Princeton’s Holdings of the al-Madani Library

Amin b. Hasan al-Hulwani al-Madani al-Hanafi (d. 1898) was a Medinese scholar and bookseller whose prolific Arabic scholarly library was accumulated through his travels across the Arab world and during his years living in Cairo, the book capital of the region in the nineteenth century. The manuscripts from his library represent a scholar’s interests, offering a window into the intellectual world of a nineteenth-century, Arab collector. These manuscripts also speak more broadly to the history of manuscript collecting in the Middle East. The Houtsma and Littman Collections constitute Princeton's holdings of the al-Madani library and are the focus of an ongoing three year digitization initiative that commenced in the Fall of 2021. Of the two collections Princeton holds from his library, the Houtsma collection, indicated by an H at the end of the manuscript shelfmark, contains 1581 texts (around 1200 volumes) and was purchased by Robert Garrett in 1900 from E.J. Brill, who had acquired these manuscripts from al-Madani himself. In 1904, Garrett acquired another set of manuscripts that had belonged to the same al-Madani when he purchased the Littman collection, which contains 481 texts (475 volumes), and is recognizable by the L at the end of its manuscripts’ shelfmarks.

By focusing efforts on the digitization of a personal library, the project speaks to the increasing scholarly interest in use and provenance, which is central to any bibliographic study. There is particular potential for material that embodies these approaches to be used in instruction as well. Courses will use these digitized codices as the basis for lessons on primary source literacy, manuscript culture in the Islamic world, navigating digitized manuscripts (and comparing digital methods to physical ones), understanding the ethos of collections, collecting, and collectors, and other aspects of book history. This proposed ‘history of collecting’ approach to digitization ensures a solid diversity of content compared to title-by-title, volume-by-volume, or randomized selection. These two sub-collections of manuscripts were therefore selected for digitization due to their history, content, and research potential.

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