Workshop, Digitizing Early Arabic Printed Books, Middle East Studies, Brown University, led by Elias Muhanna; Friday, October 21, 2016, Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute
This program was one in a series on the interaction of Middle East Studies with the topic of digital Islamic humanities. It is part of a growing network of institutions and organizations using technology to enhance the study of Islam in all its facets. At the workshop, representatives of Gale Publishers presented on their new offering, Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library, which includes a number of commentaries on the Qur’an including Islamic law texts. The site has a strong research component that allows scholars to search via Arabic or English, and it includes a pop up keyboard for Arabic at search boxes (see picture #1). The research tools are interesting as are the connections between academic, non-profit, and for-profit partners that they engender. After Gale, Dr. Kathryn Schwartz of Harvard University spoke about book history in the Middle East. She is also a fellow on the Digital Library on the Eastern Mediterranean (DLEM) project. A major methodological shift Schwartz outlined was the changing understanding of why Europe and the Middle East embraced printing at different speeds. In particular, the point Schwartz made was that the old reason for this occurrence, lack of human agency, is being superseded by a more recent one that highlights technology differences. This approach embraces more squarely the strong history of manuscripts in the Middle East region. It also allows into the discussion the social and intellectual history in the region and its textual culture. Dr. Cynthia Brokaw of Brown University responded to Schwartz’s presentation (See picture #2).