Provenance as Interdisciplinary Research Challenge

In August 2020 Emma Hagström Molin organized a two-day ZOOM workshop about provenance with the support of the Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (CIRCUS) of Uppsala University (Sweden).  Her current research on the material conditions for historical research during the nineteenth century is funded by an international postdoctoral fellowship of the Swedish Research Council, and she had convened a diverse and lively group of presenters and listeners.  As the ZOOM workshop was not open to the public, it does not have a website with detailed information about its program and presenters. 

On the second day the workshop effectively closed with a question posed by Claes-Fredik Helgesson, the director of CIRCUS.  Helgesson ruminated whether mapping could help with organizing the bits and pieces of our collective knowledge of the various aspects of provenance, thereby analyzing and elucidating how the concept’s meaning and its epistemological status in classification schemes has evolved in diachronic and synchronic perspectives, over time and across space.  Helgesson’s use of the word “mapping” was intriguing. It made me wonder about the viability of a future Digital Humanities (DH) project which would employ visualization tools for constructing a history of the concept of provenance, while tracking changing practices of provenance research in a range of disciplines in the Humanities and the Sciences.

Hagström Molin had opened her introduction to the workshop with a reflection on the history and etymology of the word “provenance,” bringing into the discussion how Gail Feigenbaum and Inge Reist define the word in their introduction to Provenance: An Alternative History of Art (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2012, 1 and 4 n.1).  Feigenbaum and Reist state that in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) the first documented use of provenance occurred in 1785, when the word served as shorthand for “history of ownership,” with the extended meaning of “documented record.” Unfortunately, Feigenbaum and Reist do not identify date and format (that is, printed or digital) of the consulted OED version.  More important, though, is their astute observation that “[o]n the face of it, we all know what provenance means” (p. 1).  A short survey of recent English-language scholarship confirms that the word’s meaning is indeed perceived as being self-evident – which usually is a red flag that things are more complicated than we would like them to be. Nick Pearce and Jane C. Milosch open their introduction to Provenance and Collecting (London: Rowan & Littlefield, 2019) with this breezy statement: “The most basic definition of the word provenance is ‘place of origin’ from the French provenir, ‘to come from,’ and before this, the Latin provenire: pro, ‘forth’ and venire ‘come.’  Increasingly, the word has come to be closely associated with the history of creation and ownership of a specimen, artifact, or work of art” (p. xv). Unlike Feigenbaum and Reist, Pearce and Milosch do not provide a reference for these etymological and historical details, and yet they draw attention to the word and its meaning. Victoria Reid does not comment on the word itself in her entry on “Provenance” in Grove Art Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, updated 2016, https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T069868), and neither does David Pearson in his handbook about Provenance Research in Book History (2d ed., Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2019).

My own reading of the entry on provenance in the current version of the OED Online, which provides the text of the third revised edition of 2007, differs from that offered by Feigenbaum and Reist, but they may have consulted an earlier edition of the OED.

NB – The entry’s remainder is not shown as it merely provides more citations for the word’s third meaning.

The note on provenance’s origin includes a warning: “A borrowing from French. Perhaps also partly formed within English, by derivation.”  The first identified meaning draws on a 1918 article for the citation of a 1628 source to conclude that in the early modern era the word provenance was used in business transactions to indicate “the source of profit.” This first meaning, though, is marked as rare and nowadays obsolete. As regards the documented use in 1785, highlighted by Feigenbaum and Reist, the citation is presented as evidence for the second meaning: “[t]he fact of coming from some particular source or quarter; origin, derivation.” But the OED editors add the disclaimer that the 1785 citation may represent a slightly different usage than that illustrated by the following citations for the nineteenth and twentieth century. The oldest given citation for the third meaning, which represents the word’s contemporary usage by art historians as contextualized by Feigenbaum and Reist, was published in 1860. 

I draw three conclusions from this linguistic evidence. The first is that it offers a timely reminder about the importance of French as one the languages of medieval and early modern England.  A word that looks like a borrowing from French does not automatically point to Franco-British contacts in the late eighteenth century.  The second conclusion is that it directs attention to the close relation between provenance’s meaning in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. While the seventeenth-century meaning was narrow and precise, the eighteenth-century meaning had broadened and became more general. The third conclusion is that it presents the evolution of provenance’s meaning as metonymy, if its history is read backwards, from the present to the past: an object acquires value when authenticity is confirmed and owners are known, thereby becoming a source of profit.

Against this backdrop I offer the working hypothesis that the concept of provenance – defined as the chain of ownership, whether legal or illegal, through which a mobile or immobile object was transferred between people – is present in every society whose members can own private property and whose economy supports markets and a practice of individual collecting. While more comparative research would be necessary to identify the role of conspicuous consumption for practices of individual collecting, I hasten to add that I am not arguing that owning individual property is an anthropological constant.  In order to facilitate a comparative approach based on a range of disciplines from the Humanities and the Sciences, I would suggest to employ a heuristics that draws on semiotics to distinguish between word (signifier), meaning (signified), and concept (referent).  This heuristic strategy would allow for investigating changes and differences between languages, eras, and locations, thereby revealing developments over longer stretches of time.  The concept of provenance is posited to be stable, but words and meanings change, be it in conjunction or be it separately.  On the one hand, a word remains in use, but its meaning is new; an example would be looting.  On the other hand, the meaning is retained, although it is now attached to a different word; e.g., we approve of national heritage but shun the common good.  One of the possible outcomes of this heuristic approach could be a representation of the different aspects of the concept of provenance, for example, through three different maps visualizing words, meanings, and the changing relations between them.

Last updated, 29 August 2020

Owning Books in Arabic Script inside and outside Muslim Communities

In all literate societies, the vast majority of books are utilitarian commodities whose most important feature is their reproducibility, be it in the same medium (e.g., manuscript to manuscript) or be it in a new medium (e.g., manuscript to digital surrogate).  The technology of writing allows for the manufacture of new copies, irrespective of a book’s format (that is: tablet, scroll, roll, codex, e-book), whenever it seems opportune or necessary to replace an old copy with a new copy.  At the same time, books and their contents are continually destroyed in the course of natural disasters, warfare, censorship, deaccession, or wear and tear.  Between these extreme poles of unlimited reproducibility and pending permanent disappearance, we can recognize the contours of two different book cultures: utilitarian books with texts for readers and rare or bibliophilic books regarded as valuable.  But what we think about particular texts and artifacts changes over time, and thus books move back and forth between these two cultures.

In their introduction to Provenance: An Alternate History of Art (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2012), Gail Feigenbaum and Inge Reist conceive of provenance as “a kind of shadow social history of art” (p. 3).  Books, though, are different from works of art – if we are disregarding livres d’artistes.  While works of art nowadays require provenance records as documentation of legal ownership, David Pearson observes in the introduction to his handbook about Provenance Research in Book History (2d ed. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2019) that the complete absence of any information about earlier owners is as common as the preservation of some details indicating a book’s social history (pp. 9–10).

It is against this backdrop that I will draw on selected holdings of Columbia University Libraries in order to explore how the officially available information about the provenance of manuscripts and printed books in Arabic script provides new insight into changing perceptions of their international trade and their value.  The investigation of their provenance and sale cannot be separated from the interrogation of the legitimacy of their ownership, because their social history inside and outside Muslim communities is linked to contemporary debates about Orientalism and Islamophobia.  I argue that the dual nature of books – they can be cultural heritage and run-of-the-mill cheap copies – necessitates a reflection about different concepts of individual and collective ownership vis-à-vis representations of power and historical responsibility.  

Note 1. With regard to the methodological challenge which is posed by the economic reality that books are commodities, and this economic reality comprises even rare luxury volumes which are manufactured to order for wealthy patrons or religious institutions, I find it useful to contrast the heritage value of mobile commodities such as old books to the heritage value of old buildings which can be neither replaced by a new copy nor picked up and whisked away; see Jaume Franquesa, “On Keeping and Selling: The Political Economy of Heritage Making in Contemporary Spain, Current Anthropology 54.3 (June 2013): 346-369; DOI: 10.1086/670620.

Note 2. While scholars investigate an artefact’s provenance when determining its authenticity or its legal owner, antiquarian book dealers explore the associations which form a book’s web of human relations in order to possibly enhance its emotional or intellectual value in the eyes of its customers. Three contemporary glossaries on book collecting, western codicology, and bookselling illustrate different perceptions of provenance vis-à-vis association, documenting that in the world of books provenance and association are complementary concepts.

John Carter and Nicolas Barker, ABC for Book Collectors, 8th ed. with corrections, Newcastle, Del.: Oak Knoll, 2006. 1t ed. in the UK, London: R. Hart-Davis, 1952.

Michelle P. Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms, London: BL, 1994.

Glossary on the website of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), available at: https://ilab.org/glossary

* Abstract of my talk at the workshop about Provenance: Interdisciplinary Conversations, organized by Emma Hagström Molin at the Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (Circus) of Uppsala University (Sweden). The ZOOM workshop will take place on 20-21 August 2020.

Enlarged, 16 August 2020

The Public Accountability of a Marie Curie Fellowship

On 31 January 2019, my Marie Curie Fellowship ended after twenty-four months.  The Horizon2020 rules for the MSCA Individual Fellowships stipulate that after sixty days the host institution and its Marie Curie Fellow have to submit a final report to the European Commission. This report comprises a public summary, eventually to be published on CORDIS (https://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/206308/factsheet/en), and a confidential technical account, the financial part of which is inaccessible to the fellow.  The grant’s final installment will only be released to the host institution, if it is decided, on the basis of this final report, that the fellowship was successful.  Below follows an advanced draft of the public summary, which is not yet structured in accordance with the public summary’s checklist. For the time being, scholars can apply for a Marie Curie Fellowship at any point of their career.  In keeping with the terminological conventions of Horizon2020 and the MSCA, Marie Curie Fellows are called Experienced Researcher (ER), even if they are less than seven years after the receipt of their degree (cf. the NEH distinction between junior and senior scholars).  However, a Marie Curie Fellow cannot be the Principal Investigator (PI) of her grant, since the fellowship is awarded to the host institution where her sponsor is responsible for the budget.  

Making Books Talk: The Material Evidence of Manuscripts of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ by Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ for the Reception of an Andalusian Biography of the Prophet between 1100 and 1900  

The project explored the transformation of an early twelfth-century Arabic treatise on Islamic dogma (Ar. ʿaqīda), which was written in the Islamic West, probably in the port city of Ceuta (Ar. Sabta), North Africa, into a work of pious literature that today is studied by Sunni Muslims all over the world.  The Kitāb al-shifāʾ bi-taʿrīf huqūq al-Muṣṭafā (“The book of healing concerning the recognition of the true facts about the Chosen One”) was composed by ʿIyāḍ b. Mūsā al-Ḥāfiẓ Abū’l-Faḍl al-Yaḥṣubī al-Sabtī (1083–1149 CE), also known as Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ.  Serving as a judge (Ar. qāḍī) in his hometown Ceuta between 1121 to 1147, as well as for less than a year, between 1135 and 1136, as a judge in Granada, Spain, Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ was a celebrated jurist of the Maliki school of law with a particular interest in historical accounts (Ar. ḥadīth “story, tradition”) about the prophet Muḥammad (d. 632). 

Societal Relevance.  The project’s publications provide concrete historical context for the current debates on religious diversity and Islamophobia in western societies.  On the one hand, the Kitāb al-shifāʾ is associated with Iberia before 1500, when Jews, Christians, and Muslims were still living, mostly peacefully, next to each other in societies with a high degree of religious and linguistic diversity.  Consequently, the project used a comparative approach to situate the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, as a biography of the prophet Muḥammad, in interdenominational discussions about false and true prophets, because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three monotheistic religions, agree that prophecy is one means of divine revelation.  On the other hand, the project traced the diffusion of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ in a long-term perspective, from the twelfth century to the present.  The focus on the work’s reception allowed the project to refute the widely repeated claim of Islam’s essentially unchanging and unchangeable “medieval nature,” commonly adduced as the reason as to why Islam and modernity are irreconcilable, by documenting how over time Muslim readers changed their approaches to and their understanding of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ.  

Scholarly Relevance.  The project selected the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, because it is an important twelfth-century source for the history of the Islamic West which never dropped out of circulation.  In publications on the legal and political history of Iberia and North Africa during the transition from the rule of the Almoravids (1061–1147) to that of the Almohads (1130–1269), scholars of Islam in Iberia—among others, Maribel Fierro, Cristina de la Puente, Delfina Serrano, Camilo Gómez-Rivas, and Javier Albarrán—draw on the work.  To this day Malikis continue to teach the book as a work of hadith scholarship and theology (Ar.ʿilm al-kalām), and yet, it has also transcended its historical and regional origins.  As documented by dated manuscript evidence, the Kitāb al-shifāʾ circulated widely in the Islamic East, outside Maliki circles, from the thirteenth century onwards, and became—in the words of  Annemarie Schimmel (1922–2003), a renowned scholar of Islam on the Indian Subcontinent—“perhaps the most frequently used and commented-upon handbook in which the Prophet’s life, his qualities, and his miracles are described in every detail” (And Muḥammad is his Messenger, 1985, p. 33).  Muslim publishers continually issue new printed versions, ranging from various editions of the Arabic text to translations into English, French, German, Spanish, Urdu, or Malay, while the number of digital surrogates of manuscripts and nineteenth-century printed versions available in digital depositories on the Internet is steadily increasing. 

Feasibility.  For some of the most important works of Islamic literature that were written in the Islamic West, just a single manuscript has been preserved.  Famous examples are the only known Arabic translation (ed. ʿA. al-Badawī, Beirut, 1982; and ed. M. Penelas, Madrid, 2001) of the Latin universal history Historiae adversum paganos (“History against the pagans”) by the Christian historian Orosius (active early 5th century); the love story of Bayāḍ and Riyāḍ (ed. A. d’Ottone, Vatican City, 2013); and the Ṭawq al-ḥamāma (“The ring of the dove”), a treatise on love by the philosopher Ibn Ḥazm (994–1064; cf. J. J. Witkam, “Establishing the stemma,” Manuscripts of the Middle East 3, 1988, pp. 88–101).  In contrast, hundreds of Kitāb al-shifāʾ manuscripts are preserved in accessible collections worldwide.  The rich manuscript tradition offers the invaluable opportunity to study the Kitāb al-shifāʾ’s diffusion in a long-term perspective.

State of the Art.  The Kitāb al-shifāʾ’s enduring popularity with Muslim readers from the thirteenth century onwards had not yet received any attention from scholars in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.  On the one hand, popularity is often mistaken as an indication that a literary work has already been comprehensively studied.  But so far, the Kitāb al-shifāʾ has been primarily valued as a source, which seems so well-known that nothing really new or original could be said about it.  On the other hand, the Kitāb al-shifāʾ is a comparatively late addition to the already substantial corpus of literature about the prophet’s life (Ar. sīra), of which the oldest known works were compiled in the late seventh century.  Even though Middle East historians are nowadays firmly committed to overcoming the Orientalist paradigm according to which “the West” generated knowledge about “the East” in order to perpetuate its global economic and political power, the contemporary western discourse on Islam and Muslim societies has remained anchored to the premise that the intellectual decline of the Islamic civilization from the thirteenth century onwards is one of the root causes for the undeniable socio-economic and political problems of twenty-first century Muslim societies in Eurasia and Africa.  The negative view of the Islamic civilization between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries has ensured that these centuries are perceived as a middling period and attract fewer scholars so that much less is known about them.

Objective.  Taking as a starting point the observation that the Kitāb al-shifāʾ is effectively invisible in scholarship as a work in its own right, the project adopted a change of perspective.  The work’s rich manuscript tradition was approached as a hitherto neglected opportunity to review established notions about the work and its author.  On its most general level, the project is designed as a proof-of-concept study.  Its main objective was to demonstrate that even for a well-known work like the Kitāb al-shifāʾ examining accessible manuscripts will generate fresh insights which, in turn, significantly advance our understanding of the intellectual and cultural history of the Islamic civilization, since they challenge, and often outright refute, received opinion.  In addition, the project highlights that manuscripts of popular works in accessible collections in Europe and North America are an underused “hidden” resource with great research potential.

Methodological Contributions.  The project’s methodological approach was based on the hermeneutic principle that historical facts about a work’s origins cannot be deduced from historical evidence for its later circulation, as composition and reception are different stages in a work’s life cycle.  But historical facts about a work’s circulation can, in a second step, support conjectures about its origins, thereby opening new avenues for further research.  With regard to the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, the project confronted two diametrically opposed challenges: on the one hand, the complete lack of internal or external evidence for the concrete circumstances in which Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ wrote the Kitāb al-shifāʾ in the first half of the twelfth century, and, on the other hand, a rich manuscript tradition for the book’s diffusion from the thirteenth century onwards.  In order to address both challenges simultaneously, the project combined the methodologies of manuscript studies with those from the Digital Humanities.  New concrete facts for the Kitāb al-shifāʾ’s diffusion were gleaned through the hands-on examination of its manuscripts, in particular dates and places for the production of manuscripts, or proper names and places for owners or readers.  With the help of a cataloguing template and a Data Management Plan (DMP), these diverse historical facts were systematically recorded as “data” so that they can be preserved in online repositories for future reuse (e.g., computational semantic analysis).

Historical Contributions.  The project has yielded surprising new insights into the evolution of pious literature, reading practice, and religious education in connection with the veneration of the prophet Muḥammad from the twelfth-century onwards.  The diffusion of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ was plurilinear, since the work could accommodate orthodox Maliki as well as more fluid Sufi readings.  In other words, the general Sunni reverence for the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, which is so richly documented from the fifteenth century onwards, was independent from the work’s Maliki origins in the Islamic West.  But the recent attention paid to possible connections between the Kitāb al-shifāʾ and Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ’s tenure as a judge in Granada—the city which thanks to the Alhambra is perhaps most vividly associated with the flowering of the Islamic civilization in Iberia—marks a new stage in the work’s reception, as it reflects the active appropriation of “al-Andalus” as a central site of communal memory for Muslims in Europe and North America in the twenty-first century.

Work and Dissemination.  The Experienced Researcher (ER) and her sponsor worked on the project.  In consultation with the Digital.CSIC, the ER wrote a cataloguing template and a DMP to organize and standardize the manuscript descriptions for a future online database, which will supplement the project’s publications about the Kitāb al-shifāʾ and can be analyzed with computational tools (e.g., mapping, visualization).  In collaboration with a colleague from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, the ER organized in Madrid a two-day international workshop about the comparative study of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim literatures about prophets and saints from Iberia between 600 and 1600.  They are now preparing for publication in 2020 a co-edited collective monograph with articles based on selected presentations.  The ER examined Kitāb al-shifāʾ manuscripts in Spanish, German, American, Dutch, and British libraries.  She participated in six conferences in Spain, Germany and the USA; in four workshops in Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands; in two seminars in the USA and in Spain; and in one panel discussion in Germany.  As regards outreach and dissemination, the ER wrote about the project on her research blog, and selected posts are available in the Digital.CSIC and the Academic Commons of Columbia University (USA).  She completed one article about the Kitāb al-shifāʾ in Ottoman book culture, which is in press and will be published later this year, and is currently completing two more articles; the three articles will be made available in Green Open-Access.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 706611.

Budapest, 7 February 2019: Presentation of the Marie Curie Fellowship Project

Center for Religious Studies, CEU – 15:30

Pious Reading as Spiritual Practice:
A Biography of the Prophet Muḥammad from Twelfth-Century Iberia


al-Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ, Kitāb al-shifāʾ. University of Michigan Library, Isl. MS 209, p. 640, detail. MS arab. h = 21 cm, dated 1269/1852

Individual or communal reading of revelation and other sacred literature is a spiritual practice across faith traditions in literate societies. The Kitāb al-shifāʾ bi-taʿrīf huqūq al-Muṣṭafā (“The book of healing concerning the recognition of the true facts about the Chosen One”) has been a bestseller of devotional literature with Muslim audiences for centuries, all over the world.  Its author ʿIyād b. Mūsā (1083–1149) was an important Maliki jurist who spent most of his professional life as a judge (qāḍī)  in Ceuta.  A loyal partisan of the Almoravid dynasty (1040–1147), Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ died in exile in Marrakesh, and became one of the saints of the city.  Drawing on the evidence of manuscripts and printed versions, this lecture will use the Shifāʾ to explore different modes of pious reading in Muslim societies since the twelfth century.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 706611.

Madrid, 22-23 February 2018: Workshop on Prophets and Saints in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia

Updated, 18 February 2018

Prophets in Medieval Iberia

One goal of my Marie Curie research project is to situate the Kitāb al-shifāʾ bi-taʿrīf huqūq al-Muṣṭafā (“The book of healing concerning the recognition of the true facts about the chosen one”), a work about the prophet Muḥammad (d. 632) compiled by the Maliki jurist Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ (1083-1149), within the context of medieval Iberian literature.  Taking as starting point the observation that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all three faith traditions have literature about prophets, I am co-organizing an international workshop with Benito Rial Costas, a specialist of the book in early modern Spain who teaches at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.  The workshop Of Prophets and Saints: Literary Traditions and “convivencia” in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia will take place in Madrid on February 22 and 23, 2018.  In the next weeks detailed information about the workshop’s program will be posted on its website.  Below follow some thoughts on the workshop’s rationale.  


Plate with Jonah and the whale
Tin-glazed earthenware, d = 41 cm, Talavera de la Reina, Toledo, c.1600, HSA LE2407
Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York

The international workshop will explore religious literature that originated under the particular conditions of “convivencia” in the societies of medieval and early modern Iberia.  It has twenty participants, eighteen invited colleagues and the two organizers, and will be open to the public.  It most general aim is to promote exchange and discussion between academics from Spain with scholars from other parts of Europe and North America.  The participants will employ comparative and interdisciplinary approaches to open new perspectives on how the coexistence of Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities on the Iberian Peninsula is reflected in their respective literary traditions.  The primary focus will be on works concerning prophets and saints.  Both are figures of spiritual authority, since each of the three religions acknowledges prophecy (Heb. nəb̲ūʾa, Lat. prophetia, Ar. nubuwwa) and holiness (cf. Heb. ẓaddik, Lat. sanctus, Ar. walī).  The workshop’s starting point is the hypothesis that literature about prophets and saints also reflected changing modes of religious coexistence, because in premodern societies every contact between religions was haunted by the fear that one’s own religion might have followed a false prophet.  The long experience of religious coexistence on the Iberian Peninsula—beginning with the Islamic invasion of the Visigothic kingdom (418–c.721 CE) in 711 and changing after the rise of the Almoravid dynasty (1040–1147), the Christian edict of conversion in 1391 and the anti-Jewish riots of 1392—also challenges contemporary notions of the roles of both Judaism and Islam in European societies.  Since the Holocaust, there has been a growing recognition of two millennia of Judeo-Christian civilization in Europe and North America.  Islam, however, is still seen as “other” and defined as being outside, if not incompatible with, western civilization (Richard Bulliet, The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization, New York City 2004).

The Historiographical Debate on “convivencia”

In research on medieval and early modern Iberia, the term “convivencia” serves as a shorthand for the fact that in the societies of medieval and early modern Iberia, at least until the fall of the Nasrid emirate of Granada (1230–1492), ruling elites of Muslims or Christians lived cheek to jowl with substantial minority communities of Christians, Muslims, or Jews.  Relations between these three communities were complicated, and included many forms of violence.  Boundaries between religious communities were nonetheless regularly crossed since the three communities were connected in myriad ways in the realms of politics and economics (e.g., Robert Burns, Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia, Cambridge 1984; Thomas Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages, 2d rev. ed., Leiden 2005).  Moreover, the relative demographic strength of minority communities vis-à-vis their respective ruling elites was unavoidably accompanied by at least some degree of personal acquaintance with neighbors who belonged to other faith communities (David Nirenberg, Communities of Violence, 2d printing with corrections, Princeton 1996, pp. 21-30).

Whenever Iberian societies are considered together with other Mediterranean societies in Asia Minor, the Levant, and North Africa, the Iberian experiences with “convivencia” appear as ordinary.  Jews, Christians, and Muslims were living next to or with each other under varying degrees of asymmetric violence since the emergence of Islam in the seventh century (Gil Anidjar, “Medieval Spain and the Integration of Memory,” in Islam and Public Controversy, ed. Nilüfer Göle, Farnham, Surrey 2013, pp. 217–226, esp. 218).  It is only from the vantage point of northwest Europe that the coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in medieval and early modern Iberia continues to be perceived as exceptional, since from France to the British Isles Christians were far less likely to live with or next to Jewish or Muslim neighbors.  Small Jewish communities were few and far between, and most Christians only encountered fictional Muslims in Church teachings and vernacular literature (for the best recent survey of the images of Islam in medieval European Christendom, see John Tolan, Saracens, New York City 2002).

It is therefore salient, though not surprising, that at the beginning of the twenty-first century the meaning of “convivencia” in medieval and early modern Iberia has remained fiercely contested (Manuela Marín, “Historical Images of al-Andalus and Andalusians,” in Myths, Historical Archetypes, and Symbolic Figures in Arabic Literature, eds. Anglika Neuwirth et al., Beirut 1999, pp. 409–421; Kenneth Baxter Wolf, “Convivencia in Medieval Spain,” Religion Compass 3/1, 2009, pp. 72–85).  The term most likely first entered Iberian studies in 1918, when Ramón Menéndez Pidal (1869–1968), a pioneer of comparative philology and literary history, used the phrase “la convivencia del hispano y el sajón que se reparten, con América, uno de los hemisferios del planeta” (pp. 13–14) in an article about “La lengua española,” written for the first issue of Hispania, the new journal of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.  But it was his use of “convivencia” in Los orígenes del español (Madrid 1926) that introduced the term into the twentieth-century continuation of the much older debate about the emergence of the modern Spanish language in a multilingual and religiously diverse medieval Iberia and its import for a Roman-Catholic Spanish identity at the core of twentieth-century Spanish nationalism (e.g., Arndt Brendecke, Imperium und Empirie, Cologne 2009; Patricia Hertel, Der erinnerte Halbmond, Berlin 2012).

In contrast, the debates on “convivencia” in Jewish and Middle Eastern studies are deeply informed by historical experiences of persecution and loss, in particular after 1492.  In Jewish studies, the term “convivencia” is linked to debates about the limits of acculturation despite the celebration of a thriving Sephardic culture, in particular between the eighth and the twelfth century (e.g., Yitzhak Fritz Baer, History of the Jews in Christian Spain, trans. from the Hebrew by Louis Schoffman, 2 vols., Philadelphia 1961–1966; Seth Kimmel, Parables of Coercion, Chicago 2015).  In Middle Eastern studies, “convivencia” under the rule of the Umayyad dynasty of Cordoba (756–1031) is cherished as one of the highpoints of medieval Islamic civilization (e.g., María Rosa Menocal, Ornament of the World, Boston 2002; cf. Bruno Soravia, “Al-Andalus au miroir du multiculturalisme,” in Al-Andalus/España, ed. Manuela Marín, Madrid 2009, pp. 351–365).

Material Evidence of Acculturation

That “convivencia” was accompanied by varying degrees and forms of acculturation is well attested in the arts and literature of medieval and early modern Iberia.  Art historians discuss the traditional distinctions between “mozárabe” and “mudéjar” when probing how Christians or Muslims, as well as Jews, under Muslim or Christian rule responded to the cultural norms of their respective ruling elites (cf. exhibition catalogs such as Convivencia, Jewish Museum in New York City, 1992; Caliphs and Kings, Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC 2004).  With regard to the uses of language and literacy, extant Romance documents written in the Hebrew or the Arabic script (i.e., Aljamiado) have prompted reflections about diglossia and bilingualism (e.g., Federico Corriente, Diccionario de arabismos, Madrid 1999; David Wacks, Double Diaspora in Sephardic Literature, Bloomington, Ind. 2015; Olivier Brisville-Fertin, “¿Aljamía o aljamiado?,” Atalaya, no. 16, 2016, available at:  http://atalaya.revues.org/1791).  Stanzaic poetry (e.g., Otto Zwartjes, Love Songs from al-Andalus, Leiden 1997) and frametale narrative (e.g., Karla Nielsen, “Sewing on the Frame,” PhD diss., University of California Berkeley 2010) demonstrate the diffusion of literary genres across the boundaries of religious communities.

The Fear of False Prophets

Religious coexistence, however, presented serious theological and spiritual challenges, as in medieval and early modern societies there was no religious tolerance in the modern sense of the term.  The legal concept of a secular society in which the full privileges of citizenship are independent of private religious belief did first become law in the French Civil Code of 1804.  In medieval and early modern Iberia, Jews, Christians, and Muslims considered themselves followers of a true prophet who had revealed God’s will, which, in turn, was demonstrated in the well-being of God’s chosen community on earth.  Since in all three religious communities prophets were recognized as instruments of divine revelation, there was considerable anxiety about proving the truth of one’s own prophet when exposing the falsehood of rival prophets.  Apologetic and polemic works from medieval and early modern Iberia vividly illustrate how the experience of oppression on earth added spiritual insult to physical injury, as it raised the specter that a community’s defeat had been preordained because they were following a false, and not a true prophet (e.g., Mercedes García-Arenal and Fernando Rodríguez Mediano, Un oriente español, Madrid 2010; Paola Tartakoff, Between Christian and Jew, Philadelphia 2012; Ryan Szpiech, Conversion and Narrative, Philadelphia 2013).  To minorities at the receiving end, hagiographic literature about the lives of prophets and saints was therefore of great practical value, since it provided guidance and consolation whenever a religious community was ruled by those whom they regarded as followers of a false prophet.  By the middle of the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Portugal, and Navarre controlled most of the Iberian Pensinsula, while the Nasrid emirate in Granada only held the coastal lands along the southern Mediterranean.  Among Iberian Muslims, the demand for works about the life of the prophet Muḥammad (d. 632) went hand in hand with an exploration of literature about jihad (Ar. jihād lit. “struggle, striving”), and there was intense scholarly debate how hadith ascribed to the prophet Muḥammad (Ar. ḥadīth lit. “narrative, talk”) foretold the fate of their community (Maribel Fierro, “Doctrinas y movimientos de tipo mesiánico en al-Andalus,” in Milenarismos y milenaristas en la Europa medieval, ed. José Ignacio de la Iglesia Duarte, Logroño 1999, pp. 159–175, here p. 160; cf. Javier Albarrán, Veneración y polémica, Madrid 2015).  Conversely, the rich Sephardic literature about the Messiah provided its Jewish readers with much sought affirmation of a positive Jewish identity (Benjamin Gampel, “A Letter to a Wayward Teacher,” in Cultures of the Jews, ed. David Biale, New York City 2002, pp. 388–447, here p. 421; cf. Howard Kreisel, Prophecy, Dordrecht 2001).

Comparison and Specificity

It is against this background that the workshop will use literature about prophets and saints from Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities to explore “convivencia” in medieval and early modern Iberia.  Its methodological approach is the assumption that context-specific investigations will build strong foundations for a fresh interdisciplinary discussion, since concrete literary examples necessitate terminological precision.  This specificity will, in turn, serve as safeguard against the hermeneutic pitfall of projecting any particular meaning of “convivencia” unto the interpretation of these sources about important figures of religious authority, since the “problem is not so much the designations themselves, but rather the generalizations that have arisen in their usage.” (María Judith Feliciano and Leyla Rouhi, “Interrogating Iberian Frontiers,” Medieval Encounters 12, 2006, p. 323).

 

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 706611.

Taking Measure of a Forest with too Many Trees

Sampling problems often tell researchers about the topic they are studying.

Gaye Tuchman and Nina Fortin, Edging Women Out, 1989

All categories of evidence available to scholars are heavily dependent on patterns of recording and publication.

Christopher Howgego, Ancient History from Coins, 1995

For the next twenty-three months I will use this blog to report regularly on MASHQI (http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/206308_en.html), the research project of my Marie Curie Fellowship at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Madrid.  At the Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas del Mediterráneo y Oriente Próximo (ILC) of the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales (CCHS) I will be working on the transmission and reception of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ bi-taʿrīf huqūq al-Muṣṭafā (“The book of healing concerning the recognition of the true facts about the chosen one”) by ʿIyāḍ b. Mūsā Abū’l-Faḍl al-Yaḥṣubī al-Sabtī (1083-1149), a highly regarded authority of Maliki Islam, also known as Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ.  At the CSIC, the project is sponsored by Professor Maribel Fierro, and its origins are our shared interest in the Kitāb al-shifāʾ’s continuing popularity with Muslim readers in the early twenty-first century.

In Middle Eastern and Islamic studies there is a marked preference for works for which at most a few copies have been preserved.  The situation reflects in part the pragmatism of a field with fewer scholars than fields such as history or English studies.  We do know that there are still too many texts in Arabic, Persian, or Turkish, as well as in the languages of Muslim communities in Africa, Central Asia, China, and the Pacific Rim, which have not yet received any scholarly attention at all.  While the discovery of new texts and unknown authors will make an obvious contribution to the human knowledge base, the focus on the not yet discovered is not without drawbacks.  Familiar works and authors are deeply integrated into our research infrastructure, because they constitute the foundations of our knowledge of the history of Muslim societies.  Consequently, the assumptions upon which this received disciplinary consensus rests is rarely questioned.  On the one hand, it is difficult to be critical of that which is familiar.  There is simply not enough distance to see the rough edges and contradictions that are so obvious from afar.  On the other hand, time and funding are always limited.  In order to complete research projects on a tight schedule, it is important to be careful about the battles we pick.  Not every fight is worth having – whatever the whisperings of our heroic id.

Against this backdrop, my project tries to accomplish two goals.  The first is to use the Kitāb al-shifāʾ as a test case for the practical challenges of how to study a work with an extraordinarily rich transmission history.  Luckily, these practical challenges are not unique to the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, and I can draw on research in quantitative codicology, enumerative bibliography, and the digital humanities in order to design my own approach.  The second goal is to explore the reception of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ outside the Islamic West and the strongholds of Maliki Islam.  My working assumption is that the diachronic study of a work’s reception provides insights into changing interpretations of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ which, in turn, serve as indispensable safeguards against any facile explanation for the enduring popularity of a twelfth-century work of hadith scholarship in the early twenty-first century.  In this context I will also explore questions about the Kitāb al-shifāʾ’s literary genre.  How does the Kitāb al-shifāʾ fit into the system of learned Islamic literature in the early twelfth century?  I am furthermore keen to consider the Kitāb al-shifāʾ within the larger context of comparative hagiography, as literature about the lives of exceptionally holy men and women can be found in most religious traditions.

The Marie Curie Fellowship will allow me to conduct this research at one of the most important centers for the study of Islam in Iberia and Africa.  Having arrived at the CCHS on 31 January 2017, for the last month I was very much preoccupied with getting settled in a new environment.  At the end of March, the project has to pass its first milestone: the cataloguing template of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ‘s online database.  One of the methodological challenges of any quantitative, cliometric approach is how to account for the truism that each corpus is also the outcome of chance and serendipity, although their importance varies from case to case.  At the same time, the complimentary risk of missing the forest for the trees is equally grave.  Nonetheless, the definition of the fields of the cataloguing template must happen at the beginning of the project, as the online database will unite the circa two-hundred references to manuscript copies and printed versions of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, which Maribel Fierro and I have collected independently for years.  The template’s fields will determine how the database can be sorted, and thus their definitions will predetermine how this corpus can be examined and analyzed.

To illustrate these abstract considerations with a concrete example, in October 2015 Madrasa Editorial published in Granada the first Spanish translation of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, which had been prepared by the prolific translator Abdelghani Melara Navío.  Since I am focused on the Kitāb al-shifāʾ’s reception before 1900, the logical conclusion would be to exclude all printed versions, in whatever language, from the corpus published after 1900.  Unfortunately, at this point it is difficult to assess the downside of excluding the continuing publication of new versions of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ in Arabic, as well as in new English and French translations since 1900.  How important are these contemporary versions for a deeper understanding of the roles of the Kitāb al-shifāʾ in the spiritual and intellectual lives of earlier generations of Muslim readers?

The record of the first Spanish translation in the online catalogue of the Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE) indicates that the library owns not just one, but two copies:

The visual teaser that accompanied Abdelghani Melara Navío’s announcement of his new translation, posted on 30 October 2015 on the blog Islam Hoy, stresses that Spanish reading Muslims have now access to the Kitāb al-shifāʾ in their own language:

One of three images that accompanies the listing of the Spanish translation on AMAZON’s Spanish website shows the book against the backdrop of the Alhambra, one of the important lieux de memoires of Islam on the Iberian Peninsula which is connected with the biography of Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ:

One of the images in the banner of the translation’s publisher Madrasa Editorial, which is located in Granada, indicates which exalted company Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ and his Kitāb al-shifāʾ are keeping:

NB – I would like to thank Javier Albarrán Iruela for bringing the Spanish translation to my attention.

 

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 706611.

“All You Can Do with Catalogs”

In 2015 the Forum Transregionale Studien (TraFo) in Berlin awarded Paola Molino, at that time Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ludwig Maximilians Universität (LMU) in Munich, a grant for the organization of an exploratory workshop on information management in early modern societies.  While working on her application, Paola Molino had invited Martina Siebert, Guy Burak, and me to join her as co-convenors.  The workshop was held in Berlin on 6 October 2016 in the Staatsbibliothek (SBB), and on 7 October 2016 in the rooms of the TraFo.

In February 2017 Paola Molino submitted her official final report about the workshop to the TraFo.  Her version was written with the co-convenors, with contributions by Anne MacKinney, and is available here.  The following text includes sections from earlier interim drafts, and is therefore more detailed.

This project began with a serendipitous crossing of the paths of four scholars working on the transmission of knowledge and the history of science in European, Middle Eastern, and East Asian societies.   All of us have extensive experience with libraries—as readers, catalogers, and librarians—and hence quickly found common ground in our abiding interest in the composition of finding aids between 1400 and 1800 ce.  In western Europe, during the early modern era, the transformation of feudal societies into territorial states prompted the ruling elites to invest into the construction of imperial libraries and archives, whose design projected transregional connections and supranational ambitions to the world at large.  Although new cataloging principles emerged for the collections housed within these new physical spaces, they did not explicitly break with the already recognized knowledge traditions, and rather attempted to integrate the established authoritative epistemes into new classificatory regimes.   These finding aids are fascinating objects in their own right: as artifacts they are primarily paper tools and, yet, their written contents can also be understood as a graphic representation of ideas.  Therefore, we decided to focus our exploratory workshop on the catalogues themselves.  One of our goals was to cross over the institutional barriers of memory institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums, as they often generate a confrontational relationship between readers and librarians.   We invited colleagues with a wide range of expertise to reflect on the roles of finding aids within the history of their own academic disciplines.  The transformation of concepts of knowledge—from fifteenth-century Humanism to eighteenth-century Enlightenment and nineteenth-century Positivism—has already received significant scholarly attention, and it has been studied from the bottom-up through tracking the interpersonal transmission of knowledge, and from the top-down by analyzing how imperial institutions, such as academies and universities, supported the diffusion of knowledge.  Against this backdrop, the workshop pursued the nexus between the catalogued items—whether written texts or material artifacts—and the concrete, practical power of a catalogue.  How were finding aids employed as instruments for transforming amassed holdings into a collection’s apparent order?  Conversely, how were cataloging ventures expressions of a ruler’s sophistication through the effective control of precious, rare assets?  In the daily business of doing research catalogues are usually experienced as humble tools and inevitable intermediaries operating as transparent, and thus seemingly neutral, interfaces between readers and written texts.  We wanted to use the exploratory workshop for comparing finding aids in different cultural traditions in order to open fresh views of these very familiar resources—as if they had suddenly changed into unexplored territories.

The workshop comprised five sessions.  We were joined by fifteen established scholars and around two dozen registered guests.  In addition, we included four lightning talks by Sebastian Felten, Celeste Gianni, Anne MacKinney, and Julian zur Lage, since they are currently working on research projects related to the history of information management in a transregional perspective.  On the first day the workshop was held in the Simón Bolívar Lecture Hall, generously made available by the Berlin Staatsbibliothek.  Since the hands-on examination of a catalog’s handwritten or printed copy is an indispensable part of research on their intellectual history, we are grateful that the Staatsbibliothek allowed us to draw on its rich collections for a show-and-tell.  For the second day we convened in the rooms of the Forum Transregionale Studien.

The workshop opened with a session on the epistemology of catalogues, and was chaired by Nur Sobers Khan, a curator at the British library and a historian of Turco-Persian societies after 1500.  Paola Molino, Islam Dayeh, and Martina Siebert investigated how the construction of libraries and the design of their research facilities developed in conjunction with the organization of finding aids.  Molino focused on early modern Europe, Dayeh examined Arabic finding aids from the Arab world before 1500, and Siebert surveyed the development of Chinese bibliography between the first and the nineteenth century.  The speakers agreed that the refinement of classification schemes went hand in hand with a growing demand for the systematization of knowledge.  Particular attention was given to the technical terminology of classification schemes vis-à-vis the various purposes of bibliographical information, and to the appreciation of finding aids as intellectual achievements in their own right.  In the discussion, we explored the possibility of a methodology for the study of finding aids as sources for a transregional history of knowledge.   What is the impact of ideology on classification schemes?  To which degree are cataloging ventures driven by the universal human experience of loss and the complimentary desire to prevent the destruction of cultural heritage?  What is the relationship between technological change in the reproduction of written language (e.g., manuscript books, blockprinted books, books printed with moveable letters), levels of book production, and approaches to the compilation of bibliographical information?

The show-and-tell highlighted some of the important Latin, Arabic, and Japanese finding aids in the Staatsbibliothek’s collections.  Ursula Winter presented the holograph of the Catalogus manuscriptorum by Johann Raue (1610–1679), the first librarian of Berlin’s Kurfürstlicher Bibliothek (Electoral Library, est. 1661).  In 1668, after Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg (r. 1640–1688) had opened his Electoral Library to outside readers, Raue compiled the first catalogue of the new library’s manuscript holdings, arranging these codices according to how they were shelved within the library.  Raue’s Catalogus illustrated the possible interdependence between library architecture and a catalogue’s systematic arrangement (cf. the use of so-called shelf lists as strictly internal methods of inventory control).  Christoph Rauch und Dagmar Riedel explored how bibliographical information was transmitted in Muslim societies by contrasting two Arabic manuscript copies (dated 1724 and c.1840 respectively) of the Kashf al-ẓunūn ʿan asāmī al-kutub wa’l-funūn (“The removal of doubts from the titles of books and the scholarly disciplines”) with an Arabic fragment (dated 14th or 15th cent.) of the Wafayāt al-aʿyān (“Death dates of notables”).  The Wafayāt by Ibn Khallikān (1211–1282) is a bio-bibliographical dictionary and the Kashf by Katib Çelebi (1609–1657) a title catalogue in alphabetical order, but neither the Wafayāt nor the Kashf was designed as a finding aid for the holdings of a particular library.  Exploring the affinities between catalogues, anthologies, and book collections,  Ronny Vollandt showed an Arabic manuscript (dated 1325) with an anthology of prophetic books from the Old Testament, al-Jawhar al-muḍīy fī’l-sittat-ʿashar al-nabī (“The essential content of the sixteen prophets”), and Christian Dunkel explained a private collection of Japanese bookseller catalogues.

The second session investigated catalogues as means to the mastery of knowledge, and featured presentations by Christian Jacob, Seth Kimmel, and Alberto Cevolini.  Arndt Brendeke, a historian of early modern Europe, presided over this session.  Drawing on Kantian epistemology, Jacob highlighted the power of catalogues.  He argued that knowledge is always bound to specific historical circumstances, so that the organization of finding aids reflects concrete human practices of the transmission of knowledge.  Comparing finding aids and maps, Jacob suggested that insights gleaned from research on maps can be employed to advance our understanding of information management through catalogues.   Kimmel used the ultimately failed project of a grand universal library, which the Spanish cartographer, explorer, and bibliophile Hernando Colón (1488–1539) had pursued in Seville, to explore tensions between the Humanist ideal of universal knowledge and Spain’s politics of conquest in the Americas.  In contrast, Cevolini focused on a mechanical indexing device for the storage of written notes and excerpts, known as the “ark of studies“ and designed by the otherwise obscure Thomas Harrison (1595–1649) in the midst of the English Civil Wars.  Cevolini described the “ark“ as an external memory, and interpreted it as a disruptive invention which showed how new cognitive habits were accompanied by new organizational strategies.  Approaching the  “ark“ from the perspective of the sociology of knowledge, Cevolini argued that from the 1450s onwards, after the invention of letterpress printing in western Europe, readers had to confront a dramatic information overload because of steadily increasing levels of book production.  In the discussion, Cevolini’s interpretation of the “ark“ was challenged for its rather negative view of information management in manuscript cultures and its complimentary teleological belief in the inevitable progress of technological change.

The second day opened with a session dedicated to the cataloging of books, handwritten or printed, in Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian.  The presentations by Christoph Rauch, Emile Schrijver, and Francs Richard, who all have worked as catalogers and librarians, combined an examination of the historical development of cataloging standards with observations about the impact of digitization on the access to books in the twenty-first century.  Its chair was Guy Burak, a librarian at New York University and a legal historian of the Ottoman empire.  Rauch used the history of  the Berlin Staatsbibliothek’s Arabic manuscript collection to highlight the importance of scholarly expertise for the cataloging of texts in Semitic languages which were not widely taught at nineteenth-century German universities.  While Rauch presented the cataloging history of a state-owned collection, Schrijver explored the challenges posed by cataloging the books of a religious minority, and surveyed how the history of Hebrew bibliography reflects the precarious life of the Jewish diaspora in western Europe.   Because of the hearty embrace of digitization for the preservation of Jewish Schriftkultur Schrijver examined how digital surrogates are changing the roles of both libraries and catalogs.  Since readers increasingly rely on global online catalogs in order to access books as digital surrogates in global online collections, such as those of the National Library of Israel, what will happen to the relationship between a library’s spatial organization and the systematics of its catalogs?  Richard‘s presentation took as its starting point the cataloging practices in Muslim societies since the tenth and eleventh centuries.  Although there is much evidence for vibrant library traditions in Turkey, Iran, and India, very few catalogs of historical library collections have come down to us.  Richard observed that the librarian’s personal responsibility for a collection under his care might have worked as a disincentive for the compilation of publicly available finding aids, since a catalog can also be used to control the work of the librarian.  At the same time, Richard was sceptical about the current practice of ‘digitize first, catalog later‘, arguing that digital surrogates of uncatalogd books are effectively inaccessible as no catalog can be searched for unidentified items.  The discussion was dominated by questions about digital screens as today’s omnipresent interface between readers, catalogs, and books, since some well-funded western libraries are encouraging readers to set up online accounts in order to create their own digital collection of the depository’s holdings.  Does the access to the contents of books through digital surrogates imply changing ideas of who owns the physical artifacts and consequently pays for their cataloging?  What is the reader’s responsibility for the physical artifact if she only is engaging with its digital surrogate as downloaded unto her own computer?  We also observed that digital surrogates are accompanied by their own access barriers, since readers need a working internet connection in order to benefit from Open Access depositories such as Gallica.

The fourth session approached catalogs from the micro perspective of individual sample entries, and juxtaposed the British cataloging of Persian literature with the Ottoman cataloging of North African literature.  It was chaired by Ronny Vollandt, a Semitist and a specialist of biblical manuscripts.  Nilanjar Sarkar’s case study was the entry on a manuscript copy of the Fatāwā-yi jahāndārī (“Imperial legal opinions”) in the highly regarded and still indispensable Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office (1903) by Hermann Ethé (1844–1917).  Although Ethé was a very accomplished scholar of Persian literature, he did not recognize that the Fatāwā is a work of advice literature which originated in Dehli around 1350, and wrongly identified a work of belles-lettres as an anthology of historical legal opinions.  Sarkar examined to which degree Ethé‘s cataloging error reflected British colonial attitudes to the knowledge traditions of pre-colonial Muslim India.  Guy Burak and Dagmar Riedel used the entry on the Dalāʾil al-khayrāt (“Signs of good deeds”) in the aforementioned Kashf al-ẓunūn to demonstrate that scholars inside and outside Muslim societies approached this alphabetic title catalog as a work of pragmatic literature which everyone could adapt and correct in accordance with their own particular needs.  In different manuscript copies and printed versions of the Kashf, the entries on the Dalāʾil, which is a widely used prayerbook by the North African Sufi Ibn Jazūlī (1404–1465), vary considerably.  These variances can nonetheless seem insignificant, since this prayerbook is so well known.  In the discussion we returned to the point, made by Christian Jacob during the second session, that catalogs are never neutral collections of facts as their production cannot be independent from the ideological commitments of their compilers.  But we also explored the importance of errors and misreadings for the transregional diffusion of knowledge.

The global historian Sebastian Conrad chaired the workshop’s fifth and final session on catalogs of books related to East Asian societies. Michael Facius, Florence Hsia, and Joachim Kurtz discussed synchronicity in knowledge management, and challenged the evidence of transregional influence and interdependence in order to probe the nature of knowledge circulation.  Facius analyzed how the library of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1867) served as an important node in the knowledge networks of early modern Japan.  He examined the relationship between the catalogs of the Shogunate Library and the Nagasaki commissariat’s control of the import of books in Chinese and other foreign languages.  Hsia used the historical development of sinological archives in early modern Europe to pursue the sociological dimensions of list-making.  She examined in particular the challenges posed by the task of cataloging Chinese texts within the Jesuit tradition of bio-bibliographies, and the efforts of Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) to identify the Chinese books held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  Joachim Kurtz took the torrent of publications translated into Chinese between 1895 and 1911 as an indicator and a factor in the drastic remaking of China’s intellectual landscape in the waning years of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912).  These catalogs were compiled by publishers as well as scholars and reformists, and range from thinly veiled advertisements to analytical reviews of new branches of learning.  Taken together, they provide ample evidence for changing intellectual emphases, new epistemic ideals, and consequential taxonomic shifts that hastened the demise of China’s imperial order with the end of the Qing dynasty.

In sum, we organized the workshop in order to examine catalogs as intellectual enterprises and material artifacts within a transregional framework.  Its starting point was a gesture of inversion, since usually catalogs are consulted for reference purposes, and not studied in their own right.  The workshop’s focus on the comparative analysis of catalogs from a wide range of European, Middle Eastern, and East Asian societies allowed us to explore similarities and differences in their compilation, while being mindful of the dynamics between catalogers and readers.  The intellectual generosity of all participants ensured stimulating debates that revealed the potential of not yet explored sources and yielded numerous new ideas for future research projects.  Venturing beyond the comfort zone of one’s own discipline is always a challenge, and we deeply appreciate that the Forum Transregionale Studien gave us the unique opportunity to take this risk.