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manuscript in Arabic language
Kitab Dala’il al-Khayrat, 1750-1800.Photograph: Library of Congress, 2015.

Finding Arabic Miniatures: a special project during the internship in the Library of Congress

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This is a guest blog from Hallie Oines, who interned in the Collections Management Division between September 2022 and May 2023.

While at the University of Maryland studying Library and Information Science with a focus in Archives and Digital Curation, I was fortunate enough to attend the class on Library and Archives Preservation, where I was first introduced to the professor’s monumental work at the Library of Congress. I was in awe of her and her work. Some months later I jumped at the opportunity to apply to an internship in the Collections Management Division under her supervision (Beatriz Haspo, the Collections Officer of the Preservation Directorate).

My internship started in the Fall of 2022 and was extended until the end of the Spring semester of 2023. I worked on a great variety of projects in the general collections related to collections care, space management, and collections development.

One of the projects included the Carvalho Monteiro collection. This private collection of over 30,000 items was purchased by the Library in 1927-1929 and became dispersed throughout the general collection before a full comprehensive list was compiled. During my internship I assisted with entering information about each item into the Carvalho Monteiro database and the LOC bibliographic database, ensuring its provenance would be preserved. If you are into finding treasures, you can find more details about this collection in the following blogs: Finding Hidden Treasures: The Carvalho Monteiro Collection (part 1) and The Impact of Provenance: The Carvalho Monteiro Collection (part 2).

Another fascinating project I had the opportunity to work on was processing books from the Miniature Collection being moved to the Library of Congress’s offsite storage facility at Fort Meade. This move will house the collection in a more stable environment ensuring long-term preservation. However, before they are moved off site, it is important that the bibliographic information is updated and the small volumes are packaged properly inside custom-made boxes. In order to increase the standardization of processing miniatures, I compiled new workflows for future interns to use as references. These include a general overarching processing workflow, a rehousing workflow, and a guide to packaging miniatures for offsite storage.

While working on my Practicum, which involves original research with practical application as part of my Master’s degree, I combined the opportunity of my internship at the Library of Congress working with miniature books and my interest in Middle Eastern History. I have always been interested in Middle Eastern History and lived in the region for a brief period of time some years ago. Therefore, I decided to research miniatures written in Arabic at the Library of Congress.

I started first by searching the Library’s online catalog. Unfortunately, while physical dimensions are included in descriptive finding aids, they are not a searchable term. This meant I needed an alternative way to find the miniature books. With the support of my supervisor, I reached out to the African and Middle East Division (AMED) and asked their experts for help in the matter. They showed me some amazing and beautiful items that I will detail below.

The first one was a bound miniature manuscript with the title الأنوار في ذكر or Kitab Dala’il al-Khayrat measuring 8×8 cm (or 3.15×3.15 inches). There was a second version of الأنوار في ذكر within the collection, this one was 10×10 cm (or 3.94×3.94 in). The text was originally written in the early 15th century in Morocco, but this copy was written sometime between 1750-1800.

manuscript in Arabic language
Kitab Dala’il al-Khayrat, 1750-1800.Photograph: Library of Congress, 2015.

The image on the left shows one of the ‘carpet pages’ (a term used to denote full page illuminated manuscripts often found in the first few pages of a text) that has a great deal more illumination surrounding the calligraphy. On the right is an example of a more typical page of text. If you look closely, you will notice that some of the words are in red or gold ink, which is called “rubrication”, often done by calligraphers to emphasize certain words. This type of calligraphy is known as Maghribi script due to it being developed in Northern Africa (the Maghrib).

At the bottom of the image on the left you can see a small word written in Arabic; this is a catchword and will be the first word of the next page. This technique was often used during that period as the calligrapher wrote out the whole book in loose paper before it was bound. By adding catchwords, the bookbinder could ensure that the pages were in the correct order.

The catchword can also be seen in this North African religious text from the AMED collection measuring 3 x 1.5 inches in the image below.

North African text, early 19th century. Photograph by Hallie Oines, 2023

You might notice that the text isn’t outlined and its rubrication is limited to the vowels (the dots and dashes above and below the line of text). However, when looking at the far right of the text you can see that there is standard rubrication in the word written in blue and surrounded by red ink. This style echoes that which we saw earlier in al-Khayrat with one color being used in calligraphy while another is used to outline, previously gold and black, now blue and red.

Another item that was shown to me was a Bible printed in 1945 in Egypt which measured 3.94 x 3 inches and has mother of pearl as well as other precious gems on the cover. As Arabic is read right to left the book opens reverse of books written in English; for this reason, the spine in this image is on the right side of the picture.

Bible, 1945 Egypt. Photograph by Hallie Oines, April 2023

I was excited and honored to see these items from history. Just a very small selection of the exquisite miniature collection written in Arabic within the Library of Congress. In my perspective the calligraphy and composition of the books themselves can be considered an art, and I was fascinated to see them in person.

Suffice to say, my Practicum research was a success and I want to thank the Collections Management Division and my supervisor for this amazing opportunity!


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  1. Wonderful!

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