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In the meantime, however, the data sets uploaded in the prior posts have become somewhat outdated.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.

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.


Recent Publications: Dyntran Blog and Ottoman Studies 2 (Bonn University Press)

In the course of the last month, two publications of mine came out. The first is my contribution to the blog of the research cluster “Dynamics of Transmission” (DYNTRAN), in which I trace the development of a family network in 15th-/16th-century Damascus and try to show the differences between ‘family’ and those ‘dynasties’ that emerge in the biographical dictionaries of the time.

Dyntran title page
Fig. 1: Dyntran logo

The second publication is an article in the conference proceedings The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilād Al-Shām in the Sixteenth Century edited by Gül Şen and Stephan Conermann and published with Bonn University Press (see here for the conference program).

Cover: The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilād Al-Shām in the Sixteenth Century. Edited by Stephan Conermann and Gül Şen. Bonn University Press (V&R Unipress), Göttingen 2016.

        Fig. 2:

Cover, The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilād Al-Shām in the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Stephan Conermann, Gül Şen. Bonn University Press (V&R Unipress), Göttingen 2016.

My contribution Sultan Selīm in Damascus: The Ottoman Appropriation of a Mamluk Metropolis (922-924/1516-1518) presents a micro-historical study of changes, the Ottomans effected on the urban – and in particular sacred – landscape of Damascus immediately following the conquest. As I argue those indeed constituted paradigmatic changes which could not easily be undone (and were not) henceforth. I would add here that the methodical approach to the conquest is a strong indicator for the Mamluk Sultanate being the original destination of the Ottoman aggression in 1516, not just a spontaneous second choice behind the Safavids.