A thousand page English translation of Ibn Abi Usaibia at the US NLM

A little while back I discovered that an English translation of the dictionary of medical writers by Ibn Abi Usaibia might exist at the US National Library of Medicine, and I sent an enquiry.  The enquiry was ignored; but my second enquiry got a response!

Firstly, apparently I can’t have a copy.  The thing is typewritten, about 1,000 pages, and dates from 1971.  So it might be in copyright, and that means that I am allowed to see if — if I travel across continents! — but am not allowed to have a copy.  This is a novelty to me, as one used to getting copies of PhD theses, but the library staff are very insistent that not letting me have a copy is not equivalent to denying access.  They’re not sure who is the copyright holder, either.

But I’ve now found out a bit more about the manuscript.  It was on the online page all the time, but hidden under the “finding aids” menu at the top:

Finding Aid to the English translations of History of Physicians (4 v.) and The Book of Medicine of Asaph the Physician (2 v.) originally written by Ahmad ibn al-Q asim ibn Ab i Usaybi’ah, 1971
Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program, History of Medicine Division
Processed by HMD Staff
Processing Completed 2005
Encoded by Jim Labosier

Summary Information
Title: English translations of History of Physicians (4 v.) and The Book of Medicine of Asaph the Physician (2 v.) originally written by Ahmad ibn al-Q asim ibn Ab i Usaybi’ah
Creator: Ibn Ab i Usaybi’ah, Ahmad ibn al-Q asim, d. 1269 or 70
Dates:      1971
Extent:     0.84 linear feet (2 boxes)
Abstract:  English translations of two 13th century Arabic medical treatises.

Call number: MS C 294
Language: Collection materials primarily in English.

Access Restrictions:   Collection is not restricted. Contact the Reference Staff for information regarding access.
Copyright:                   NLM does not possess copyright to the collection. Contact the Reference Staff for details regarding rights.
Preferred Citation:     Ibn Ab i Usaybi’ah, Ahmad ibn al-Q asim. English translations of History of Physicians (4 v.) and The Book of Medicine of Asaph the Physician (2 v.) originally written by Ahmad ibn al-Q asim ibn Ab i Usaybi’ah. 1971.
Located in: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 294.
Provenance: Unknown.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Contains English translations of Ibn Abi Asaybi Ah’s “History of Physicians” by Dr. L. Kopf and of “The Book of Medicine of Asaph the Physician” by Sussman Muntner and Fred Rosner.

Contents List
Box | Folder Title
 Series I: English Translations, 1971 [series]: 

1.1″History of Physicians” – pp. 1-195, 1971
1.2″History of Physicians” – pp. 196 – 455, 1971
1.3″History of Physicians” – pp. 456 – 599, 1971
1.4″History of Physicians” – pp. 600 – 946, 1971
2.1″The Book of Medicine of Asaph the Physician” – vol. 1, 1971
2.2″The Book of Medicine of Asaph the Physician” – vol. 2, 1971

Now this is all very useful.  My idea, faced with a refusal of access on copyright grounds, is to locate the copyright holder and get permission.  The question is who this “Dr. L. Kopf” might be.  I’ve enquired.

The authors of the other item appear in a Google search, as authors of articles in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  Rosner appears “From the Division of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, N. Y.; and the History of Medicine Section, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.”  Sussman Munter is also given as Suessman Munter, visiting professor of the History of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the Encyclopedia Judaica.

Googling, I find references to “Dr. L. Kopf” such as “When this article was already in print, I received the July, 1959 issue of Veins Testamentum (IX/3) in which Dr. L. Kopf has an article entitled “Arabische…” and “Dr. L. Kopf, Hebrew University Library, was so kind as to explain to me that the term sudd’ is the usual word for headache….”  He was the author of “Studies in Arabic and Hebrew Lexicography”


13 thoughts on “A thousand page English translation of Ibn Abi Usaibia at the US NLM

  1. Very interesting — thank you! So the “L.” is “Lothar”! Glad that I didn’t try to guess. Who is “Goitein” and how do you know?

    It looks as if the library will force me to contact whatever family this chap left behind in order to get access to it…

  2. It looks as if he died in 1964. At the time he was head of the Oriental department of the University Library at Jerusalem, according to a review here. How his ms. ended up in the US NLM we can only guess. Probably it was lent to someone else, and passed there on the death of that person with their papers.

    I do wish the library weren’t being so difficult about supplying a copy!

  3. Got the latter — thank you.

    The NLM say that they commissioned the translation under a now defunct programme, but didn’t keep any notes as to whether they actually paid for it, or on what basis the translation was done, which determines who owns the copyright. I imagine everyone is long dead and has forgotten.

  4. Well, this Kopf seems to have been a pretty bright star in his area of interest, and seems to get cited in papers a lot (often with formulas of respect and regret) so I suspect that at least the older profs would still be interested in finding out what could be done. They might also know something about his heirs and/or assigns and/or lawyers, or which libraries/archives hold his papers. And if an institution holds his papers, they will probably hold correspondence and/or contracts regarding this matter.

    If there are no contracts, presumably rights could be assigned one way or the other. (Probably easier to give over rights to the US, but the library might find it easier to give them to the heirs instead, depending on their level of interest in having a bureaucratic problem on their hands. Depends on finding more info and/or the original accession agreement, probably.)

    Alternately, the correspondence and/or contracts might be in the boxes over at the Health place, and just inadequately indexed or the listing not looked at. (Wouldn’t be the first time.)

  5. Possibly so. But it’s beginning to look as if any rights might have been bought by the public in the first place. That would be the desirable outcome, since the US bodies apparently cannot hold copyright anyway.

  6. Yeah, that seems to have been the plan. But archives work is fraught with little surprises, so archives people tend to err on the side of trying to please everybody. For example, it’s common for archives folks to pull out things which obviously weren’t supposed to be donated, like family photo albums, and ask the family if they really really meant them to go into a box in the vault or if they’d like them back. And usually, they’d like them back.

    But above all, everything is ruled by the lawyers, and I’m sure in government work even more than in other institutions. So I seriously doubt that any agreements signed have been thrown away; but whether they’re filed in a way people can find is another question. (Which is why I’d be looking in the man’s papers at this Health library first. It wouldn’t surprise me if the contract for the book were taped to a lid or something equally logical/illogical.)

  7. Good suggestions — let’s see.

    This sort of stuff is quite dangerous to collections, tho. I always remember being refused a photocopy of something in the Bodleian years ago, and the obvious pleasure the staff took in forcing me to get a microfilm, at vast expense; but when I returned some years later, some less patient individual had simply ripped the pages from the book.

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