The library became one of the richest Ottoman archives in the world in 1931 when it acquired millions of Ottoman documents from Turkey. Today, the library’s Oriental Department contains more than 160 sijills, 1000 registers, 1,000,000 individual documents, and thousands of manuscripts, from all the provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The library is truly a hidden gem for scholars of the Middle East and the Balkans.
The John Rylands Library in Manchester is one of the best libraries in the United Kingdom, and holds more than one million manuscripts and documents, including important collections of material in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and other Near Eastern languages.
Located on the grounds of the National Garden in the Topkhane district of Tehran, the library and museum are a must-see not only for researchers but also anybody visiting Iran’s capital. While the museum holds an extensive collection of various artifacts, coins, artworks and carpets, the tens of thousands of Islamic manuscripts, many of which are rare and some unique, make the library one of the largest depositories of its kind in Iran.
The Bosniak Institute in Sarajevo was a foundation established to promote the development and preservation of the cultural wealth, history and identity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Institute offers a large, multi-themed library, a manuscript and rare books collection, an archive and various special collections such as those of postcards and audio records.
The National Archives of Japan are an important resource for scholars interested in examining Japan’s evolving relationship with the Middle East. The archive contains material on all aspects of Japanese governmental and scholarly contacts with the Middle East since the nineteenth century.
The Archivo General de Simancas (AGS) is the primary central archive of the Hispanic Monarchy for documents from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, although it also holds documents dating from the medieval period. It is located in the fifteenth-century castle of Simancas in a small village of the same name, ten kilometers from Valladolid. It is a valuable repository not only for the study of early modern Iberian empires, but also for North Africa and the Mediterranean.
The Chester Beatty Library contains Oriental and Western books and manuscripts bequeathed by the private collector Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968). Located on the grounds of Dublin Castle, the library houses one of the finest manuscript collections of Islamic and East Asian material in Europe and is especially well known for its illustrated manuscripts.
The Institute for Oriental Studies in Sarajevo (Orijentalni institut u Sarajevu) is a public research institution dedicated to the study of the Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages and literatures, both in general and, more specifically, for Bosnia’s Ottoman past. It was formerly one of the most important institutions for conducting research on the Ottoman heritage of the former Yugoslavia, although today, regrettably, it is better known for its most tragic fate: it was burnt down to the ground in 1992. Despite this, it still contains a modest collection of manuscripts and documents in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Bosnian, all of which have been digitized, and two collections of reference literature.
Gazi Husrev-Begova Biblioteka is the largest collection of Islamic manuscripts and documents in the Balkans. Located on the premises of the mosque complex of the same name in Sarajevo, the well-catalogued collection and brand new library is one of the premier locations for the study of the Ottoman Empire in general and the Balkans in particular. At the beginning of 2014, the library will officially open a state-of-the-art building to researchers and the general public.
How Digitization has Transformed Manuscript Research: New Methods for Early Modern Islamic Intellectual History: The mass digitization of manuscripts is blurring the long held boundaries between manuscript libraries and archives and altering the act of research in the process. Scholars often view the changes that digitization entails in a negative light as the physical document is increasingly removed from the hands of the researcher. Here, though, I would like to take a different approach and explore the true possibilities provided by digitization as scholars are able to ask new questions, discover unknown texts, and gain a different understanding of intellectual life in the early modern Islamic world in particular. My belief is that a fundamental shift has occurred now that researchers can view twenty, fifty, or even one hundred manuscripts a day rather than two to three. In what follows, I examine some of the techniques we can use and the insights we can gain when given the opportunity to look at thousands of manuscripts during a research period.