Campus Gotha, Gotha Research Library

Literary and historical manuscripts in seventeenth-century Aleppo: The "Dervish" Aḥmad revisited

30. Nov 2022, 6.15 pm
Gotha Manuscript Talks
Gotha Research Library (FBG)
Dr. Simon Mills (Newcastle University)
Event type
Event Language(s)

Lecture by Dr. Simon Mills (Newcastle University) in the digital event series "Gotha Manuscript Talks" of the Gotha Research Library.

About the Lecture

The “Dervish” Aḥmad has been familiar to historians for some time, thanks to his activities in Ottoman Aleppo on behalf of seventeenth-century European Orientalists. This talk will position this extraordinary figure in his own cultural milieu, by presenting some new findings about his identity, and exploring his work as a copyist of and dealer in Arabic manuscripts. It will argue that Aḥmad’s career sheds some light, not only on the history of European scholarship, but on the production and sale of books more broadly in an early modern Ottoman city. This, in turn, might help us better to understand aspects of Ottoman Aleppo’s intellectual culture – in particular, contemporary interest in Arabic literary and historical writing.

About the lecturer

Simon Mills is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at Newcastle University, UK. He is the author of A Commerce of Knowledge: Trade, Religion, and Scholarship between England and the Ottoman Empire, c.1600-1760 (Oxford University Press, 2020). His research focuses on the intellectual connections between early modern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, and the histories of biblical and Oriental studies.

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.


All events in the series take place digitally. Registration is not necessary. To participate, simply enter the linked Webex space.

to the Webex room


Curator of the Oriental Manuscript Collection
(Gotha Research Library)
Gotha Research Library (Gotha, Schlossplatz 1)