The Yale-SOAS project is a pilot to create an archive of and a gateway to Islamic manuscripts. The selection for this pilot is composed of important manuscripts, related manuscript catalogues, and language dictionaries held separately in the collections at Yale and SOAS.
In other words, the intention is to make available in electronic all the tools that the scholar requires to work on manuscripts which he normally has to accumulate on his desk in a Library's reading room.
Importance of Manuscripts for Islamic Studies
A characteristic feature of Islamic culture as compared to the other great book based classical traditions of the world like the Chinese, Hindu and European, is its enormous geographical extent from Morocco to the easternmost islands of the Malay Archipelago. Moreover the European conquests of this area, beginning in a small way in the sixteenth century in South Asia and South East Asia and spreading to the whole area in the nineteenth century, led to the distribution of many of the most important cultural artifacts of Islamic culture, and in particular manuscripts, to the capital cities and university centres of the colonising countries, and in the twentieth by purchase to North America. This makes the task of the scholar working on Islamic texts of gathering different versions of a work together
All cultures present scholars with special problems but particular problems face scholars working in different scripts. Islamic culture has been primarily expressed through the medium of the Arabic language, but also of other languages like Persian and Turkish which have used variants of the Arabic script. The fact that Arabic letters are written from right to left and are all joined up even in their printed form has delayed the full use of digitisation of Arabic, and more particularly digitisation of Arabic and Latin scripts on the same page.
Access to specialist dictionaries is vital for the study of classical Arabic texts, as the Arabic language has built up a huge vocabulary in the course of an unbroken written tradition stretching back to the sixth century A.D. Much excellent work has been done by Western scholars working on Islamic manuscripts, but the fruits of their labours are hidden away in manuscript catalogues which are difficult to access.
The digital collection is now available via SOAS Digital Archives and Special Collections website