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Digitization of Yemeni Manuscripts

Freie Universität and Berlin State Library Organize International Workshop

№ 111/2012 from May 04, 2012

An international workshop on the digitization of Yemini manuscripts will be held in Berlin on May 9 and 10. It is being organized by Freie Universität Berlin and the Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek). The workshop is part of the Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative (YMDI) co-funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). YMDI is a collective of research librarians and leading scholars of classical Islam, Middle Eastern history, and Arabic Literature whose mission is to preserve the Arabic manuscripts in the private libraries of Yemen. Most of the meetings are open to the public (excluding the ones on Thursday afternoon), and there are no admission fees. For media representatives there will be an opportunity to conduct interviews.

The workshop will focus on contributions dealing with the current state of private collections in Yemen, the locally specific distinct ideas in Yemeni manuscripts, the digital preservation and cataloging of Arabic manuscripts, and the importance of the manuscripts in the so-called digital humanities, or the humanities preserved in electronic form. The workshop is being made possible with DFG/NEH funding and additional support from the European Research Council.

The Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative was founded in 2010. It has taken on the task, together with the Yemen-based Imam Zayd ben Ali Cultural Foundation, to digitize and catalog the volumes of the numerous but widely scattered private collections in Yemen. In this way the manuscripts will be made available to the interested public through the online catalogs of the Berlin State Library and the Princeton University Library. The involved scholars are working to preserve the unique cultural heritage of Yemen that, due to the uncertain political and economic situation there, is now at risk more than ever. Only recently have scholars begun to gain access to vast collections of historical manuscripts in various private and public libraries in Yemen. The collection, by conservative estimates roughly 50,000 mostly unique manuscripts, can certainly compare with those of large, prestigious libraries, such as the Egyptian National Library in Cairo, the Süleimaniye Library in Istanbul, or the Majlis Library in Tehran.

The unique features of the Yemeni manuscripts are related to their origins, which make them the world's unique witness to a rationalist tradition of thought in Islam. They are, however, a treasure that threatens to be lost forever. During the past few decades, the manuscripts have continually been threatened from the economically and politically unstable situation in Yemen, the disastrous storage conditions, and their sale to private collectors. Most recently the situation has escalated due to the deliberate destruction of the manuscripts by extremist groups. The digitization of the rare manuscripts that is being carried out by the initiative could be the last chance to preserve for posterity, at least in a virtual form, some of the knowledge that has been conserved in written form for centuries.

Further Information

Dr. phil. Katja Jung, Academic Coordinator, Research Unit Intellectual History of the Islamicate World, Freie Universität Berlin Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 838 51068, Email:

Link to the Conference Program