Documenting Islamic Society

In recent decades, Princeton-based and visiting researchers have turned to the Manuscripts Division for original documents to study the social and economic history of Egypt between the Muslim (641 CE) and Ottoman (1517 CE) conquests. Historians and other researchers in Near Eastern Studies seek original documents of every description to trace the lives of ordinary people during long centuries of Islamization and dynastic rule, from the Umayyads to Mamluks. At the same time, globalization has encouraged comparative studies of documentary traditions, including Egypt in these early centuries. One can see this trend in Princeton’s Comparative Diplomatics Workshop (2018-19), co-sponsored by the Program in Medieval Studies; the workshop draws on faculty and graduate students with an interest in documents and archives from ancient Rome, the western Middle Ages, Muslim Egypt, the Cairo Geniza, and East Asia.

In order to help support archival research on early Islamic society, the Manuscripts Division has had three collections of Egyptian documents and letters, chiefly in Arabic, cataloged and digitized. The earliest documents are several dozen Arabic documentary papyri, dating from the 7th to 9th centuries, which have been digitized and are being added to Papyri Collections in DPUL (Princeton University Digital Library). For descriptions of Arabic papyri, one should consult A Descriptive Inventory of Princeton Papyri Collections. A link to the updated PDF version (2018) is found in another blog post. Just added to DPUL is an interesting collection, Islamic Manuscripts, Garrett Additional no. 20, comprised of 29 documents and letters on parchment and paper, dating from the 10th to 19th centuries. Among them is a series of early 11th-century documents relating to the sale of property in the Fayyum village of Buljusuq. All but one of these documents came to the Manuscripts Division in 1942 as part of the extensive collection of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897. Item 29 (see image below), donated by Garrett in 1953, was only recently rediscovered and added to the collection. Previously digitized is the Michaelides Collection of Letters and Documents (1106-1497), including 41 items collected by George Anastase Michaelides (1900-73) and acquired by the Manuscripts Division in 2005.

Additional documents from different parts of the Muslim world can be found scattered among nearly 10,000 Islamic bound manuscripts in the Manuscripts Division. To find them, search Voyager for manuscript documents by language (Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish). For additional information, contact Public Services,

Islamic Manuscripts, Garrett Additional no. 20, item 29

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