In this article, we explore the history of the development of the Islamicate manuscript collection at the Columbia University Libraries (approximately 575 manuscripts across a wide range of languages, subjects, and periods). The story of the collection is one of checkered growth and engagement, and of serendipitous development. We focus on the key actors responsible for collecting activities, mainly donors and faculty, and provide biographical information as well as details regarding the specific contributions made. Three broad phases of development are identified: the birth of the collection (1880–1930); a period of growth: the Smith-Plimpton Islamic science manuscripts (1930–1950); Arthur Jeffery, the Burke Collection and the last gasp of orientalist philological research at Columbia (1950–1970). We try to account for the ebb and flow of interest in the collection within the larger scholarly context of Islamic and Near Eastern studies in the city and at the University.
This article examines a copy of Farhād Mīrzā’s Jām-i Jam (the World-Revealing Goblet) published in 1856 in Tehran and kept at Columbia University Library offsite storage. It demonstrates the dual importance of this book in geographic knowledge production and as part of the library of Saʿīd Nafīsī, one of the most prominent Iranian scholars of Persian literature. Methodologically, the paper offers various ways to study a single lithograph to decipher larger historical processes in histories of education, translation, and print. First, it analyzes the paratext to expose scholarly and political networks in order to examine the genealogy of geographic knowledge production in mid-nineteenth century Qajar Iran. Second, it studies the content and translation practices employed by Farhād Mīrzā to offer novel strategies for analyzing dissemination and reception of new ways of production and categorization of geographic knowledge as well as methods utilized in composition of pedagogical geography books. Finally, it discusses how cataloging practices affect current scholarship and lead to rendering certain texts “hidden.” It therefore illustrates how the study of Farhād Mīrzā’s Jām-i Jam, a book aspiring to reveal the world, can expose much about scholarly practices not only in the past but also the present.
Historiography on the introduction of the Copernican astronomical paradigm in Iran has acknowledged the presence of Persian treatises from India in early-nineteenth century Qajar Iran for some time. In spite of this acknowledgment, the processes by which the modern paradigm was transmitted to Iran via the subcontinent have remained shrouded in mystery for the most part. MS Or. 462 at Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, represents a unique early nineteenth-century composite manuscript (majmūʿah), in which, alongside treatises belonging to the premodern Ptolemaic paradigm, appears an entry on the Copernican planetary system. The treatise in question, titled “The discovery of the novel opinions of the sages of Europe” (Istikshāf-i rāyhā-yi tāzah-ʾi ḥakīmān-i farang), outlines the expanding geographical knowledge of Europe as well as the cosmological revisions of Copernicus and Newton, among other unnamed European scholars. In this article, we first examine the treatise’s connection to its Indo-Persian source and present an overview of its content on the new Copernican cosmology. Furthermore, we examine an encounter between proponents and detractors of the new scientific paradigm as detailed at the end of the treatise. Finally, we draw a few conclusions about the introduction of modernity and modern science into nineteenth-century Qajar Iran, based on the information that can be retrieved from this treatise.
In 1905, Dr. S. Pissareff from St. Petersburg was involved in the production of 50 copies of an earlier Qurʾān codex. The original, namely the Qurʾān codex first discovered to western gaze around the mid 19th century, held in the Khoja Akhrar mosque in Samarqand, is a large-sized Qurʾānic manuscript written in Kufic on parchment with hardly any use of punctuation or vowel marks. This codex has been traditionally regarded as the muṣḥaf of ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, the third caliph (murdered in 656), and was said to have been brought from Iraq by Timur. This essay presents the ‘Pissareff copy’ kept at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, discusses its specific status as residing in the grey zone between reproduction and copy, and aims at setting it in the larger context of ‘copies’ of Qurʾān codices.
This study examines an early-seventeenth century copy of a popular book in Ottoman Turkish originally composed by Nevʿī Efendi (d. 1599) in the early 1570s. With around 150 extant copies available in almost every major Islamic manuscript collection across the world, Nevʿī Efendi’s compendium, or the “fruits,” of sciences (Netāyicü’l-fünūn) deserves to be called an early modern bestseller among the Ottoman reading public. The particular copy of the work located at Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Or. 360) is a notable one with numerous minhu records (i.e., marginal glosses one could trace back to the author) written in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. In this article, besides situating Nevʿī Efendi’s work in the broader genre of taṣnīf al-ʿulūm (classification of sciences) in the Ottoman as well as the broader Islamicate realm of learning, I will pay closer attention to discussing the minhu notes that present intriguing insights into the questions of what a published work meant in the age of manuscripts, and how the continuous interventions on the text made by the author, and possibly by the copyists and readers, enrich as well as shuffle the “authentic” contents of the “published” version.
This article examines an Arabic mathematical manuscript at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (or. 45), focusing on a previously unpublished set of texts: the treatise on the mathematical method known as Double False Position, as supplemented by Jābir ibn Ibrāhīm al-Ṣābī (tenth century?), and the commentaries by Aḥmad ibn al-Sarī (d. 548/1153–4) and Saʿd al-Dīn Asʿad ibn Saʿīd al-Hamadhānī (12th/13th century?), the latter previously unnoticed. The article sketches the contents of the manuscript, then offers an editio princeps, translation, and analysis of the treatise. It then considers how the Swiss historian of mathematics Heinrich Suter (1848–1922) read Jābir’s treatise (as contained in a different manuscript) before concluding with my own proposal for how to go about reading this mathematical text: as a witness of multiple stages of a complex textual tradition of teaching, extending, and rethinking mathematics—that is, we should read it philologically.
Persian narrative sources provide a colorful picture of Mughal courtly life, but in order to zoom in on cultural practices one has to turn to the artefacts of cultural pursuits. This article studies one specimen of the empirical treasure trove of Arabic manuscripts in South Asia in order to approach a lacuna in Mughal scholarship: the role of Arabic at the Mughal court. In the following, I will analyze the different paratextual layers of a manuscript of the thirteenth century Arabic grammar commentary Sharḥ al-Radī by Radī al-Dīn al-Astarābādhī to study its reading and transmission. The manuscript version represents a written artefact, which emerged out of a series of intellectual engagements. On the one hand, these textual engagements offer a perspective on the manuscript’s initial owner, Saʿd Allāh Khān (d. 1656), and his intellectual pursuits, as well as the scholarly framework in which he was brought up and worked in. On the other hand, the history of this manuscript’s circulation highlights the treatment of Arabic written artefacts at Shāh Jahān’s court. In an exemplary manner, the manuscript’s history of circulation demonstrates how courtly elites engaged with Arabic during the seventeenth century.
The discourse about the Arabian Nights illustrates the ways through which hegemonic poetic and literary discourses crystallized themselves, while developing a set of distinctions as a yardstick for the estimation of literary works, as well as the connections between these various distinctions—namely ‘realistic’ and ‘fantastic’, East and West, and oral storytelling and folklore versus written literature. This article focuses on the discourse about the Arabian Nights in the field of modern Hebrew literature. In turning towards the collection, discussing it and translating some of its sections, the various characters who dealt with it expressed and promoted a cultural and political narrative which saw cultural affinities as a potential basis for broader political cooperation between Arabs and Jews. I will argue, however, that the discourse about the collection illustrates a process of modern Hebrew literature adopting a definition of itself as European and secular literature. I will also argue that the discourse on the Arabian Nights reveals the various directions taken by those who resisted the construal of modern Hebrew literature as a vector in the European- secular tradition. These counter-hegemonic assertions particularly took the form of arguments that the collection was a multifaceted cultural treasure that includes Hebrew layers, or, alternatively, representing it as a model of a modern literary genre, the city-centered anthology.