With its scope and diverse subject matter, Arabic literature is one of the richest in the world. Beginning in the 7th century CE, it blossomed within a civilization characterized by a vast network of cultural traditions and ties that were shaped by Islam. Like the Akkadian and Chinese literatures, Arabic literature is an ancient and erudite archive of knowledge. Until well into the 19th century, its transmission was mostly in manuscript form. This manuscript heritage is one of the largest in the world, certainly numbering more than a million items.
The Bibliotheca Arabica project is dedicated to centuries of this written tradition that have not thus far received sufficient attention from scholars. By combining literary and manuscript studies, the project aims to gain new insights into Arabic literature from 1150 to 1850 CE. Ways of production, transmission, and reception of texts will be analysed with a transregional perspective that will go beyond the famous cultural centres, namely Egypt and Syria. Together with the works of literature themselves—including religious and scientific texts—focus is placed on individuals, such as authors who wrote on specific topics, readers who made use of certain works, owners who collected the manuscripts into libraries, and scholars who commented on various works and ensured their transmission through time and across regions. Recording and cross-linking names and activities in a digital research platform will create a resource for exploring the local and translocal dynamics that shaped cultural life. To this end, the project’s online database will integrate specific information from manuscript catalogues (such as titles, names, institutions, locations, and dates), as well as notes from within the manuscripts themselves (such as readers’ and owners’ entries, colophons, and selected annotations).
As a central tool within Arabic Studies, the digital database of the Bibliotheca Arabica project provides access to research on the Arabic-language manuscript heritage to scholars of many other disciplines interested in exploring the religious and ethnic communities shaped by Islamic influences. Accordingly it is a relevant and valuable resource for African Studies, Semitic Studies, Indology, Persian and Iranian Studies, Coptic Studies, Ottoman Studies, and Central Asian Studies.