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Local Manuscript Brokers: Between Preserving and Selling Literary Heritage

The event series "Gotha Manuscript Talks" of the Gotha Research Library of the University of Erfurt will be continued in spring 2023. This time it is entitled: "Local Manuscript Brokers: Between Preserving and Selling Literary Heritage".

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, European missionaries, traders, and travelers were no longer the main source of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman manuscripts for European collectors and institutions. A still insufficiently studied group of indigenous collectors and sellers of manuscripts emerged. These individuals brokered the transfer of large collections of manuscripts to libraries in Europe, America, and other parts of the world. They belonged to a group of researchers and scholars who stood outside the mainstream scholarship produced during the so-called nahḍa-often translated as the "Arab literary renaissance." Despite close ties to circles of intellectuals and publishing houses, these individuals pursued their work on the margins of literary, journalistic, and scholarly production. They had diverse religious backgrounds, but many belonged to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious elites and/or were clergy. This background enabled them to gain access to manuscripts and opened doors to book collections in local contexts.

As preservers and sellers of literary heritage, the individuals described acted as intermediaries, as "brokers" who preserved manuscripts and brought them to market. Some of them were book lovers and worked towards creating their own collections - out of enthusiasm for books or for various scholarly goals. They recorded the holdings of their collections in detail, produced and published indexes, and at a later date they also negotiated the sale of these collections, sometimes in wartime and during periods of sectarian rioting. Prominent examples include the Muslim religious scholar Amīn al-Madanī (d. 1898), the cleric, theologian, and Orientalist Alphonse Mingana (d. 1937), the Syriac Catholic cleric Paul Sbath (d. 1945), and the Jewish scholar and collector Abraham Shalom Yahuda (d. 1951), who grew up in Ottoman Jerusalem and later studied and taught in various European cities. These and other personalities mediated the extensive transfer of manuscripts - a fact that has been reflected in the names of important collections of libraries worldwide.

The spring series of Gotha Manuscript Talks 2023 focuses on indigenous manuscript brokers-dealers in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman manuscripts who played a central role in the preservation and transfer of manuscripts and manuscript collections from the Middle East, Turkey, West Asia, and North Africa to Europe, the Americas, and other places around the world at the turn of the twentieth century. The presenters address the social and intellectual background of these book lovers and sellers and their motives for buying, preserving, and trading books. They trace the intellectual geography in which books circulated before eventually finding their way into modern Oriental manuscript collections in libraries from Saint Petersburg to Rome and New Haven.


  • March 8, 2023: "Paul Sbath's Manuscript Library: From Guardian to Seller of the Eastern Christian Heritage" with Dr. Celeste Gianni (Hill Museum & Manuscript Library).
  • March 22, 2023: "Selling Manuscripts to Soviet Orientalism: The Book Trade of Sabir 'Alimov (1872-1942)" with Dr. Alfrid Bustanov (University of Amsterdam).
  • April 5, 2023: "Local Agents and their Power Articulation in Manuscript Translocations: The Case of Jamāl/ Aḥmad al-Miṣrī and Johann Gottfried Wetzstein" with Farid El-Ghawaby (Freie Universität Berlin).
  • April 19, 2023: "Agent and Architect: Abraham Shalom Yahuda's Role in Developing the Islamic Manuscripts Collection at the University of Michigan" with Evyn Kropf (University of Michigan).

For more information on the individual dates, please visit the website of the "Gotha Manuscript Talks".

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+++ Please note: All events will be held digitally and in English! +++

link to the events


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