Heritage Publishing
The Manuscript Center’s 6th International Conference
5-7 May 2009

Addressing issues related to Arabic heritage publishing through the ages poses before us a number of questions. What did we publish here in the Arab/Islamic world? And what did European Orientalists publish on the other hand? And how the processes of publishing a manuscript became known here and there, or more accurately, there and here. Actually, the primacy of the “there” stems from the fact that European Orientalists were way ahead of us in publishing Arabic heritage.

This conference, in fact, thrives on questions such as these and many others. For instance, was there ever an overall plan or strategy of publication concerning Arabic/Islamic heritage? What were the rules governing the selection of published texts? How did the publication process look like? And did publishing achieve the goals of introducing that heritage, let alone understanding, developing and overcoming, not overlooking, it? And to what extent was publishing Arabic and Islamic heritage a concomitant reaction to the European quest for publishing classical (Greek& Latin) works? What were Europeans looking for in our heritage? Were they the roots of their culture? Or was it the colonial institution honing its powers by making use of Orientalist scholarship?

Our previous conference on “Lost and Embedded Manuscript Texts”, held in May 2008, proved that we only have a nodding acquaintance with Arabic and Islamic manuscript heritage. This is due to the fact that what is lost, hidden, unknown, and uncovered regarding this heritage is way much more than what we actually know. Hence the move from the lost and uncovered in the previous conference to the published in that upcoming conference. We need to take a deeper look at our published heritage in order to constitute a more panoramic outlook at that heritage.

What is Heritage Publishing?

Heritage publishing refers to the processes that aim to transform a text from its manuscript form to the more advanced form of printing. Printing itself witnessed a number of developments through the ages till it turned digital in these days. We mean by a published work all that is printed and digitized. A published manuscript, therefore, is printed or digitized according to the various methods of recognized publishing, such as: collating the published manuscript with other manuscripts; relying on a unique manuscript; producing a facsimile of a certain manuscript; or reproducing a manuscript digitally in a searchable online format, in a textual database/corpus or on CDs. Published works are, admittedly, more accessible and more widespread than manuscripts even if a given manuscript has many copies worldwide.

A History of Heritage Publishing

During the first half of the 15th century, Johann Gutenberg surprised the whole world with his invention of the movable type printing machine. And in spite of the fact that China and Korea invented the same technology almost 500 years earlier, this technology remained a secret that was kept hidden from the world.

Early European printing types were Latin, of course. This enabled them to publish myriads of texts and works related to European classical heritage. On top of these works is the 42-line Bible, or B42, which was printed around 1455.

European academies translated Arabic works in Latin way before the invention of printing in Europe. The European printing of these works ignited an interest in the processes of publishing. The translations of Gerard of Cremona (1187-1114) bear witness to this interest: Ibn Sīnā’s Canon was published in Venice in 1473, three centuries after his completion of the translation and three decades after the invention of printing. In 1480 his translation of al-Rāzī’s al-Asrār fī al-Kimiyā’ was also published in Venice; his translation of al-Zahrāwī’s al-Tasrīf liman ‘Ajaza ‘an al-Ta’līf was published in 1497, then his translations of al-Kindī’s works and the Treatises of Ikhwān al-Safā were published also in Venice in 1507.    

The publishing of these Latin translations of Arabic works followed successively. In Italy and Germany editions of Michael Scott’s translations of works by Ibn Rušd and Ibn Sīnā came to follow. Averroes’ commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima was published in Padua in 1477, and another translation of a commentary on Aristotle’s De Animalibus attributed to Avicenna in 1492.

Similarly, many other translations were published in Europe: Battani’s Zij (Nuremberg 1537), Hunain b. Ishāq’s al-Samā’ wa al-‘Ālam (Venice 1508), al-Kindī’s Philosophical Treatises (Augsburg 1489), Abū Ma‘šar al-Balkhī’s Opera (Venice 1495), and in 1543 Robert of Chester published his translation of the Qur’ān.

As to Arabic types, it is said that they first appeared in Germany in 1486, where they were used in Bernard von Breydenbach’s Le grant voyage de hierusalem introducing, among other things, the Arabic alphabet. At the early beginnings of the 16th century, a number of polyglot wordlists appeared in Spain exhibiting Arabic words. Later in Italy, full books were printed using Arabic alphabet, the first of these, arguably, is Salāt al-Sawā‘ī (Book of Hours) which was published in the Italian city of Fano in 1514. Decades later, the Arabic translation of the Letter of Paul to the Galatians appeared in Germany in 1583.

The first thing that grabs our attention regarding early books printed in Europe using Arabic alphabet is that they are all Christian books or elementary language manuals. The Qur’ān, however, had a tardy appearance in the Arab world: Muslim sheikhs adamantly rejected printing the Qur’ān because of the smell of the ink used at this time. (According to them the ink was unclean and thus it may defile the Qur’ān.) This puritan attitude resulted in the very late appearance of al-Azhar first printed edition of the Qur’ān in 1923.  

Contrary to this hesitation in the Arab and Muslim world, the Catholic Church in Europe was extremely keen on publishing Christian books, making it available to Christian Arab communities in Europe, and to missionaries in the Arab world. That explains the early appearance of such books as the Horae Canonicae, Rituals of Christianity, and the catechetical On the Christian Doctrine. It is worth mentioning that a number of European print houses were specialized in printing these Christian Arabic books such as the Ambrosiana print house.

Print editions of Arabic books in Europe followed successively: Guillaume Postel’s Arabic Grammar was published in 1538; in 1613 the Imprimerie Royale in Paris published a book entitled Arab Philosophers; in 1505 in Granada Pedru de Alcala published his Arte para legeramente saber la lingua araviga; Rudimenta Linguae Arabicae by T. Erpenius in 1620. In 1616 the first fully diacriticized Arabic book printed in Leiden was the Story of Josef.

This started a trend in printing and publishing Arabic books in Europe. These books were either critically edited or printed without a critical apparatus. However, they appeared centuries before their appearance in the Arab world. Ibn Sīnā’s Canon was translated into Latin in 1473, then published in Rome in 1593; Ibn Hišām’s Qatr al-Nadā wa Bal al-Sadā was printed in Holland by Brill with a French translation in 1887.

Printing in the Arab world has lagged behind almost 250 years after the printing revolution in Europe. Interestingly, the first printed books in the Arab world were printed in Aleppo. There the first Arabic Psalms were printed in 1706 along with the Gospels. Istanbul was to come next in this realm of printing by printing Hājī Khalīfā’s Tuhfat al-Kibār fī Asfār al-Bihār in 1729. The Shuair Monastery in Lebanon owned a press that used to print religious and theological works, such as: Mizān al-Zamān in (1734), Arabic Psalms in (1735), Ta’mulāt Rawhiyya li ’Ayām al-’Usbū‘ in (1736). We can clearly notice that Christian works were at the forefront of the printing process in both the European and the Arab worlds.

The first known printed edition of the Qur’ān, however, was produced in Venice by Alessandro Paganini between 9 August 1537 and 9 August 1538. The Qur’ān’s first printed edition in the Arab world was published in Istanbul in 1727, and in Egypt by al-Azhar University/Mosque in 1923 after 4 centuries of its first printing in Europe.

Egypt was a bit late in entering this world of printing. However, it soon assumed an important position in the Arab world as relates to printing. The movable type press was first introduced to the Egyptians through the Napoleonic French Campaign on Egypt. The first printed materials by this press were quite scanty and of no value, and they were all aimed at publicizing the “good will” of the French invaders. Of these publication we may mention the following: the Psalms, Medical instructions, the Wisdom of Luqmān. The respected and scholarly works, however, were produced in Cairo by the pioneering Būlāq press.

Conference Themes:

  1. Exploring the different methods of publishing and critical editing especially during the first stages in the history of printing Arabic works in Europe, be they published in Arabic script or translated into a European language. Shedding light on the relationships between original manuscripts and printed and translated works, and whether the two texts (the original manuscript and the printed one) matched or not. And how did they translated and edited these texts simultaneously?
  2. What are the relationships between Orientalism and publishing in Europe? What was the support offered by the printing press to the Orientalists? Did the accumulation of Arabic manuscripts influence the publishing movement in Europe? Did colonial tendencies encourage Arabic heritage publishing, or where there other “innocent” reasons?
  3. Exploring textual criticism and its influence on European publishing methods, and whether publishing and editing methods changed according to the genre or topic of the work.
  4. Did the publishing of Greek and Latin classics influence the publishing of Arabic texts? And how different the methods of publishing these two patrimonies were? Did the Europeans regard Arabic works as a subsidiary product of ancient European heritage?
  5. Exploring grand publishing projects and series. How far these projects achieved its goals? And do we have in the Arab world anything comparable to the Loeb Classics series? Can we compare the project of Dā’irat al-Ma‘ārif al-‘Uthmaniyya of the Dekkan to the Loeb or other similar series?
  6. The importance of catalogues in identifying major works.
  7. The phenomenon of republishing already publishing works using different methods or criteria. Exploring the differences between different editions of the same work.
Modern technologies in publishing, and new digital publishing of major Arabic works. The impact of providing open access to digitized Arabic manuscripts that are still in their manuscript form.