Near and Middle Eastern Books and Manuscripts

Yale University began to systematically collect Islamic and Near Eastern manuscripts in the nineteenth century, establishing itself as one of the first academic institutions to do so. Over the past 100 years, the collections have grown through purchases and donations. Today the Beinecke Library’s collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts is among the oldest and richest collections in North America. In addition to a few beautiful Armenian Gospel books and a rich collection of Arabic, Persian, and Syrian manuscripts, the Beinecke Library holds significant papyri from Dura-Europos in Late Roman Syria and from elsewhere, although it no longer collects in this area.

The first substantial donation of Arabic manuscripts came from Edward Elbridge Salisbury (1814–1901). In 1841 the Yale Corporation appointed Salisbury, 1832, professor of Arabic and Sanskrit languages and literature, the first such position in the Americas. Salisbury continued to collect manuscripts after his retirement from the university and gave ninety-seven Arabic manuscripts and many printed books in 1870. Salisbury was a member of the American Orientalist Society, whose manuscripts are held by the Beinecke Library.

The second large group of manuscripts was purchased for Yale by Morris Ketchum Jessup from Count Landberg (1848–1924), a Swedish Arabic scholar. In 1900, Jessup gave 835 manuscripts, which now form the Landberg Collection. The third component is made up of manuscripts originally collected by the American Oriental Society (AOS), which included 45 Arabic, 19 Persian, and 21 Turkish manuscripts. In 1972 the Beinecke Library acquired 538 manuscripts from the Oskar Rescher Collection, around 210 of which are Arabic, over 150 Turkish, and close to 25 Persian.

The last substantial purchase provided the manuscripts belonging to the Hartford Theological Seminary Library. The collection includes 1,400 Arabic manuscripts, 200 Persian and Turkish manuscripts, as well as some important Armenian Christian manuscripts. Hartford Theological Seminary’s collection of Arabic materials was begun by its first professor of Semitic languages, Duncan Black Macdonald (1863–1943) who encouraged the purchase of a vast variety of Islamic and Christian material from the Middle East throughout his long tenure at Hartford. The principle collector was Macdonald’s colleague and Armenian scholar Madiros Harootioon Ananikian, whose collection was purchased for Hartford by Robert Garrett.