[Evyn Kropf, Islamic Manuscripts Project Cataloger, talks about the collection and the international effort to fully catalog it. Click here for the full story, with video, on Montage, the portal for arts and culture at Michigan.]
Digitization ushers new era in scholarship
U-M Library scanning 1,100 Islamic manuscripts; scholars around world gain access to collection
By Lynne Raughley
Until recently, scholars who wanted to view any of the 1,100 items in the University of Michigan’s Islamic manuscripts collection had to come to the Special Collections Library where they would likely begin their search with the box of cards that served as the collection’s catalog. But the information on the cards in many instances lacked sufficient detail about the remarkable manuscripts they described, and in other instances was simply incorrect.
Putting together an accurate and thorough catalog of the collection (which was founded in 1924 with an acquisition purportedly from the personal library of Sultan Abdülhamit II, the 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire) seemed a formidable task. The manuscripts in the collection date from the 8th to 20th century AD, with volumes mainly in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, many of them illuminated, elaborately decorated, or heavily annotated by a long series of owners. To fully describe all of its items required a range of language and manuscript studies expertise (the term of art is “codicological”) nearly impossible to assemble at one institution.
Now, thanks in part to a grant awarded by the Council on Library and Information Resources and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, MLibrary has embarked upon a three-year collaborative cataloging project that will, by means of technology, assemble the necessary expertise. By digitizing the Islamic manuscripts and placing them in the HathiTrust Digital Library, experts at U-M working on the physical collection—including Evyn Kropf, Islamic Manuscripts Project Cataloger, and doctoral students in Near Eastern Studies—can collaborate with scholars around the world, as long as they have a connection to the Internet.