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Islamic Book Culture through the Lens of Two Private Libraries, 1850–1940

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image of Intellectual History of the Islamicate World

This paper uses the libraries of two prominent Azharī scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a window to the literary horizons of Islamic scholarship at the cusp of the print revolution. A comparative analysis of the two libraries’ holdings in law, theology, philosophy, literature, and Quranic exegesis reveals that the late manuscript tradition was overwhelmingly focused on a small number of curriculum texts and extensive commentaries on them, while ignoring most of the works that we today consider the classics of these fields. Only in the early twentieth century were these classics rediscovered and popularized through print. Further, the vast majority of the printed works in the two libraries was produced in Egypt, but they also contained significant numbers of works from Istanbul, Iran, and India. Books printed in Europe, however, were nearly absent.

Affiliations: 1: University of Chicago


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