Middle Eastern manuscript treasure trove on show
One of the University’s rarest collections will be made accessible to the public thanks to innovations of the digital age. The University of Melbourne Library holds 190 Middle Eastern manuscripts, dating from the 12th to the 20th centuries.
“These manuscripts are important research materials for scholars of the Middle East while also being objects of great beauty”, says Jock Murphy, Director of Collections at the University Library. The manuscripts include stunning illustrations and subject matter comprising religious texts, love stories, astrology, weaponry and more.
The full collection has been made publicly accessible using state-of-the-art equipment and in-house expertise at the University Library’s Digitisation Service (UDS). All but one of the beautiful manuscripts has been digitised and will be available online, with the final one needing conservation work to have its pages ‘unstuck’ before the process can be completed.
Joe Arthur from the UDS described the collection from the digitisation perspective as “challenging, complex, diverse, beautiful and maddening … but mostly invigorating”.
The diversity and complexity of the collection, which ranges from tiny to large, copious to slim and robust to fragile, has meant the UDS needed to develop new methods and tools to complete the task and these new learnings will benefit future projects.
Five of the manuscripts are heading to the State Library of Victoria as part of a free public exhibition entitled ‘Love and Devotion: from Persia and Beyond’. The exhibition, which is largely drawn from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University is sponsored by the University of Melbourne.
The University’s Middle Eastern Manuscripts collection is just one of those built up by the Reverend Professor John Bowman between 1959 and 1975 during his time as head of the University’s Department of Semitic Studies.
Students recently had an opportunity to work closely with these texts.
Sophie Lewincamp, a lecturer from the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, who as part of her research did a conservation assessment of the collection, says that in 2010, with the assistance of some CCMC students the entire collection was surveyed.
“We noted its physical condition, current housing, materials and additional information such as description of stamps, pencil inscriptions, book seller stickers and watermark information. The survey has enabled us to get a better understanding of the material and identify possible research opportunites,” she says.
The Exhibition ‘Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond’, featuring some of the collection’s items, is on show in the Keith Murdoch Gallery, State Library of Victoria, from 9 March - 1 July.
This landmark exhibition celebrates the beauty of Persian manuscripts and their stories of human and divine love.
From one of the richest periods in the history of the book, more than 60 works from the Bodleian Library join items from the State Library of Victoria and other institutions in the largest and most significant display of Persian manuscripts ever seen in Australia. Included will be rare examples of 13th- to 18th-century Persian, Mughal Indian and Ottoman Turkish illustrated manuscripts. Visitors will be transported to distant lands and other times as they discover classic Persian tales of human and divine love, including works by Nizami and Jami; great Sufi poetry by Rumi and the lyrics of Hafiz; the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and 1001 Nights; and Firdausi’s Shahnama (Book of Kings) – Persia’s great literary epic.
Early European manuscripts on display will include a Roman de la rose and works by Chaucer and Dante from the Bodleian Library, as well as rare editions of European literature, travel books and maps from the State Library of Victoria.