Autograph of al-Maqrizi's Khitat Revealed at University of Michigan Library

August 19, 2010
Isl. Ms. 605, fol.143b and fol.144a

Graduate Student Discovers Arabic Manuscript in al-Maqrizi’s Own Hand

Noah Gardiner, a third-year graduate student in the [Near Eastern Studies] Department’s AAPTIS division, is a member of the team that is re-cataloguing and digitizing our Library’s splendid collection of Islamic manuscripts. (This three-year project, “Collaboration in Cataloging: Islamic Manuscripts at Michigan,” is funded with a grant from the Mellon Foundation, see http://www.lib.umich.edu/collaboration-cataloging-islamic-manuscripts-michigan and http://www.lib.umich.edu/islamic/ .)

In early April, Noah set to work on a manuscript of Volume 3 of al-Mawa‘iz wal-i‘tibar fi dhikr al-khitat wal-athar (or al-Khitat), a well-known work on the topography of Cairo and the history of Egypt. The author of the work is the famous and prolific Egyptian writer al-Maqrizi (1364-1442). This particular manuscript belongs to the A.S. Yahuda Collection and has been in our Library for decades. However, like most of these manuscripts, it was incompletely and sparsely catalogued and described. Noah soon noticed a discrepancy: while the paper seemed right for the late Mamluk era (when Maqrizi lived), the handwriting did not. Then Noah noticed a blank space left for a date on folio 4a, a number of sewn-in inserts with additional bits of text in the manuscript’s primary hand, and quite a few blank spaces and pages. Noah recalled having read articles on “Maqriziana” by Frédéric Bauden of the University of Liège.

By referring to these articles, Noah and the Project Cataloger Evyn Kropf were able to compare the manuscript with known examples of al-Maqrizi’s own handwriting—which turns out to have been distinctive and unusual. On this basis, Noah and Evyn established a perfect match. In other words, this manuscript turns out to be a Maqrizi holograph, a copy of the work written in the author’s own hand. It does contain additions and repairs written in later hands, but the original text can be ascribed to Maqrizi, acting here as both author and scribe.

We all congratulate Noah for this remarkable scholarly sleuthing. Thanks are also due to Evyn Kropf, who describes the manuscript fully in an entry in the Mirlyn catalogue (http://mirlyn-classic.lib.umich.edu/F/?func=direct&doc_number=006805510&local_base=AA_PUB )

Meanwhile, Frédéric Bauden, the leading authority on Maqrizi holographs, is also delighted by this discovery, and has sent the following congratulatory message: The identification of a holograph manuscript of a medieval Muslim scholar is always a major event. And when it can be established that such a manuscript corresponds to one of the personal works of the great Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi, it becomes a considerable breakthrough. To date, 22 holograph manuscripts of this author have been identified in a number of libraries around the world. These manuscripts correspond to [Maqrizi’s] own, personal books, either drafts or fair copies, as well as notebooks. Thanks to these manuscripts, it is now easier to analyze the modus operandi of this author who is so important for the history of Islam in general and of Egypt in particular.

Noah Gardiner’s discovery is one of those rare, exciting moments that a researcher may experience at some time in his life. From the outside, this discovery might seem like a stroke of good luck, but the fact is that luck, fate and providence had nothing to do with it. A researcher needs good intuition, and that is precisely what Noah Gardiner brought to bear in this particular instance. Not being content with the [previous] identification of the work, he had the presence of mind to consider that the manuscript might be an autograph, given the presence, between some leaves, of slips bearing notes in the same handwriting. His clairvoyance was decisive. Thanks to him, al-Maqrizi’s working method can now be pinpointed even further. As the discoverer, [Noah Gardiner] will certainly remember this event for his entire life.

This news appeared originally in the Newsletter of the UM Department of Near Eastern Studies (2008-2009).

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