In recent years growing attention has been paid to the circulation of texts and to various textual practices throughout the Islamic world in general and the Ottoman Empire in particular. Most studies, however, were qualitative in nature. My paper seeks to demonstrate the advantages of digital humanities for the study of circulation of manuscripts and the ways in which they were used and consulted. To illustrate the advantages of digital humanities the paper takes as its case study the circulation of legal texts across the Ottoman Empire. More specifically, the case study is based on a comparison of two fatawa collections from the mid seventeenth century that I have digitized for my research: the fatawa collection by the chief imperial mufti, şeyhülislam Minkarizade Efendi (1609-1677 or 8), and the famous Palestinian mufti, Khayr al-Din al-Ramli (1585-1671). By focusing on the special features of each of the fatawa collections, I hope to draw attention to the advantages these databases and the digital humanities more broadly offer for this kind of study on the one hand, and to raise attention to what the databases conceal on the other. Finally, through this case study, the paper intends to discuss how this methodology can be applied to the study of texts and their circulation in other contexts and time periods in Islamic history.
Author: Guy Burak (Bobst Library, New York University)