World-Famous Research Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts Digitized.

By Julie Somers

With the click of a button, a new medieval manuscript resource was launched into the online world. On February 28th, Leiden University and Brill Academic Publishers released a collaborative digitization project of over 100,000 pages of Middle Eastern manuscripts from the Leiden University Library special collections of  Joseph Scaliger and Jacobus Golius.

The opening ceremony, titled “Pioneer Orientalists: The Manuscript Collections of Scaliger, Raphelengius and Golius from Leiden University Library”, began with a speech by Herman Pabbruwe, Chief Executive of Brill Publishers, where he recognized the efforts of many who participated in the digitization project, including the conservation specialist at the UBL, Karin Scheper, and the full color digital images produced by Dr. Harald Fischer Verlag. While the main focus of this project is to make these valuable texts available to a larger community of scholars, it also helped to preserve these manuscripts, 30 of which were restored as part of the project. In total the collection consists of 267 manuscripts in 303 volumes, counting 109,517 pages. Most texts are in Arabic, with secondary texts in Ottoman, Turkish and Persian.

The audience was treated to a lecture by Dr. Arnoud Vrolijk, Curator of Oriental Manuscripts and Rare Books at Leiden University Libraries, who demonstrated the benefits of digital research by comparing the search abilities of the online image versus the struggle with the very large or very small size of the original manuscripts. In addition, Dr. Charles Burnett, Professor of History of Islamic Influences in Europe at the Warburg Institute, University of London, traced the origins of the collection and elaborated on Arabic manuscripts, which include many mathematical and medical texts, translated into Latin in the twelfth century.

In all, the event was very inspiring. It is nice to see such a collaborative effort in the digitizing of texts with such a beautiful and useful result. The site (which can only be accessed if you have an account) is searchable by keyword, shelfmark, subject, or date, with large full color images that are equipped with zoom function.

Leiden University and Brill Academic Publishers have created a valuable digital resource that will surely aide in research and provide a collaborative model for future digital projects.

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