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A Millennium of Persian Literary Tradition Digitized

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This is guest post by Hirad Dinavari, reference specialist for the Iranian World Collections, African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress. Watch a video of Hirad Dinavari giving a guided tour of the exhibition “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.”

Graphic of a Persian manuscript

Firdawsī,Muntakhab-i Shāhʹnāmah-i Ḥakīm Abū al-Qāsim Firdawsī, ʻalayhi al-raḥmah va al-maghfirah,Manuscript copied in Iran, 1618. (On the World Digital Library). African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

The exciting thing about working at the Library is that you start with one project and it leads you to another, and then another.

In 2015, I co-curated a major exhibit on the Persian book as part of a Library of Congress series on the book. The Librarian of Congress’s vision, stated during the 2012 Summit of the Book was that “Books in their many forms are nothing short of imperative to an informed democracy.” So last year we in the African and Middle Eastern Division organized a six-month exhibition entitled “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.”

Among the materials we exhibited were some of the most exquisite Persian manuscripts in our collections, which brought tens of thousands of people to the Library. This year I planned to digitize these manuscripts and make them available online for everyone around the world to see. But I also wanted other items in the Library’s collections to be included,such as lithographs, early printed books and more modern items from Iran and the greater Persian-speaking regions of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Central and South Asia and the Caucasus.

graphic of Persian manuscript
Firdawsī,Shāhʹnāmah, Manuscript copied in India, late-seventeenth century–early-eighteenth century. (On the World Digital Library). African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

Because of my continual involvement in identifying items, including Persian manuscripts, that are too delicate and brittle to serve researchers in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room, I realized that in order to make them available, digitization was not only a viable but also an unavoidable solution.

Thanks to my participation in the digitization of Afghan and Islamic materials for the World Digital Library over the past five years, I was prepared to embark on a major digitization initiative to preserve these items.

The Persian Language materials being digitized are all rare, public domain works and for most part are housed in AMED’s Near East Section rare book cage. To be manageable and effective, this project adopts a phased approach by categorizing these materials into four types: Manuscripts (Part A), Lithographs (Part B), Early Imprints (Part C) and Islamic Book Bindings and South Asian Persian language Handwritten Booklets (Part D).

Graphic of scanned Persian manuscript
Mīr Alī Ḥusaynī Haravī. Unnamed Sufi treatise, Mashhad or Herat, Iran-Afghanistan, March 1520. (On the World Digital Library). Manuscript. African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress.

Each item has to be examined by a conservation specialist and stabilized if need be for scanning purposes. All uncatalogued titles are then hand carried to the Persian language cataloging team for the creation of a bibliographic record and then released to the Scan Lab for a page count before scanning. After scans are made, project codes are entered into the bibliographic record and sent to the Content Transfer System, where they are added to the AMED digital project server under the larger Library Services server.

Work has now started on Part A of the project, the Persian manuscripts. I am very pleased to report that so far over twenty manuscripts have been fully cataloged and scanned. Digitized materials will gradually be made available online as the project continues progressing.

The images in this post from the scanned manuscripts provide a sampling of the content being digitized.

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