An English translation of Brockelmann’s “Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur”!

If you want to know what texts exist in Arabic, then the classic resource is Carl Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, published in seven volumes, in a terrible, disorganised, highly abbreviated format, starting in the 19th century.  This is essentially unreadable, even if you have good German. The first 2 volumes are the original edition; there are 3 volumes of supplements; and then 2 volumes of a revised edition which refers to both the original and the supplements.  It is a monster work of scholarship, but quite unusable.  Paula Skreslet wrote:

Specialists in Islamic literature must make the effort to become conversant with Carl Brockelmann’s classic of Orientalist scholarship, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur. It is partly a narrative history, but chiefly an encyclopedia of entries on individual Arab writers and their work. Vol. 1 is organized chronologically, then by type/genre of literature (or subject matter), then geographically; vol. 2 organizes first by chronology, then geography, then genre or subject. Indexes for authors, titles, and the European editors of texts arc found in the third supplemental volume (after the entries on the modern era up to 1939). Even those who read German easily find Brockelmann’s work challenging to use, thanks to his difficult systems of abbreviation and transliteration, the lack of cross-references, the relationship between the supplements and the original volumes, and the proliferation of addenda and corrigenda.[1]

I commented on some of its failings back in 2011.  I have since learned that this was not the fault of the author, but of an unscrupulous publisher who forced all this upon him.  But it was obvious that something better was needed, and in English.

What I had not known until last night was that Dutch translator Joep Lameer has done just that.  He’s translated the lot into English, reorganised it, de-abbreviated the text, and generally cleaned it up and brought it up to date.  This is no small task, as I discovered when I attempted to do this for the various literary lives of Mohammed. What a hero!

His translation is titled, “History of the Arabic Written Tradition”, and is available from Brill here, for about $50 a volume.  That’s cheap for most of their works, although still a lot for independent scholars; but if you’re working with Arabic at all, the book is an essential reference and you will just have to take the hit.

  1. [1]Paula Youngman Skreslet, Rebecca Skreslet, The Literature of Islam: A Guide to the Primary Sources in English Translation, (2006), p.xiii-xiv.  Preview.

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