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.



The largest Ibn Tulun majmuʿa in Cairo (and everywhere else)

Rummaging through the catalogues of the Egyptian National Library (Dar al-Kutub), one finds a large number of entries for Ibn Tulun. And a large share of those do point to a manuscript from the collection of Ahmad Taymur: MS Majamiʿ Taymur 759 is said to contain a staggering 33 different texts. Even for Ibn Tulun’s MTMs this is far from ordinary.
In December 2017, I finally had a chance to see the physical Ibn Tulun autograph manuscripts at Dar al-Kutub. In this context, I’d like to thank Konrad Hirschler for letting me tag along, the organizers of a codicology workshop at the IFAO for the invitation to Cairo, and the friendly staff at the Manuscripts Section at Dar al-Kutub, especially the exceptionally helpful and friendly Hamdia Mohamed Mohamed ʿUmar.
MS 759 is real, I mean it is really there in Dar al-Kutub. That is not true for all of the Ibn Tulun multiple-text manuscripts that exist in the catalogue, as I have said before. For example, the MSS Majamiʿ Taymur 373, 374 and Ḥadīth Taymur 546 only exist as microfilms. And once we look at the contents of those four manuscripts (see table), it becomes evident that it could be no other way. Those latter three manuscripts simply do not exist anymore in a physical form.
Distribution of works between manuscripts
As the table shows, there is ample overlap between MS 759 on one hand, and MSS 373, 374, and 546 on the other. And that is because the latter three manuscripts were destroyed at one point after they were photographed in the 1920s. “Destroyed” means here that the individual texts or sometimes quires were extracted from their original codicological context and recompiled into what is now MS 759.
None of these manuscripts was an original compilation by the author, so they do not contain a contents statement at the beginning. However, scrutinizing scholars (or bureaucrats) the creators of the microfilms were, each microfilm carries a date and a numbered list of works included in each of those “Damascene manuscripts”. Together they add up almost completely to the contents of MS 759.
Most probably, the newly formed majmuʿa was offered to the Taymur library at a later point. Whether the owner or librarian knew what exactly was on offer or whether the recompilation was intended to confuse them about exactly that is difficult to say.
In any case, the fragmentary titles from MS 373 (Jawāb al-suʾāl ʿan ḥukm al-dajjāl) and MS 546 (twice Risālat nāqisat al-awwal) might be in that state since they originally were first titles of a bound volume. Together with the contents statement, the first page of these works was lost or binned.
Taking this into account, we can finally make a guess as to which of Ibn Tulun’s works they might actually be. This is difficult if not impossible about the one which relates to hadith. The corpus is simply too large with over one hundred individual titles. It is also difficult since my copy of the text is bad and less than two pages of text remain, much of which is filled with isnad.
For the second text, already the index of the microfilm states “it appears that it deals with the legality of the rulers’ disposal of state revenues (amwāl bayt al-māl)”. The title that comes closest to this is Ibn Tulun’s Tawḍīḥ al-maqāl fī masʾalat al-waqf min bayt al-māl. No copy of this text is recorded.
In some catalogues this text is also titled Risāla fī al-fiqh al-shāfiʿī. While there are several references to al-Shāfiʿī on the first two extant pages, the creator of the microfilm seems to be more informed, since in the following much of the discussion revolves around several wakīls, that of the bayt al-māl, that of the sultan, and others.
Thus, while none of the four manuscripts discussed here can be considered an original compilation, at least it could be established that one more work from Ibn Tulun’s work list can be identified as having survived in part.

Digital Perspectives on hypotheses

Earlier this year, I attended the second instance of the Digital Humanities Institute Beirut (#DHIB2017). It was the second of its kind in the Arab World and, thanks to the generous support by AMICAL it offered participation free of charge (also it included nice gimmicks such as a reusable water bottle which I have since lost, a high-quality tote bag, and a notebook with its own sticky tags and notes).

The DHIB featured, among other workshops, two sessions on markup languages: multimarkdown and TEI XML. Since I am still struggling to understand how to integrate either of those into my own research and publication process, I will not dwell on those – mostly failed – efforts here.

Now, I kind of forgot about this entry for some time and some of it might seem dated by now. Yet, as the first ever digital humanities internship at the Orient-Institut Beirut draws to a close, bringing us that much closer to a publication of our Arabic text editions in a workable html format (besides the classic print and open access PDFs derived from it), it might regain some of its earlier timeliness.

Instead of summarizing the DHIB, it might be a better idea to point out those blogs on hypotheses which are much further in their mastery of digital possibilities and thus offer advise to others who want to stride down this road.

The first one is foxglove which gives you an overview of French DH initiatives. It also introduces workflows for TEI related edition projects for Latin script texts.

In contrast, Freakonometrics is rather concerned with optical character recognition and machine-readability of texts (e.g. PDFs). In general, it is rather about text analysis than text enrichment but it also provides perspectives on the usefulness of markup languages.


Personally, I find the third one, Himanis, the most interesting. Himanis is short for “HIstorical MANuscript Indexing for user-controlled Search“. It speaks to me mostly because it brings together Digital Humanities perspectives and an understanding of books as objects. The notion of books as objects becomes especially important when thinking about their organization in book cases or shelves. How they deal with that in their TEI based edition of royal charters, they explain here.

Obviously, hypotheses has much more to offer which I will not address here at length. And for those who, like me, read French at a snail’s pace, there are also all-English sites. For instance, digilex covers the creation of a digital dictionary of spoken German with TEI and XSLT.

But one of my favorites is certainly The Recipes Project. They again start out from a distinct interest in manuscripts and old texts. In addition to sharing their insights about encoding these texts in a digital format, the blog also provides useful descriptions of manuscript collections, digitization, historical trajectories of books, teaching with manuscripts, and flabbergasting bits and pieces from the history of strawberries. Even though it deals exclusively with European texts, everyone should check it out.


DOT conference in Jena, Germany (September 18-22 2017)

Following the good experiences at our panel at the School of Mamluk Studies Conference in Beirut, Christopher Bahl and me have submitted another, larger panel on the transmission of manuscripts at the (unaptly named) Deutscher Orientalistentag in Jena this year.

Throughout Tuesday, 19 September, we are going to have a total of eleven papers on manuscript transmission, ranging from the 15th to the early 20th century. As the last time, this announcement begins with our CfP, before I elaborate on some of the themes we aim to elaborate on in that day. Again, this is a joint production of Christopher and me.

Reading the social world of medieval manuscripts: Cultural practices of transmission and their sociabilities

Scholarly practices in the premodern Islamicate world were geared towards a diverse set of transmissional frameworks and articulated through a variety of social encounters. Scholarship over the years has pointed out the centrality of everyday-life practices intended to preserve and transmit knowledge (Berkey, 1992; Chamberlain 1994). More recent studies have emphasised processes of textualisation and textual perusal (al-Musawi, 2008; Hirschler, 2012; El-Rouayheb, 2014). It is well established by now that written transmission did not only complement oral traditions but also transformed and competed with it (Blecher 2013, Burak 2015).

In this panel we will focus on the social contexts and preconditions of manuscript use and production, thus exploring connections between reading and writing practices and their specific sociabilities across the medieval and early modern Islamicate world. This will be conducted in two steps: firstly, we aim to differentiate between different modes of manuscript transmission. We generally distinguish between practices of reproduction and preservation. Under reproduction, on the one hand, we group teaching (including the creation of students’ copies), commercial copying, note-taking, and citation and discussion in other works (e.g. in/of biographical works or the sharḥ and mukhtaṣar genres). Preservation, on the other hand, is concerned with practices of book collection (libraries), book compilation (binding in majāmīʿ), restoration, and, arguably, indexing and catalogisation. Both had important implications for the synchronous circulation and the diachronic transmission of ideas, texts, and manuscripts. How were different genres circulated? What do manuscripts tell us about these contexts and the intended use or audiences?

Secondly, we ask how these modes were related to social contexts of transmission. How can we make use of readers’ notes, colophons, handwriting, or the format and layout of manuscripts to trace trajectories of texts within different social sites, such as book markets, mosques, madrasas, courts and their libraries as well as domestic settings? How did these sites relate to each other? Finally, how did the social and cultural significance of manuscripts and their use change across these sociabilities?

Since the day will consist of four sessions, each of those will highlight one theme. The first session emphasizes contexts of circulation, with presentations by Nir Shafir on early modern pamphleteers, Astrid Meier on court dealings with books, and Gülfem Alici, who focuses on Sufi manuals.

The second session moves the discussion towards preservation, namely in libraries. Stefan Knost investigates a waqf library in Aleppo. In combination with Christopher Bahl’s exploration of a royal library in Bijapur there should arise some interesting contrasts and points of comparison. Konrad Hirschler begins from the perspective of a donor in his presentation on a rather large-scale book endowment in 15th-century Damascus.

Hirschler’s vantage-point will be taken up again in the first afternoon session, which concentrates on scholar’s corpora and personal libraries during the Early Ottoman period (as understood from the “Arab Lands” perspective). Mustafa Altug Yayla will investigate modes of reproduction with regard to translations from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish in the 16th-century. Zacky Khairul Umam draws on al-Musawi to unearth the wide networks of 17th-century Hijazi scholars which rested to a high degree on the exchange of writings. Geographically, Torsten Wollina’s subject is located between those two. The talk concentrates on Damascene multiple-text manuscripts as a mode of publication, preservation, and possibly reproduction.

The final session addresses the transmission – and often remediation – of manuscripts in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Print is obviously the elephant in the room here, and Kathryn Schwartz approaches it through investigating the impact of commissioners of print runs on autochthonous perceptions of written heritage. This offers itself for obvious comparisons with Simon Leese’s presentation on Arabic book production in Bhopal.

The day will be closed by an additional half-hour discussion to draw together the different approaches and perspectives that have been raised during the sessions.

Visualizing Manuscript connections with Palladio

Geographical dispersion of autograph manuscripts of Ibn Ṭūlūn

How do you picture the work in the archives? Dusty pages, creaking in the half-light of old halls of knowledge? Bent-over people shuffling their feet between rows of shelves? The creaking of a microfilm viewer seeming deafening in a silence otherwise interrupted only by occasional coughs? It is probably all happening somewhere and might be a strong impetus behind advocation for the digitization of primary sources.

Yet, the work in the archives is also one of the most intriguing parts of an historian’s work. There you encounter the handwriting of a scholar whose ideas you have followed for so long, and the manuscript closes the gap in time, occasionally bearing traces of its own travels and trajectories through time and space (the result looks a lot like space as well, with stars and planets).

One interesting aspect of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s autograph corpus is that most of what survives are rather small-scale writings. In several cases, these are found within one volume entirely consisting of his own works. Moreover, between these volumes there are occasionally several autographs of the same work. And these – both textual and material items – are today dispersed in libraries in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, and the United States (more copies in other hands are found elsewhere). In order to make sense of the connections between manuscripts, on one hand, and texts, on the other, as well as their locations today, I have used Palladio.

The present post tries to convey this excitement through the use of visualizations of the dispersion of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works and codices . I have used Palladio, a network visualization software created at Stanford University. It is platform independent and runs in your browser. It is less powerful than other network analysis and visualization software but it allows you to get results in your first day, which can be very motivational. There is also a good tutorial by Marten Düring, which leads you through the first steps. For the first steps of setting up a Palladio project, you should refer to those sites.

My own project consists of three csv sheets (the full json project file cannot be uploaded here):

Manuscripts Ibn Tulun-Tabelle 1 Works Ibn Tulun-Tabelle 1 Relations-Tabelle 1

Follow Fig. 1 (left to right) in uploading them. The figure also shows the connections (“extension”) you should create between them: Manuscripts should be connected to call number, and key should connect in tables Works and Relations.

Fig. 1: Palladio project start screen

The following visualizations have been created using the graph function. The first image shows the collections which hold Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs and which hold overlapping works. The figure was created by using Place as Source and Place_2 as Target.

Fig. 2: Connections between collections, created through holding of identical works.

The Dār al-Kutub, Cairo, and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, clearly emerge as the main collections for Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs, with Alexandria, Leiden, and the Staatsbibliothek Berlin trailing.

Fig. 3: Manuscripts held in collections and overlaps in contained works.

Figure 3 makes the interconnections between the holdings of the two main collections even more obvious. Among the manuscripts held by either are several works that can be found in manuscripts of the other as well. The Princeton cluster, which now appears more prominent, contains several fragments or other drafts of texts, held at either Dublin or Cairo, as Kristina Richardson has recently proved. The British Library, London, is connected to this through their one partial autograph, whose remaining volumes are held in Cairo. The size of the Leiden cluster derives from the fact that each text is counted as one manuscript, even though some only count 5 folios.

Fig. 4: Fig. 3: Works held in collections and overlaps through appearing in other manuscripts.

The centrality of the Cairo connection becomes yet clearer if we switch the focus from manuscript codices to individual works. Dār al-Kutub holds the largest number of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s multiple-text manuscripts (MTM), which each contain up to more than ten titles. (I have used reference keys here, since titles are too long to display and Palladio does not allow for proper transliteration. But I am not talking about content here, anyway.) For the same reason, the Alexandria collection (holding only one MTM) draws almost even with the one in Leiden.

Also, the overlap between the Cairo and Dublin collections is now so strong that reading anything becomes difficult (also within the Cairo cluster). Therefore, I have included one last figure. This shifts the focus from the collections to the direct relations between works and manuscripts. In this case, I have used Palladio’s facet filters to consider only those manuscripts held in Cairo, Dublin, and Princeton. Figure 5 is, however, only a limited screenshot which captures the most interesting cases of overlap between – and within – these collections.

Fig. 5: Manuscripts held at Cairo, Dublin, Princeton, containing identical textual items (dark dots are manuscripts, light dots works).

Three out of four MTMs held in Dublin (MS CBL…) have strong overlaps with Cairene manuscripts (MTMs from the Taymur Pasha collection, MS TayMa…). And also within the Taymur collection, the MTMs 759 and 373 share 11 identical items  between them.