Islamic Manuscript and Print Culture: from the Middle East to South Asia
Faculty: Nur Sobers-Khan
This course provides broad historical overview of Islamic manuscript and print culture, featuring sessions on the historical background and material context of manuscript production, the rise of typographic print and lithography in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as a critical view of 19th-century colonial collecting practices and the formation and conceptualization of ‘special collections’ in Western institutions today vis-à-vis the Islamic world.
The course will open by setting the historical context of Islamic manuscript production, from early Quran manuscripts in the 7th-9th centuries, starting with the rise and development of Arabic script and also examined other forms of early written production, such as Arabic block printing from the 9th century CE, to both decenter the focus on the birth of printing in Europe and also to explore the phenomenon of the co-existence of print techniques and large-scale scribal manuscript production in Islamic societies, a theme which recurs in the 18th-19th century. To provide the wider context of manuscript culture and production, students will also be introduced to the history of the formation of manuscript libraries in the Islamic world and the role they played in premodern knowledge production.
Students will be introduced to the development of Islamic courtly manuscript culture in the early modern period and the flourishing of manuscript illumination and figural illustration, as well as receive an overview of how to describe and date Islamic manuscript bindings, papers, locate colophons, seals and inscriptions, which often have a close connection to the historical libraries and courts foregrounded in the course. After a thorough exploration of manuscript production, we will turn to the rise of print in the Muslim context in the Middle East and South Asia, exploring the first experiment in typography and the role of missionary presses, then moving on to examine the technology of lithography and how it facilitated a transition from manuscript to large-scale production in the nineteenth century, with particular attention to India and Iran. The course will conclude with a discussion of colonial histories of collecting in the Middle East and South Asia, and an overview of the European and North American repositories that house large Islamic manuscript, lithograph and rare printed book collections and examine the history and provenance of a selection of these collections with an eye to providing a critical account of the history of collecting.
Circumstances permitting, we will use the UCLA Islamic manuscript collections in handling sessions for our course. If possible, we can include a visit to view manuscripts in LACMA’s collections as well.
Years taught: 2022