Die Rifa'iya am Damaskus: Eine Privatbibliothek im osmanischen Syrien und ihr kulturelles Umfeld.

Author:Hirschler, Konrad
Position:Book review

Die Rifa'iya am Damaskus: Eine Privatbibliothek im osmanischen Syrien und ihr kulturelles Umfeld. By BORIS LIEBRENZ. Islamic Manuscripts and Books, vol. 10. Leiden: BRILL, 2016. Pp. xvi + 421, illus. $181, [euro]140.

Middle Eastern history is currently experiencing a major shift toward a greater interest in identifying documentary material, in addition to the standard canon of normative and narrative texts. The field of reading and library history is particularly blessed by this documentary turn as it had reached virtual stagnation, doling out similar or even the same anecdotes. In recent years this has dramatically changed, in particular for the early modern and Ottoman period: a collaborative research group headed by Gulru Necipoglu, Cemal Kafadar, and Cornell Fleischer is working on the catalogue of Sultan Bayezid II's royal library catalogue from 909 (1502f.); Francois Deroche has been awarded an ERC grant for his project "Saadian Intellectual and Cultural Life" (1554-1660) focused on the sultans' library preserved as a "time capsule" in the El Escorial monastery; Henning Sievert has used various documents to retrace the literary life of an eighteenth-century bureaucrat; and Tobias Heinzelmann has shrewdly employed manuscript evidence to bring to light the usage of popular religious literature--to name but a few.

Boris Liebrenz's book under review lies fully in this trend and it brings to light a particularly elusive form of book collection, that of "private" collections. Whereas we have some good case studies of collections in institutional contexts, such as the madrasa, and court contexts, private book collections have remained among the field's known unknowns. The case study presented here is the so-called Rifa'iyya collection from Damascus currently held in Leipzig. The elusiveness of private collections is no better illustrated than by the fact that this collection only gained its current name in Leipzig and that we are not even sure who its owner (al-Rifa'i ?) actually was--Liebrenz is justifiably very cautious in his hypothesis as to this owner's identity. The collection was acquired in the mid-nineteenth century by the Saxonian authorities via the Damascus-based jack-of-all-trades Gottfried Wetzstein, Prussian consul, Arabist, and entrepreneur. The Leipzig University Library preserved the collection's distinctive identity, not merging it with other manuscripts--a stroke of luck that so many other historical collections, merged...

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