e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “Islamic manuscripts”

Islamic Manuscripts

TIMAWhile browsing through Twitter I came across mention of The Islamic Manuscript Association. I’d not heard of it before so naturally I googled it.

Their website led me down several new-to-me and forgotten-by-me paths of knowledge. Among other things they have a list of links to relevant organisations, and what should I find there but a link to the Library of Congress Romanization Tables, which I used to consult when I was a student working part time filing Library of Congress cards. One for Memory Lane.

Another of their links led to an organisation called Thesaurus Islamicus which is concerned with preservation of the Islamic patrimony. I’m not sure why they include ‘Thesaurus’ in their name as they seem to do much more than assemble words.

And I found a lovely new-to-me word: codicology. It is the study of books as physical objects. It’s apparently a slightly vague term. It may include things like studying the handwriting, marginalia and illustrations as well as attributes like inks, paper, parchment, binding and so on. According to Wikipedia, codicologists may also study the history of libraries and other collections.

A special word for the study of books! I really like that. So now when I buy a new book because I admire its binding and illustrations I’m participating, in a tiny way, in codicology.

Hay-on-Wye and Timbuktu

While browsing the web trying to find an answer to the question:

Why does the small, Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye have so many bookshops?

I came across the information that it is twinned with Timbuktu.

The reason is not hard to find – Timbuktu is also famous for books, this time in libraries. These libraries contain diverse and important collections of Islamic manuscripts.

There have been recent instances of extremist rebels damaging shrines and monuments in the area. So far the libraries are safe but they are still very vulnerable. To make them safer the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project has been studying and digitising their contents, but with so much material this is a long process.

In addition to important works of Islamic scholarship, these collections also form a major source for the study of African history. Even in apparently purely religious texts there are often little notes in the margins giving local details. This is part of the charm of old books – other readers have been here before and left their mark. For a modern version of this take a look at Bundle of Books for 9 July.

My question:

Why does Timbuktu have so many libraries?

is quite easily answered. It was a major trading settlement that grew into an important city on a meeting point of desert and river valley, with a mixed and intellectually active population. From different parts of the Islamic world people came (and still come) to study and contribute to the scholarship in the city.

I still haven’t found the answer to my first question. The nearest I can get is that  Hay-on-Wye sits on a meeting point – this time of England and Wales – and is full of enterprising and intellectually active people. Through its festivals it has numerous visitors from the world of readers and writers.

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