur 631 his own, this connection would at least put it in a private Damascene library by the early 19th century.

This is not to say that henceforth this manuscript would remain private property until its transfer to Cairo. Chances are that it might have again been endowed but we simply cannot say for sure. And one more thing we cannot guess is when the two volumes became separated for the first time, and whether they were reunited at any point afterwards.

The internal documentation of both manuscripts sets in at different points in time and betrays very different trajectories. The Cairo manuscript seems to have left the Umariyya library to another (or several other) Damascene library and finally to the Taymuriyya in Egypt. The London manuscript, in contrast, appears to have been bought immediately by a European orientalist, who then sold it to a European National Library.

A whole Majmūʿa copied? MS Majāmīʿ 315

In March, I returned to the Dār al-Kutub in Cairo and spent a whole week with their collection. Ibn Ṭūlūn’s name pops up very often in the different collections of the Dār al-Kutub. The earliest acquisitions are certainly found in the Taymūriyya Library, whereas the general collection seems to have made a bulk order of Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs only by the early 1930s.

Aḥmad Taymūr did not only acquire “originals”, however; he also created copies. One modern way of bridging the gap between both was photography, and Taymūr made ample use of it to create facsimiles of autographs. At literally the same time, he also hired copyists to ensure he had personal copies of Ibn Ṭūlūn texts. One of the most intriguing one is MS Majāmīʿ 315 because it is not a copy of one text but rather of an entire multiple-text manuscript.

Oddly enough, MS Majāmīʿ 315 does not have a call number referring to his own collection. Yet, it does carry his stamp on the first and last page, one time in red and another time in blue. It contains 533 pages of 22,7 x 17,2 cm, each filled with 15 lines of text. The writing is larger and spaces between lines – as well as the margins – are much more generous than in Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs. Together, this would account for the volume’s thickness.

Headings are written in red ink and larger script, being aligned centrally in the page. The paper is of good quality and of white color, the very prominent watermark reading “Gouvernement Egyptien 1915-1917”. The dating of the copy is made even more precise by a note below a contents statement on a separate leave: 1336/1917-18 (the copyist is not named). The leave is of brown color. On the top of it is stated that all works (rasāʾil) in this manuscript were originally authored by Ibn Ṭūlūn. The page’s center is occupied by the contents statement, which includes eleven entries:

  1. al-ʿUqūd al-durriyya fī al-umarāʾ al-miṣriyya
  2. Nafaḥāt al-zahr fī dhawq ahl al-ʿaṣr
  3. Al-taʿrīf li-fann al-taṣḥīf
  4. Araj al-nasamāt fī aʿmār al-makhlūqāt
  5. al-Mulḥa fīmā warada fī aṣl al-subḥa
  6. al-Naḥla li-mā warada fī al-nakhla
  7. Ibtisām al-thughūr ʿammā qīla fī nafʿ al-zuhūr
  8. Laqsh al-ḥanak fīmā warada fī al-samak
  9. Risāla fī al-fīl [incomplete at the beginning]
  10. Sharḥ al-ṣudūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakhkh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr
  11. Tuḥfat al-aḥbāb fī manṭaq al-ṭayr wa-l-dawābb

Taymūr had this copy made from a manuscript containing exclusively Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs. It is now, and might have been back then, part of the library of the Baladiyya of Alexandria. Stephan Conermann records it in his biographical article of Ibn Ṭūlūn as MS Alex. Fun. 183. According to Conermann, it does contain 14 textual units in total, including all of those mentioned above. Even though it might seem like unnecessary repetition, I will reproduce the list for MS Alex. Fun. 183 here:

  1. Ijāza
  2. al-Naḥla li-mā warada fī al-nakhla
  3. ʿUnwān al-rasāʾil li-maʿrifat al-awāʾil [includ.: al-Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan fī ḍamn ʿunwān al-rasāʾil fī maʿrifat al-awāʾil]
  4. Irtiyāḥ al-khawāṭir fī maʿrifat al-awākhir
  5. Risāla fī al-fīl
  6. Laqs al-ḥanak fīmā qīla fī al-samak
  7. Sharḥ al-ṣudūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakhkh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr
  8. Ibtisām al-thughūr fīmā qīla fī nafʿ al-zuhūr
  9. Tuḥfat al-aḥbāb fī manṭaq al-ṭayr wa-l-dawābb
  10. Araj al-nasamāt fī aʿmār al-makhlūqāt
  11. al-Mulḥā fīmā warada fī al-subḥa
  12. Nafaḥāt al-zahr fī dhawq ahl al-ʿaṣr
  13. al-Taʿrīf fī fann al-taṣḥif
  14. al-ʿUqūd al-durriyya fī al-ʿumarāʾ al-miṣriyya

Two things should become immediately apparent in a comparison between both contents statements. First, what was taken out? Taymūr apparently shed his own recreation of the manuscript from all works related to ḥadīth transmission (in bold), including the ijāza (although this entry probably refers to Ibn Ṭūlūn’s original contents statement, which was a preferred place for people to document their ijāzas from him). While the two works, ʿunwān al-rasāʾil and Irtiyāḥ al-khawāṭir, were also copied, they were put in separate manuscripts. This obviously sets the remaining works in a very different framework than the original one.

Other ḥadīth works are kept, this knowledge is not declared void. But the genres dedicated to documenting the transmission itself seems not to have had any value for Taymūr. Secondly, this coincides with a restructuring of the manuscript, putting the once final text on rulers of Egypt first. Also, the longest work, Nafaḥāt al-zahr fī dhawq ahl al-ʿaṣr, is moved up to second place. Other works, discussing certain wildlife themes, have been brought into a more systematic form, beginning now with the general makhlūqāt and only later addressing specific kinds of flora and fauna: the date palm, flowers, fish, birds, and mounts or pack animals (I am uncertain, however, whether Ibn Ṭūlūn really talks about elephants or rather the Quranic Sura by that name).

Even though the multiple-text manuscript is not reproduced exactly as it was, MS Majāmīʿ 315 is exemplary in that it selects and reshapes the contents of only this one source manuscript.



Ibn Tulun manuscripts in Leiden

Among other libraries, Leiden University hosts several autographs by Ibn Tulun (for an introduction of the Oriental MS collections, see here). The collection is quite extraordinary among those, since every Ibn Tulun text is bound individually, even though most of them are of modest size. Their page numbers range between single and low double-digits. Judging by my experience that would make them ideal candidates for publication in majmu’as (and I address that issue in an article submitted to the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts).

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to consult the whole collection in person. So far, I had to rely on the catalogue made by Carlo von Landberg shortly after the acquisition in the 1880s and the Handlist of P. Vorhoove. In both, the Ibn Tulun manuscripts are clustered within a range of about twenty call numbers (132-146 in Landberg, 2503-2520 in the Handlist). While this could be attributed to their common author, it is also possible that this cluster was retained from the collection of the Cairene seller Amin al-Madani and ultimately from their original state in autograph majmu’as.

Be that as it may, Leiden has uploaded one of those manuscripts, MS Or. 2512, which contains the short text Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb fīmā warada fī al-kathīb. This is, in fact, the title as it is given in Ibn Tulun’s own work list, whereas the Leiden catalogue gives a slightly different title that is written on the first recto of the manuscript: Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb bi-akhbār al-kathīb.

This is apparently owed to the author’s phrasing that this text contains “mā akhbaranā shaykhunā al-muḥaddith…” and perhaps also to titling conventions at the time when this title was added (the hand is different and more modern than the author’s). Yet, both titles refer to the same work as Ibn Tulun mentions the “warada” title on the verso of fol. 1.

Initially, I was surprised that the writing already begins on the recto of fol. 1. For Ibn Tulun this is highly unusual, especially since the text appears to be a (very well preserved) fair copy. To elaborate, it contains no other handwriting than the author’s, and that is restricted to an even and regular text block of 23 lines per page. The margins seem wider than I have seen in other, more annotated Ibn Tulun manuscripts.

Getting back to my surprise, a quick check on the verso made sure that the text begins only here. Instead, the writing on the recto, albeit also in Ibn Tulun’s hand, seems to be an audition certificate, giving part of the isnad, some of the attendants and the date of the text’s recitation: 9.11.936/15.07.1530. ّIt also indicates that all attendants received a certificate for transmission (ijāzat riwāya) from the author.

The catalogue gives that date as the date of the text’s completion but I am uncertain whether that conclusion can be so easily made. I am not even sure whether we can assume that this specific manuscript was completed before that date. The clean state of it suggests rather that it might be a fair copy of the original, which would have been in existence by 936/1530.

The text itself is a collection of reports and sayings about Moses (al-kathīb) and his shrine (maqām/ziyāra) near the village Masjid al-Qadam, south of Damascus. The most interesting thing about it – for me – is that it appears in Ibn Tulun’s biographical dictionary Dhakhāʾir al-Qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr.

At least three of the biographees included in this work heard recitations of this work. One of those heard it recited at the “Ziyārat al-Kathīb close to the village Masjid al-Qadam” on the same day as the one given in the samāʿ. This Muḥammad b. Mūsā b. ʿAbduh al-Qubaybātī al-Ḥanbalī known as Ibn Qayṣar went on to write a mulakhkhiṣ of this work, giving a rare proof to Ibn Tulun’s reception through emulation.


The real manuscripts of Dar al-Kutub

In December 2017, I attended a workshop on Arabic codicology at the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo (IFAO). It was taught by Elise Franssen and co-organized by Mathieu Eychenne and Abbès Zouache.

In this context, we also paid a visit to the Dar al-Kutub, the Egyptian National Library, which holds one of the largest collections of Arabic manuscripts in the world. I also visited its department for manuscript on two more days during my stay. Noah Gardiner has written an exhaustive guide to research and especially the manuscript catalogues of the Dar al-Kutub.

It was my second visit to this institution, after I had spent a week there in November 2016. Before this first visit I had heard from friends and colleagues that with such little time it would not make sense to even try to get access to the physical manuscripts, and thus I restricted my research to the microfilm section, which is situated in a different part of the city (Bab al-Khalq).

To be sure, this visit paid other dividends but it made it apparent to me several questions that could not be answered without consulting the manuscripts themselves. And research at the Nile branch where the manuscripts are kept turned out to be much more pleasant than anticipated. The staff is in general very forthcoming and the head of the section is knowledgeable in manuscripts and himself an experienced editor (muḥaqqiq).

Some things should, however, be considered prior to one’s visit. These are not always congruent with the procedure at the Bab al-Khalq branch, and actually less strict. For instance, computers are allowed. The first thing you should prepare is a list of manuscripts you want to see with call numbers, titles and author names. Secondly, bring your passport or another kind of ID. You will have to leave it at the entrance.

You will need your institution to provide you with a letter of recommendation in Arabic. Best, if it already lists the manuscripts you aim to see. If your institution is not able to do that, one alternative option is to ask at the IFAO if they provide a letter.

The other thing you will need is time. There is the issue of finding and bringing the manuscripts. You can only have one on your desk so these intervals appear repeatedly. And on the first day you might be invited for a review of your letter of recommendation as well. The best time to arrive is around 10:00 a.m. Although the section opens at 9:00, the staff often arrives later than that.

With a closing time at 2:30 p.m., you might need at least a week if you are interested in the content of a longer work. Time is also required if you prefer to get images of the manuscript. In my experience, they will usually be made within the day but not long before closing time. And if you don’t want the full manuscript, calculate an extra day to get also those pages photographed that were missed on the first try (Do not make the mistake I made!).

Finally, the images are of a good quality albeit not of a resolution as high as those you get from, let’s say, Chester Beatty Library. But then you pay a pittance compared to that library. The only downside is the watermark that all images from Dar al-Kutub carry. Unfortunately, that leads to some annotations being not as legible as in the manuscript itself.

During my admittedly short stay, the other visitors could be counted on one hand. So if you need manuscripts from the Dar al-Kutub, the time to get them is now.