Codicology is a rapidly expanding area of academic interest. To meet this growing demand, the IIS-ISMC Library hosted an intensive five day workshop on Arabic Manuscript Studies.  The workshop, held in April, was delivered by Dr Adam Gacek, a retired lecturer and former Head of the Islamic Studies Library at McGill University, Canada.  Dr Gacek, who is recognised as one of the world authorities on the paleography and codicology of Arabic manuscripts, led a group of participants through an exploration of various aspects of manuscript studies, including writing surfaces, text blocks and composition, transmission of texts, illumination and ascetic features, and how to start a critical edition project.  

Some of the manuscripts examined by the participants included, Sharh al-Tadhkirah al-Nasiriyah, a commentary by al-Birjandi (d.934 AH / 1528 CE) on the Tadhkirah of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d.672 AH / 1274 CE). The copy was written in 1029 AH / 1620 CE in an elegant, partly vocalised Naskhi hand. The manuscript demonstrates a significant example of a collation with a holograph.

Dr Walid Ghali, Head of the IIS-ISMC Library, who organised the workshop, commented:

The main focus of the workshop was to provide an overview of how Islamic manuscripts in Arabic script have been constructed.  It gives researchers the opportunity to get hands-on with some of the manuscripts in our collection and explore the structure of the manuscripts, elements like the binding and decoration, the script of the text and how this complements the content of the manuscript.

Professor Shafiq Virani, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada, summed up the unique opportunity the course had offered:

For those of us who have worked with manuscripts for years, but having focused primarily on their contents, this was a singular opportunity to learn more about the other half of the puzzle - the physical characteristics of the texts.

The workshop enabled participants to be hands-on and examine a range of manuscripts from the IIS’ collection and to share their findings with the wider group.  A faculty member of the AKU-ISMC, Dr Sarah Savant added:

Adam’s presentation was lucid and extremely useful. He approaches manuscripts as a detective, an attitude I found inspiring. The week helped fuel my thinking on my own research, and has helped me to identify promising new areas for investigation in a multi-text compilation I am now studying.

The Arabic Manuscript Studies workshop is the first in a series of workshops to be hosted by the IIS-ISMC Library.  It is anticipated that the next session, expected to be organised in 2017, will focus on Persian manuscripts.