Project for the Cataloguing and Digitising of 55 Islamic Manuscripts

This project is sponsored by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) for the purpose of establishing a database-supported index of and digital access to Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts recently acquired by the Leipzig University Library. This project is part of the DFG's "Cultural Heritage" programme in the field of Scientific Library Services and Information Systems (LIS)".

The project will set up a database-supported index and provide digital access to a group of about 55 Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts. The Leipzig University Library purchased these manuscripts in 1995 and 1996. In this pioneer project, for the first time Arabic script will be integrated into a database that will also feature German and American transliteration systems. This will provide scholars of Oriental Studies worldwide with access to a hitherto unknown pool of Islamic manuscripts.

The variety of disciplines covered in the manuscript collection, the origins of some works from early periods of Islamic scholarship, the age of the copies and their historical proximity to the respective author, as well as the elaborate decoration, deserve special attention. A key place in the collection will be taken by one of the oldest known Ismaili manuscripts in the world, the Kitāb al-Zīna by the Ismaili author Abū Hātim al-Rāzī (d. 322 H. / 934 AD).

The manuscripts contain texts in Arabic, Persian and Ottoman-Turkish and show an amazingly broad spectrum as far as the content is concerned, which comprises almost all traditional Islamic fields of knowledge. With a few exceptions, the manuscripts are mostly complete and well preserved. That many of these manuscripts came from the libraries of private scholars or families is suggested in several manuscripts by the many comments, some of which span over several generations, from the previous owners. The place of origin seems to be the gulf region, Yemen and Iran.

Duration of the project: 1.5 years. Start: August 2006.
sponsored by the DFG

Codicological Recording and Cataloguing

Associate: Beate Wiesmüller, MA

The cataloguing of the manuscripts at the Leipzig University Library was carried out by a scholarly associate who would give a preliminary identification and a codicological/artistic assessment of the manuscript.

The way of proceeding with the presentation of the manuscripts depends on the internationally recognised guidelines developed by the KOHD (Cataloguing of Oriental Manuscripts in Germany), albeit in reduced form. Thus, incipit, explicit and comprehensive descriptions of the book decoration and illumination of the respective manuscript are omitted because they are directly available to the observer/user. The database which emerged on this basis should serve as a catalogue with the possibility to search for various criteria, as an internal tool, and as the basis for further research. The presentation is made of an outer and an internal, textual part:

Physical description
Description of texts
Call Number Author
Number of Volumes / Composite manuscript Date of Death
Language Bibliographic References
Binding Title
Writing Material Subject Matters
Reference to Book Decoration and Watermarks Completeness
Page numbers References to further Exemplars and/or Editions
Format Abbreviated table of contents
Text Area Notes and Remarks in the manuscripts  
Number of Lines and Columns
Information about the Copy
Previous Owners

If a work can no longer be identified, the incipit will be reproduced in the original language in place of the author’s name and the title of the work. Because the online catalogue is intended for the international research community, the transcription appears in the standard DMG form (German Oriental Society) as well as in the scholarly Library of Congress system. The unique features of the respective manuscripts which are listed, i.e. textual key-pages, illuminations, colophons, etc., will be linked with the appropriate scanned images.

Technical Aspects


Elisabeth Fritsch, MA (Digitalisation)

Dr. Thoralf Hanstein (Team Coordinator, Design and Content Creation)

Jens Kupferschmidt (IT Coordinator)

Abde Ssamad Karmoun (Application developer)

All of the metadata and the scanned pictures should be processed using the MyCoRe system ( which focuses on the special needs of digital libraries and archive solutions. This system has already proven itself on similar storage projects and, among other things, has a flexible, configurable metadata model; an internal, hierarchical data system; a hierarchical classification system; as well as user and rights management. The core of the software is governed by the conditions of GNU (General Public License) and the MyCoRe group is moving forward with further developments as an open-source project.

The masters of the scanned images are being shown at a ratio of 1:1 and a resolution of 300 dpi; colour and size scales are being included. The colour depth is set at 48 bit. The well-distributed TIFF file-format is recommended for the masters of the scanned pictures, because they guarantee full compatibility with all commonly used systems. In the database, before entering the scanned pictures, one can find edited versions (cropping, brightness, contrast in comparison with the original) and versions in which the resolution was reduced (300 and 96 dpi and thumbnails in Jpeg format in order to put them on the internet).

The data presentation mask had to be adjusted to the unique characteristics of the Arabic (above all writing from right to left) and to the scholarly phonetic transcription of Arabic termini. Thus, this project finds itself on new territory, because until now either various non-standard writing styles were employed, or it was with a great deal of programming effort that separate functioning solutions were found that, however, were not compatible with other projects.

Flexible search methods were sought after. Those seeking information should be able to choose, for example, between using a filter and a keyword search (parametric and free-text searches, based on the indexing of the manuscripts) or combining those. To this will be added the possibility of “direct browsing” in the inventory list.

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