About the series
Thinking Manuscript Provenance Beyond Europe
In the last decades, the issue of provenance has emerged as a topic of central concern in the study of manuscripts, and it has given rise to an entire field – Provenance Studies. Both among scholars and the general public, the engagement with the ownership and transmission of manuscripts and cultural heritage has increased awareness of the legacy of colonialism. Significant numbers of Arabic, Ottoman, and Persian manuscripts were transferred to European libraries, archives, museums, and collections due to imbalances of power, economic exploitation, and violent coercion. The study of the provenance of Middle Eastern manuscripts has allowed scholars to critically engage with this legacy and to open up new areas of research. However, manuscripts that were brought to Europe had often been in circulation for centuries, and other manuscripts never left the Middle East. Even during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, European states and individuals were not the only – and often not necessarily the main – actors who transferred manuscripts. Taking the analytical angle of provenance, but refocusing it away from European actors thus allows us to ask new questions: How can we recover the agency of non-European actors in the field of manuscript movements? In which cultural, religious, or social milieus did manuscripts circulate in the Ottoman and Safavid Empires? How can the study of the provenance of manuscripts help us understand the nature and significance of books and book collections and material culture more generally in the Middle East? To what extent does the transfer of manuscripts from one owner to another shed light on social or economic disparities, on the social ascent or descent of individuals and groups? In what ways does it help us to understand the relations of such groups and individuals to institutions of learning and political elites?
The fall series of the Gotha Manuscript Talks 2022 is devoted to manuscript provenance beyond Europe. Mindful of the central relevance of provenance in the critical engagement with the colonial legacy, speakers engage with provenance as a tool for studying the social, economic, religious, and cultural horizons of those in North Africa and West Asia who owned, collected, sold, lent, bequeathed, and endowed books and book collections.