Brockelmann’s GAL translated into English??

Anybody who wants to know anything about Arabic literature must rely on the seven-volume textbook by Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur.  The work lists the authors and their works from the beginning in the 6th century down to modern times, with a bibliography for each.  Unfortunately the work is a complete mess, with inscrutable abbreviations and so on, mainly because Brockelmann fell into the hands of a swindler who cheated him badly in the publication.  But it is all there is.  It is possible to find all of it online these days; but it is in German, and it is quite unreadable.  (Christian Arabic literature was omitted).

Imagine my delight, therefore, to hear from Prof. Joep Lameer, that he has been producing an English translation.  This is appearing through Brill.  Better yet, he is fixing some of the most baffling features:

The present English translation reproduces the original German of Carl Brockelmann’s Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur (GAL) as accurately as possible. In the interest of user-friendliness the following emendations have been made in the translation: Personal names are written out in full, except b. for ibn; Brockelmann’s transliteration of Arabic has been adapted to comply with modern standards for English-language publications; modern English equivalents are given for place names, e.g. Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem, etc.; several erroneous dates have been corrected, and the page references to the two German editions have been retained in the margin, except in the Supplement volumes, where new references to the first two English volumes have been inserted.

An introduction by Jan Just Witkam – who in a Brill reprint of Brockelmann explained finally why the GAL was such a mess – is a very welcome addition.

Dr Lameer has not tried to rearrange the material – a very wise decision.  Just getting it into usable form is quite a massive enough undertaking.  He writes:

I’ve been working about three years on this, full time. It was quite a job, I can tell you! I expect that by the end of Q2 2018 the whole thing will be done.

This marvellous undertaking may well spark a renaissance of studies of Arabic literature.  For the first time it becomes possible for ordinary people to get a handle on what exists.

So far there are 3 volumes on the Brill website; the first two volumes of the original edition, and the first volume of supplements.  But I understand from Dr. L. that a fourth volume is complete and with the publisher.

I would go and buy a set at once myself.  I would recommend that everyone do so.  Except… volume 1 alone is $210.  The ebook is the same, which is cheeky.  Online access is $3,500, although of course this is intended for libraries who get grants for such things.

If I understand how the project was structured then Brill are genuinely trying to recover some significant costs here.   That is quite understandable.  It is wonderful that the project has been undertaken at all.  But once those costs have been recovered, would it be too much to ask that they consider producing the volumes at $25 each in paperback?  Let a million copies be sold!


7 thoughts on “Brockelmann’s GAL translated into English??

  1. Given that Brill publish GAL in paperback (in the German original) at €275, I think the possibility of a p/b edition is both more likely than I’d have thought and (inevitably) more expensive than you’d like.

  2. It’s interesting to note that both GAL and the supplements are available on, if scanned at a terrible pixel size.

  3. I notice that the Indian company Gyan Books (one of the numerous POD publishers – booksploitation merchants I call ‘em) is doimg reprints. The copy of GAL Supplementband I that I’ve downloaded is from the Central Archaeology Library of the Indian Government’s Dept. of Archaeology. I wonder if there’s a connection. If so, did Gyan scan at a higher resolution for their POD, or is this what they publish? It’s a bit dodgy: as Brockelmann died in ‘56 it doesn’t come out of copyright under the Berne Convention till 2026 due to the EU’s 70 year after death rule, and although India itself has a 60 year after death rule, they’re signitaries to Berne.

  4. Agreed – it’s absurd.

    I’d like to know whether Gyan’s print is clearer, because the scan is close to unusable. If it were so I’d consider breaking my rule and buying their copy. Perhaps I’ll have to take a punt – I only need the erste Supplementband.

Leave a Reply