Harvard's Islamic Heritage Project Is Now Online
An Innovative Collaboration Preserves Key Islamic Materials and Makes Them Accessible to Internet Users Everywhere
Through a new collaboration among Islamic-studies scholars, librarians, and curators, Harvard University has cataloged, conserved, and digitized Islamic manuscripts, maps, and published texts from its renowned library and museum collections. The result is a new online collection comprising more than 145,000 digital pages available to Internet users everywhere. Entitled the Islamic Heritage Project, or IHP, the collection is made possible with generous support from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. Visit IHP online at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ihp.
The Islamic Heritage Project is an integral part of the University's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program (ISP). Founded in 2006, ISP builds on Harvard's strong commitment to the study of the religious traditions of the world, and it augments the University's existing strength by increasing the number of faculty focused on Islamic studies. ISP created the Islamic Heritage Project in collaboration with the Harvard University Library Open Collections Program (OCP) to share important aspects of the University’s intellectual wealth—specifically by developing a dynamic digital collection that supports teaching and research.
The IHP collaboration is a unique initiative that identifies, preserves, and digitizes historically significant Islamic materials and makes the resulting images available on the Internet. IHP includes over 260 manuscripts, 270 printed texts, and 50 maps selected by Harvard's distinguished faculty in consultation with bibliographers, librarians, and museum curators. On a case-by-case basis, every item was reviewed and cataloged—and, in many cases given careful conservation treatment—by conservators in the University Library's Weissman Preservation Center.
To create the online collection itself, the OCP project team produced digital copies of more than 145,000 pages that are now web-accessible.
"Through the generosity of Prince Alwaleed," notes William A. Graham, Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, "Harvard is actively sharing parts of its rich library holdings for the benefit of the worldwide community of scholars of Islam. With the Islamic Heritage Project now launched, any Internet user can locate often unique primary and secondary resources in Harvard collections, access them on the web, and incorporate them into teaching and research."
Today, IHP users can search or browse complete reproductions of Islamic manuscripts and published texts that date from the 13th to the 20th centuries CE and represent many
- regions, including Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and South, Southeast, and Central Asia;
- languages, primarily Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish; also Urdu, Chagatai, Malay, Gujarati, Indic languages, and several Western languages; and
- subjects, including religious texts and commentaries, Sufism, history, geography, law, and the sciences (astronomy, astrology, mathematics, medicine); poetry and literature; rhetoric, logic, and philosophy; calligraphy, dictionaries and grammar, as well as biographies and autobiographical works.
Users can browse three basic genres—published materials, manuscripts, and maps—or search catalog records that detail the full IHP collection. A virtual keyboard allows users to enter queries and search terms in Arabic.
Harvard's holdings of Islamic materials are distributed among several libraries and in the Harvard Art Museum. Houghton Library alone holds over 1,200 volumes of Islamic manuscripts representing 2,000 works, while Widener Library's Middle Eastern Collection includes hundreds of thousands of published works. Representative materials included in the IHP are:
- 18th-Century Persian Manuscript (Houghton Library—MS Persian 78)
Firdawsi, the Persian poet, completed an epic history of the ancient Persian kings in 1010 CE. A devout Muslim, he wanted to revive the memory of the Persian kings before Islam. His history became a favorite subject for book illustration and has remained so in lands stretching from Turkey to India. This book illustration, from an Indian manuscript of the early 18th century, shows the meeting of three princes and three princesses in the time of the Persian King Feridun.
"This manuscript shows the continuing importance in literary culture of this epic in areas beyond Persian-speaking lands."
—Prof. Roy Mottahedeh, Gurney Professor of History and Founding Director, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard
- 17th-Century Map (Harvard Map Collection—MAP-LC G7430 1696 .J3)
Published in Paris in 1696 by Alexis Hubert Jaillot, the map details the empire of the "Grand Seigneur" of the Turks (Estats de l'Emprie du Grand Seigneur des Turcs en Europe, en Asie, et en Afrique...).
"This map, which shows us the empire of the 'Grand Seigneur,' as the Ottoman Sultan was called by contemporary Europeans, explains why the Ottomans loom so large in the mind of Europeans. This empire, though Muslim in its identity, had very many Christian subjects, including the majority of the peoples in the Balkans and Greece. In the 17th century, it had provided a place of refuge for the Jews who were forced out of Spain."
—Prof. Roy Mottahedeh
- 13th-Century Poems (Widener Library—HOLLIS 008554235)
Written by Mahmud Afandi al-Jaza'iri in 1278 CE as Hadha majmu' muzdawijat badi'ah mustaghribat wa-qasa'id ghazaliyyat zarifah mustahsanat turawwihu qulub al-'ushshaq wa-yahinnu ilayha taraban kullu mushtaq. Alexandria 1278 . The title translates as: "This is a collection of extraordinary poems in rhymed couplets and elegant cherished odes on love which refresh the hearts of lovers and for which every longing man pines in joy."
"Anthologies like this one open the door to inquiries into the public taste of the period. Noteworthy is the inclusion of poems in rhymed couplets, which were traditionally used for lengthy narrative (or didactic) poems."
—Prof. Wolfhart Heinrichs, James Richard Jewett Professor of Arabic, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University enhances Harvard's ability to keep pace with increasing demands for knowledge and understanding of the Islamic tradition. By bringing together faculty, students, and researchers from across the University and coordinating their activities through one program housed within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—and in close cooperation with the Divinity School and other faculties—the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program demonstrates Harvard's strong commitment to the study of the religious traditions of the world.
Committed to making the world a better place, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia is known for a wide range of philanthropic activities around the globe. He seeks to promote change through mutual cultural understanding. In the words of the Prince, "Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance."
The Harvard University Library Open Collections Program shares the University's intellectual wealth by developing and freely sharing digital collections on topics of contemporary concern that support teaching and learning. OCP's unique online collections do not duplicate individual collections of books or manuscripts. Instead, OCP offers new, virtual collections of thematically linked material selected from numerous Harvard repositories. Each collection is easily searchable on the web. Established in 2002 with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Open Collections Program has since received generous support from Arcadia and from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal.
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