The written text was a pervasive feature of cultural practices in the medieval Middle East. At the heart of book circulation stood libraries that experienced a rapid expansion from the twelfth century onwards. While the existence of these libraries is well known our knowledge of their content and structure has been very limited as hardly any medieval Arabic catalogues have been preserved. This book discusses the largest and earliest medieval library of the Middle East for which we have documentation – the Ashrafiya library in the very centre of Damascus – and edits its catalogue. This catalogue shows that even book collections attached to Sunni religious institutions could hold rather unexpected titles, such as stories from the 1001 Nights, manuals for traders, medical handbooks, Shiite prayers, love poetry and texts extolling wine consumption. At the same time this library catalogue decisively expands our knowledge of how the books were spatially organised on the bookshelves of such a large medieval library. With over 2,000 entries this catalogue is essential reading for anybody interested in the cultural and intellectual history of Arabic societies. Setting the Ashrafiya catalogue into a comparative perspective with contemporaneous libraries on the British Isles this book opens new perspectives for the study of medieval libraries. ; This book discusses the largest and earliest medieval library of the Middle East for which we have documentation – the Ashrafiya library in the very centre of Damascus – and edits its catalogue. ; Acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. The Making and Unmaking of a Medieval Library; 2. Organising the Library: The Books on the Shelves; 3. Plurality and Diversity: The Profile of a Medieval Library; 4. The Ashrafiya Catalogue: Translation and Title Identification; 5. The Ashrafiya Catalogue: Edition; Bibliography; Index; Maps, tables and figures; Plates. ; AcknowledgementsIntroduction1. The Making and Unmaking of a Medieval Library2. Organising the Library: The Books on the Shelves3. Plurality and Diversity: The Profile of a Medieval Library4. The Ashrafiya Catalogue: Translation and Title Identification5. The Ashrafiya Catalogue: EditionBibliographyIndexMaps, tables and figuresPlates
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This is a tour de force of ferocious codex dissection, relentless bibliographical probing, and imaginative reconstructive storytelling. The trajectory of an urban ‘public’ library whose holdings shed light on the intellectual milieu of thirteenth-century Damascus comes to light through Hirschler’s sensible and comparative lens. Our knowledge of medieval Arabic book culture, library culture and reading culture is significantly enriched.
- Li Guo, University of Notre Dame
Konrad Hirschler is Professor of History of Near and Middle East at Freie Universität Berlin. He is the author of The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands (2012) and Medieval Arabic Historiography: Authors as Actors (2006) as well as co-editor of Manuscript Notes as a Documentary Source (2011).