The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century is a shortened version of the three volumes of Igor de Rachewiltz’s similarly-titled work published by Brill in 2004 and 2013. It includes the full translation with a few notes, but omits the extensive introduction explaining the nature and origin of the text, the detailed commentary concerning linguistic and historical aspects of the text, and the exhaustive bibliography of the original. Included are the genealogical table and two maps from 2004, a shorter version of two indexes, and a very brief list of works cited.
The first Islamic manuscript to enter the Library was a copy of the Qur’an donated in 1631 by the Arabic scholar William Bedwell. Since that time the Library’s Islamic manuscripts collection has grown in size and diversity to over 5,000 items. They shed a light on many aspects of the culture of the Islamic world, its beliefs and learning. Such a collection was amassed over subsequent centuries either from scholarly collectors or purchased by skilled librarians to add more depth to the already impressive range of treasures. But this extraordinary collection has remained relatively unknown outside the Library. Today, the aim is to change this with a number of different approaches. We are creating a fully searchable online catalogue of the manuscripts and digitising a selection of the most beautiful and interesting texts to make them available to the international scholarly community anywhere in the world via the internet. At the same time, the practical care of the original items, carried out by our own skilled conservators, will ensure their long-term survival for future generations. The Islamic manuscripts collection is supported within the Library by a team of specialists whose knowledge and skills, whether academic, practical or technical, aim to bring them to the attention of researchers. But only with a sustained programme of scholarly co-operation with experts outside the Library can the full content and significance of these texts be realised and their place in the wider context of Islamic scholarship become established.
These are some books I’m planning to read over the summer.
1) Joan A. Holladay, Genealogy and the Politics of Representation in the High and Late Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.
“Images and image cycles with genealogical content were everywhere in the high and later Middle Ages. They represent families related by blood as well as successive office holders and appear as family trees and lineages of single figures in manuscripts, on walls and in stained glass, and in sculpture and metalwork. Yet art historians have hardly remarked on the frequency of these images. Considering the physical contexts and functions of these works alongside the goals of their patrons, this volume examines groups of figural genealogies ranging across northern Europe and dating from the mid-twelfth to the mid-fourteenth century. Joan A. Holladay considers how they were used to legitimize rulers and support their political and territorial goals, to reinforce archbishops’ rights to crown kings, to cement relationships between families of founders and their monastic foundations, and to commemorate the dead. The flexibility and legibility of this genre was key to its widespread use.”
The reign of Roger II (r. 1130-1154), who had began his rule as Count of Sicily in 1105, became Duke of Apulia and Calabria in 1127, and then King of Sicily in 1130, has long fascinated everyone interested in Mediterranean history. It marks a particularly significant period for the consolidation of Norman rule in both Sicily and southern Italy. Roger II instituted a strong royal administration, overcame various challenges to his authority (in the form of rebellions) and inaugurated an expansionist foreign policy that resulted in the incorporation of substantial territories in North Africa into his realm (discussed further here).
In addition to overseeing the transformation of the Norman kingdom into a Mediterranean power that controlled Sicily, southern Italy and parts of modern-day Tunisia and Libya, Roger II’s reign is also distinguished by his patronage of a courtly culture colored as much by Arab-Islamic and Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) influences as by Latin Christian culture. This is unsurprising, given the rich Islamic and Eastern Roman history of Sicily in the preceding centuries. Indeed, the island’s large population of Christians, Muslims and Jews was predominantly Greek and Arabic speaking during the early 12th century. This variety of cultural influences and convergence of diverse communities is indicated by the distinctive culture of the Norman kingdom, perhaps best embodied by the wonderful architecture patronized and constructed by Roger II and his successors during the 12th century.
(Muqarnas in the Palatine Chapel/Cappella Palatina in Palermo, constructed between 1132 and 1180. Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bautisterias/24595747119/)
“On a calm winter morning, on 4th January, 1761, a company of five men, clad for a journey, were rowed out from the Tollbooth into the shipping roads of Copenhagen. […] They were bound for “Happy Arabia”, but none of them seemed particularly happy at the thought”.
This is how Thorkild Hansen starts his book , Arabia Felix. The Danish expedition of 1761-1767. Hansen’s work was published in 1962, roughly two centuries after the Danish expedition took place, and by then, the adventures of the five men, the first European scholars to embark on a scientific expedition to Yemen, was well forgotten. Hansen compiled the book starting from the original documents concerning the expedition – articles, journals, letters, drawings – and combining them with a touch of gentle imagination. The result is an exquisite account. Of a failure.
Map of Taiz, drawn by Niebhur.
The Danish expedition that left…
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Following a truly bizarre exchange on Twitter a few months ago, the racial animus that inheres in the term moor has been on my mind. It’s not just social media, either: I’m teaching a Muslim Spain course this fall and using Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain as the main text, which meant that I had to devote part of my lecture on race in the Middle Ages to why we don’t use that term even though Fletcher does, and what it means for us to live with the book this semester and to try to do better than its author does when we write and talk about questions of race. It’s been percolating in the back of my head, then, and so it is perhaps not surprising that the role of moor in Spanish historiography and popular perception made its way into the talk I gave at the University of Minnesota…
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The following biographies of medieval Andalusi women are drawn from the Kitāb al-Ṣilah of Ibn Bashkuwal (d. 1183), the Takmilat Kitāb al-Ṣilah by Ibn al-Abbar (d. 1260), and the Kitāb Ṣilat al-Ṣila by Ibn al-Zubayr (d. 1308). They include women from various classes of society and different regions of al-Andalus who participated in scholarship and learning between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. These biographical works and accounts provide important insight into the social and intellectual history of al-Andalus and allow modern scholars to better understand the role of Andalusi women in the transmission of knowledge during the Middle Ages.
An excellent French translation of the sections of Izz al-Din ibn al-Athir’s historical chronicle dealing with the reign of Zirid emir al-Mu’izz ibn Badis (r. 1016-1062)