Sabine Schmidtke: Preserving, Studying, and Democratizing Access to the World Heritage of Islamic Manuscripts: The Zaydi Tradition
Thursday, June 29, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
At the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) , Learning Lab 3
The Zaydī literary tradition is among the richest and most variegated such traditions within Islamic civilization and at the same time one of the least studied. The literary production of Zaydī scholars stretches over more than a thousand years and covers a wide spectrum of traditional disciplines. The typical library of a Zaydī scholar would contain not only works belonging to his own religious tradition, but also an array of titles by authors from other communities, including the literary legacy of the Muʿtazila, one of the most important rational schools in the history of Muslim theology.
It is fortunate that the bulk of the Zaydī literature is still extant, mostly in the form of manuscripts. The downside is that the Zaydī manuscript tradition is widely dispersed and for the most part poorly documented. The most significant and by far largest collections of Zaydī manuscripts are housed in the numerous public and private libraries of Yemen. Many of these libraries have been severely damaged, looted, or even destroyed over the course of the twentieth century as a result of the political turmoil and wars that Yemen has witnessed, and the continuing war in the country, with daily bombardments, constitutes an imminent threat not only to the local population but also to the cultural heritage of the country, including its many libraries. Several European libraries also own considerable collections of Zaydī manuscripts, as do North American libraries. Of importance are also the many libraries of the Middle East, especially in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.
The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University is collaborating with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, to provide open access to approximately 10,000 digitized Zaydi manuscripts from Yemen and neighboring countries over the course of the next three years. The project, “The Zaydi Manuscript Tradition (ZMT),” consists of two components: a digital portal on the website of the Institute for Advanced Study, and manuscript images with catalog records in vHMML Reading Room, HMML’s online manuscript resource. vHMML Reading Room, www.vhmml.org, gives registered users free access to HMML’s photographic manuscript archives from around the world. Through the ZMT Portal and vHMML Reading Room, scholars around the world will be able to access Zaydi manuscripts from libraries in Yemen and neighboring countries, as well as those held by major libraries in Europe and the United States that have generously allowed access to their collections.