Mingana manuscripts ignored, Korans placed online instead

I saw today an announcement of the Virtual Manuscripts Room at the Mingana collection in Birmingham.  This is now available here.  They’ve scanned 71 mss.  But… disaster; political correctness has struck.  They’ve ignored nearly all the collection, in favour of the stray Islamic items that Mingana picked up.  Only about a dozen Syriac and a handful of Arabic Christian mss have been digitised.  The press release doesn’t even mention non-Islamic items.

I must say that I feel gutted.  Alphone Mingana must be bewailing that he ever left his mss in Birmingham.  Edward Cadbury must be apologising to him and wishing that he had chosen his heirs with more care.

UPDATE: I’ve emailed David Pulford at the library and it seems that JISC — who funded it — is to blame for the way this was presented.  They’re doing some “Digital Islam” thing at the moment, and the press release reflected that pretty much exclusively.  Still wish we had fewer Korans and more digital Dionysius bar Salibi, tho.



9 thoughts on “Mingana manuscripts ignored, Korans placed online instead

  1. Their project blog tells us:

    Seventy-four manuscripts from the collection have been digitized, at 300 dpi full colour. As Birmingham holds the IPR on these images they will be made available to all in the VMR. Each manuscript will be identified by a base description, accompanied by scanned pages from the existing printed description. This will provide a foundation for expansion by a later project, to make available all 3000 Mingana manuscripts within the VMR…

    Projects have to start somewhere.

  2. You’re quite right, and the idea of doing the lot is meritorious.

    But if you have a collection famous for its Syriac and Arabic Christian mss, and, out of 71 mss, only do 11 Syriac and 8 Arabic Christian, well this is very disappointing! I was hoping for 70-odd Syriac and Arabic Christian mss, and happy to tolerate the odd Koran.

  3. Everyone has a point here. In a collection of 3000 plus manuscripts, any starting point is somewhat arbitrary, and is also bound to try to satisfy multiple priorities, and so not satisfy any one priority very well. In some defence of the number of Islamic Arabic manuscripts in the selection online: well, two thirds of the whole collection (c. 2024 mss out of c. 3000) is Islamic Arabic so I don’t think having 29 of the 71 from Islamic Arabic amounts to over-representation. The emphasis on the Qur’an copy is not very sinister: it seems this is one of the oldest Qur’ans in existence so it seems a simple choice to highlight (imagine if we found a gospel manuscript dating from within seventy years of Jesus’ life! well, this Qur’an is dated around seventy years of Mohammed).
    We are aware that the only way to satisfy everyone is, simply, to digitize everything. The project was by way of an experiment, to learn about the issues involved in the digitization and to satisfy ourselves that it WOULD be possible to go on and digitize the entire collection. Now, we believe we can do that. We have developed a plan for this, and it would be very helpful to have the support of people on this list. One way you could do this would be to go send in any mss from Mingana that you would like to see digitized using the form at http://vmr.bham.ac.uk/contact/. The more such requests we gather, the stronger our case for digitizing the whole collection.

  4. Thank you for your response, Peter. Since this blog is much more Christian Arabic than Islamic Arabic, of course that’s what we look for. And I quite understand the logic of including a famously early Koran; I would too!

    Your comment about suggestions is most interesting, and I will highlight it further on the blog. It’s a very good idea. Would you object if I reposted this on the HUGOYE (=Syriac) list?

  5. Actually, Peter, if you would be willing to compose a general call for comments on what MSS are most desired, we could broadcast it on several mailing lists.

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