The Delhi Collection has long been considered a remnant of the Mughal Library, consisting of some 1957 volumes of Arabic manuscripts, 1550 Persian and 157 Urdu manuscripts. However, by closely examining the manuscript records of a 19th century scholar, it is possible not only to reconstruct his intellectual network, but also to show that the Delhi collection contains the libraries of private scholars whose collections were looted in 1857. This scholar belonged precisely not to the milieu of the Mughal court, but was connected to the anti-colonial network of Muslim scholars of the Madrasah Rahimiyah. By observing the colophons and entries in conjunction with the content of the manuscripts, it is possible to sketch the biography of this scholar, his patronage network, and the intellectual motivations and tendencies that led him to copy the texts. In this way, the lecture shows, something of the Muslim intellectual world of Delhi before 1857 can be captured, which British colonial violence was trying to destroy.
Nur Sobers-Khan is the director of the Aga Khan Documentation Center, a research centre and archive on Islamic visual culture and urbanism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 2015 to 2021, she was the Senior Curator of South Asian Collections at the British Library in London. There she was Curator of the South Asian Book and Manuscript Collections and led the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded "Two Centuries of Indian Print" project (2016–2021). Nur Sobers-Khan's current research focuses on the temporal transition from manuscript to print in South Asia and the creation of new genres and forms of reading through the circulation of lithographed texts on cosmology, dream interpretation and other divine literatures. She has taught at the University of Cambridge, St Mary's University College and Habib University, where she designed the undergraduate courses "Dream Interpretation: A Decolonial History" and "Islamic Art and Visual Culture: From the Middle East to South Asia".
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