Endangered Archives

EAP399: Historical collections of manuscripts located at Al-Jazzar mosque library in Acre

Mr Qasem Abu Harb, Council for British Research in the Levant
2010 award - Major project
£19,910 for 5 months

VIEW FILES FROM THIS PROJECT

Project Overview

The main goal of this project is to digitise the historical manuscript collection from the holdings of the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library (Al-Ahmadiyya), located in the city of Acre in northern Israel. Digitisation is planned primarily as a preservation activity in order to create archival digital copies of the original materials that are at risk of deterioration. The materials selected for digitisation include a collection of 50 Arabic language manuscripts, dating back to the 14th century,. These unique materials are of extreme historical importance, documenting the history and cultural heritage of Palestine. Digitisation will help to preserve these historical materials for current and future generations.

Digital archival copies of the original materials will be created as a result of this project and two sets of archival files will be created. The first set will be stored at the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library and the second set will be transferred to the British Library. The original collection will remain at the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library.

The materials selected for this project are housed at Al-Jazzar Mosque Library in Acre that at one point was considered one of the best libraries for Islamic literature in the region. The manuscript collection contains 50 Arabic language titles that span over several Islamic periods from the 14th century A.D. to the end of the Ottoman rule in Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century. Most of the manuscripts relate to aspects of the Islamic religion, but also cover Arabic literature, the Arabic language, logic, math, and Sufism and provide a unique insight into centuries of Arabic culture in Palestine.

The manuscripts pose a great preservation challenge because of their uniqueness and high value. They are tightly bound and many pages are damaged due to regular wear and tear, a lack of a comprehensive preservation programme, a lack of security and environmental factors. Digitisation of the manuscript collection has to be conducted on the premises of the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library. Because of the high historical and monetary value, the materials cannot be transported to a different location for scanning.

The Al-Jazzar Mosque Library, founded in 1804, was prized for its collection of Islamic literature. Unfortunately, the library's collection of rare manuscripts has been depleted during the periods of political unrest, and more recently through vandalism and theft. The intent of this project is to digitise the remaining manuscripts in order to create digital surrogates of this unique collection and preserve it for the future.

The digitisation project provides an opportunity to preserve these historical manuscripts and share them with a wider community of scholars and students. Most of the materials included in the collection are particularly rare as they represent the only known copies of these unique titles. In addition, the project intends to create multiple derivative copies to widen access to these rare materials to scholars, students, and the general public, and to make the collection more visible and accessible.

Project Outcome

The project resulted in creating high-quality digital archival copies of 54 rare manuscripts, consisting of 17,965 pages, from the holdings of the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library. The manuscripts were photographed with a professional quality digital camera, Canon EOS 50 D to produce digital representations of the original materials for preservation purposes.

The digitisation process was conducted on the premises of the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library. The original manuscripts remain in the holdings of the library at the the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library in Acre. Two sets of digital archival copies of the manuscripts in TIFF format were created as a result of this project. The first set was deposited with the Al-Jazzar Mosque Library; the second was deposited at the British Library. The copies of the manuscripts were also created in PDF format.

Read online the open access article: Digitisation of Islamic manuscripts and periodicals in Jerusalem and Acre, published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF (985KB).

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP399/1 Manuscript Collection at al-Jazzar Mosque Library in Acre [10th Century - early 19th Century]

The catalogue is available here.