The Islam and Middle East Collection plays a special role at the NLI. Israel’s leading research collection on Islamic civilization in its widest sense, the collection is also uniquely tasked to serve a diverse population of Arabic-speaking students, scholars, and the general public. As Israel forges new ties with Muslim-majority countries across the world, the collection must also shift to reflect these developments.
As curator, my goal is to expand the collection in all three of these areas. In addition to continuing to acquire the latest scholarship in the core fields of the study of Islam and the history of the region, I am interested in unearthing the history of our collection, which was first conceived by some of the twentieth century’s most important Jewish Orientalists. Even as we grow our impressive collection of books and periodicals in Arabic from across the region, we will work to become the respectful repository for the personal archives of Palestinian artists, writers, and intellectuals. Finally, in the coming years, the NLI will embark on bold new collaborations with cultural institutions with Israel’s new partners in the Arab world and beyond. The Islam and Middle East Collection aims to be at the forefront of those partnerships, and to increase in tandem our holdings related to the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and others.
I am involved in a number of ongoing projects:
Maktoub: Digitizing NLI Islamic Manuscripts
The National Library of Israel collection includes nearly 2,500 manuscripts, dating from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries, in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. Highlights include illuminated items from royal Mamluk, Mughal, and Ottoman libraries; scholarly works copied during or near the lifetimes of their authors; and later autograph copies. The NLI is in the midst of a project to digitize its entire Islamic manuscript collection and improve the manuscripts’ cataloging records to make the collection accessible to scholars from around the world. The project is supported by a generous grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
A. S. Yahuda and Islamic Manuscripts
Avraham Shalom Yahuda, a Jerusalem-born Jewish scholar of mixed Ashkenazi and Sephardi heritage, became one of the twentieth century’s most important manuscript collectors and dealers. In partnership with Princeton University, the University of Michigan, the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, and other institutions, the NLI is participating in an ongoing international colloquium on Yahuda’s collecting and collections. The colloquium will also serve as the launching pad for a number of other joint projects connected to Yahuda and his legacy.
Beduin Oral History
The NLI has recently acquired a unique collection of oral history related to the country’s Beduin community. Over the course of four decades, the scholar Clinton Bailey recorded hundreds of hours of interviews and ethnographic tapes with Beduin in the Negev and the Sinai Peninsula, accompanied by photographs and cataloging information. The NLI is in the midst of digitizing, transcribing, and uploading this material to a dedicated online portal, and is also in the process of acquiring other archives relates to Beduin culture.