New Publication on Islamic Digital Humanities

DH-finalcoverWe are pleased to announce the publication of a new edited volume from De Gruyter entitled The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East StudiesMany of the articles in this volume were given as papers at the 2013 conference of the same name, organized by Middle East Studies at Brown University.

Table of Contents
  • Elias Muhanna, Islamic and Middle East Studies and the Digital Turn
  • Travis Zadeh, Uncertainty and the Archive
  • Dagmar Riedel, Of Making Many Copies There is No End: The Digitization of Manuscripts and Printed Books in Arabic Script
  • Chip Rossetti, Al-Kindi on the Kindle: The Library of Arabic Literature and the Challenges of Publishing Bilingual Arabic-English Books
  • Nadia Yaqub, Working with Grassroots Digital Humanities Projects: The Case of the Tall al-Zaʿtar Facebook Groups
  • Maxim Romanov, Toward Abstract Models for Islamic History
  • Alex Brey, Quantifying the Quran
  • Till Grallert, Mapping Ottoman Damascus Through News Reports: A Practical Approach
  • José Haro Peralta and Peter Verkinderen, “Find for Me!”: Building a Context-Based Search Tool Using Python
  • Joel Blecher, Pedagogy and the Digital Humanities: Undergraduate Exploration into the Transmitters of Early Islamic Law
  • Dwight F. Reynolds, From Basmati Rice to the Bani Hilal: Digital Archives and Public Humanities

Preserving Islamic Manuscripts Under Erasure: The Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative

The private manuscript libraries of Yemen comprise one of the world’s largest and most important collections of Arabic manuscripts. Collectively, these 6,000 private libraries possess some 60,000 codices, many of which are unique. But this irreplaceable trove of manuscripts is threatened. In recent years, Yemen’s private libraries have suffered great losses, in part due to extremists who are ideologically opposed to the Zaydi Shiite school of Islam and have targeted Zaydi manuscripts for destruction. In the past ten years, over 10,000 manuscripts, including several entire libraries, have been destroyed.

This paper describes the efforts of The Imam Zaid ben ‘Ali Cultural Foundation (IZbACF), a non-profit, non-governmental organization devoted to digitally preserving this collection. Their efforts have recently been fortified by The Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative (, a collective of Middle East librarians and leading scholars of classical Islam, Middle Eastern history, and Arabic Literature from North America, Europe, and the Middle East. In September, 2010, YMDI’s partner institutions Princeton University Library and Free University, Berlin secured a $330k Enriching Digital Collections Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The goal of the NEH/DFG grant has been to create an infrastructure through which manuscripts in private libraries in Yemen are digitally preserved and made widely available through Princeton University’s Digital Library. This paper presents YMDI’s progress and prospects.

Author: David Hollenberg (University of Oregon)


Quantifying the Quran

This paper will present the conclusions of an interdisciplinary seminar focused on a Seljuq qu’ran from Hamadan, Iran. The manuscript, shelfmark N.E.-P. 27, is dated to 1164 CE by a colophon, and is now held by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology. Students with backgrounds in Near Eastern Languages and Culture and Art History collaborated to investigate the production of the book – one of the few complete Qur’an manuscripts dated to this period. Individual students produced focused studies of different features of the book. The main text of the manuscript was probably written by a single calligrapher, although several campaigns of textual corrections are scattered throughout the book. The verse markers and sura headings, however, are the product of at least four different illuminators. The book was significantly repaired sometime in the eighteenth century, perhaps when it was donated as waqf by Amir Ahmad Jawish (d. 1786) to the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo.

Digital tools played a large role in the art historical analysis of the book. In addition to digitizing the manuscript, targeted pigments were analyzed using portable XRF analysis. Digital photos of the manuscript were enhanced to reveal the complex construction of the frontispiece. Computer vision algorithms, especially scale-invariant feature transform (SIFT) were explored but rejected. Principal component analysis (PCA) and other statistical techniques like co-occurrence analysis proved extremely useful for revealing trends in the complex and varied sura heading decoration. The question for art historians, however, is what exactly these trends represent: individual artists, formulaic models, or some combination of the two? While similar techniques are widely used by archaeologists for the analysis of geochemical data in ceramics, their deployment in art historical contexts is still developing and raises a number of methodological questions that this paper will explore.

Author: Alex Brey (Bryn Mawr)