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Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies: Special Collections



The Sphinx, from drawing by David Roberts The Library’s Special Collections provide a rich resource for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Manchester.

Our collections cover areas as diverse as the Arab-Israeli conflict, Persian and Turkish literatures, medieval Arab history and religion, the Ancient Middle East, Rabbinic discourse, Turkic linguistics and Ottoman diplomacy.

This guide will identify collection strengths and help you access the most relevant material.

Collection strengths

The Library's manuscript collections provide in-depth coverage of religion (especially the Abrahamic faiths), literature, visual arts and history, and good coverage of geography, linguistics and science. Of particular note are the substantial collections of manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Samaritan and Coptic.

Our printed holdings complement these manuscript collections, encompassing Arabic and Hebrew works printed in Renaissance Italy, early Middle Eastern regional printing and Jewish literature and theological texts.

The John Rylands Research Institute and Library holds documentary sources relating to life in the Middle East dating back to the earliest forms of writing. Our papyrological collections represent life in Egypt from the ancient civilisations to medieval cultures. The Genizah fragments in the Library throw light on the social, commercial, political, religious and intellectual life of the Levant as a whole.

Relationships between the Middle East and Europe are documented across Special Collections, most notably in archives relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The study of Middle Eastern culture by European scholars is documented by the manuscripts of notable Orientalists from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, and through the archives of Manchester academics.

Religions and Theology in the Middle East

Giant Qur'anThe history and literature of Islam is well represented in our collections, particularly in the substantial collection of Arabic manuscripts which contains Qur'anic manuscripts from the 8th century CE onwards, many commentaries and other theological texts, and a smaller number of documentary sources. Theological texts can also be found in other manuscript groups, particularly the Turkish and Persian manuscripts.

Christianity in the Middle East is also very well represented in our manuscript and papyri collections. The papyri, largely of Egyptian origin, include the earliest known fragments of the New Testament and Greek Old Testament, a substantial number of other important canonical and non-canonical texts. The writings of Christian communities in the Middle East and North Africa can be found in a number of our manuscript collections, particularly Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopian and Armenian.

 Also originating in Egypt is our Genizah Collection, containing thousands of fragments relating to Autograph of MaimonidesJewish faith, culture and history from the 10th century to the nineteenth century. In addition to this we hold important collections of Samaritan and Hebrew manuscripts and amulets. The Library holds Hebrew incunabula and early Bibles printed in Hebrew, including a copy of the first portion of the Hebrew Bible to be printed in 1477. The Marmorstein and Teltscher collections are rich in classical rabbinic texts and in East European responsa. The Jewish enlightenment is represented in the Haskalah Collection, while the Teltscher Archive deals with Judaism, Jewish history and the practice of Judaism.

Other religions in the region are also represented to a lesser extent, particularly Zoroastrianism in our Persian and Parsi manuscripts.

History of the Middle East

Manuscripts in the Library record life in the Middle East from antiquity to the nineteenth century. Life in Ancient Mesopotamia is documented in more than a thousand cuneiform tablets from Ancient Mesopotamia. The John Rylands Research Institute and Library holds fragments of papyrus written in Egyptian (including hieroglyphs, hieratic and demotic), Greek, Coptic and Arabic. The majority of these are documentary sources, revealing details about the lives of individuals and communities in Egypt.

The Islamic manuscript collections (ArabicPersian and Turkish) contain many manuscript copies of histories of the Middle East and a smaller number of original historical documents of the Ottoman Empire and Morocco. 

Modern Jewish history and the foundation of Israel are represented in several archive collections. The massive Guardian Archive includes correspondence with the Zionist pioneer Chaim Weizmann and documents the founding of Israel and the later Middle East conflicts. Correspondence with Weizmann is also to be found among the papers of Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), while the W.P. Crozier Papers incorporate interviews with Weizmann and other statesmen over the issue of the Jewish National Home.

More recently, the Arab-Israeli conflict is documented in the Military Papers of Major-General Eric Edward Dorman O'Gowan and in the Dame Mabel Tylecote Printed Collection which contains printed material relating to the Anglo-Israel Association, the foundation of Israel and the Middle East conflict.

Translation and linguistics

Trilingual Qur'an, fifteenth centuryThe Library holds substantial collections of works in translation throughout our manuscript, archive and printed book collections. Translations and multi-lingual versions of the Bible and the Qu'ran are particularly well represented in our manuscript and print collections. The Carcanet Press Archive contains correspondence and drafts relating to the work of several modern Middle Eastern writers and literary translators, including Orhan Pamuk and Latife Tekin.

We also have good holdings relating to the study of language and translation - including grammatical and lexicographical works in many languages, and manuscripts and research papers of eminent scholars, from a small body of material relating to Sir William Jones, to larger archives such as that of the Egyptologist Dr Eve Reymond.

Islamic culture

Islamic culture is well represented in our manuscript collections, particularly Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts and Indian drawings. The subject range of these collections is vast, encompassing literature, music, art, religion, science and medicine, history and sport.

Important evidence of changing relations between Islamic culture and Western Europe is evidenced not only in the contents of manuscripts, archives and printed books (which include European examples of early printing in Arabic and Hebrew), but also in the history of the collections themselves, many formed by eminent European Orientalists.

What are Special Collections?

picture of a Chaucer manuscript and an iPad image of the same manuscript

What are Special Collections?

The University of Manchester Library holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives and visual collections in the world. These collections are mainly concentrated in the magnificent building on Deansgate, The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, in the centre of Manchester. They are also housed in the Main Library on the University campus and at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre, in Manchester Central Library. This resource introduces the different types of materials found in Special Collections and explains how they can be used to support your studies. For general tips on accessing digital and physical collections and visiting our reading room please look at our other Medium resources.

Using Special Collections

You are welcome to make use of Special Collections in your learning and research.

Due to the special nature of the material, we provide access in a controlled environment, and there are some restrictions on use and access, particularly for fragile material or modern archives which may contain sensitive data.

Please read our guidance pages on the web for details.

Search Special Collections

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