In the late 19th century, modern Middle East studies became the recipient of some especially rich collections of Yemeni manuscripts, thanks to a scientist who, in fact, didn’t really care about their contents. Eduard Glaser (1855-1908), an Austrian Arabist and archaeologist, was more concerned with the revenue from their sale, which he needed to continue his studies in the southern Arabian Peninsula. Glaser was one of the 19th century’s leading researchers on Southern Arabia and is regarded as one of the pioneers of Sabaean studies. He used his thorough knowledge of the Arabic language, Arab customs, and especially Islam to undertake four long scientific journeys through Yemen between 1882 and 1894.
Although Eduard Glaser's collections of manuscripts are an invaluable treasure, his main interest was in copying inscriptions. The collection of manuscripts was less important to him – but selling them was, in modern terms, a win-win situation: The libraries were able to increase their stock, and he could support himself during his travels and in between.
After Glaser managed to sell to the Royal Library of Berlin the 23 manuscripts he had collected on his first journey, he was tempted to try it again. The Royal Library bought another bulk package of manuscripts, this time numbering 240, which Glaser had collected during his second journey. The British Museum in London bought 328 manuscripts from Glaser’s third trip to Yemen, and he undertook a fourth journey from early 1892 to the spring of 1894. The Imperial Library (Hofbibliothek) in Vienna purchased, along with the main body of Glaser’s scholarly work, 284 manuscripts. A few years later, in early 1902, Glaser mediated the sale to the Munich Court Library of 157 Yemeni manuscripts collected by the Italian merchant Giuseppe Caprotti.
“The Glaser Collections” offer unprecedented insight into the intellectual history of Yemen, and first and foremost the subject of Zaydī jurisprudence. In addition to this topic, which is most prevalent in the manuscripts of the collection, various other fields are addressed, such as Qurʾān, law, tradition, history, grammar, lexicography, poetry, medicine, philosophy, and geography.
Still, most of the hundreds of Yemeni manuscripts Eduard Glaser brought to Europe were never subject to in-depth analysis.
The Digital Bab al-Yemen project at FU Berlin makes it possible for the first time to combine, show, and study a huge number of digitized manuscripts in a single online library. “The Glaser Collections” contain 140 texts from Berlin, Vienna, and Munich. For the first time in history, virtually anyone anywhere in the world will be able to study the uniquely rich but endangered heritage of Yemeni culture – an intellectual treasure that awaits (re)discovery.
The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - PK (Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) hosts 264 Glaser manuscripts. 23 of these were acquired by the then Royal Library of Berlin after Eduard Glaser's first journey to Yemen from 1882 to 1884. Three years later, the library purchased another 241 manuscripts Glaser had collected in 1885/1886.
Until summer 2014, 86 Glaser manuscript volumes have been digitised. All 86 volumes are published in close cooperation with the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - PK.
In 1894, 252 Yemeni manuscripts were donated to the Hofbibliothek (Court Library) in Vienna - now the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library). Eduard Glaser had collected them on his fourth journey into Yemen from 1892 to 1894, among inscription stones and many other pieces of scholarly interest.
Ten digitised manuscripts are presented here, in close cooperation with the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. The library is publishing more and more digitised manuscripts, so it is well worth visiting its website for updates.
In early 1902, Glaser mediated the sale of 157 manuscripts to the Munich Court Library - now the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library). The manuscripts were originally assembled by Giuseppe Caprotti, an Italian merchant living in Sanaa for more than 30 years.
25 of the Glaser manuscripts have been digitised, most of the digitisations being black-and-white images made from microfilms. In “The Glaser Collections”, the ten high-quality scans available are presented in close cooperation with the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
The Digital Bab al-Yemen
This exhibition is part of “The Digital Bab al-Yemen”, a project currently hosted at Freie Universität Berlin. In 2013/14 it was funded by the European Research Council (project “Human Web”). The project’s main goal is to provide a universal online digital library assembling all manuscripts of Yemeni provenance from around the world.
For more information about the importance of this written evidences of Yemeni culture and an insight into the history of one representative manuscript, see our online exhibition “Yemeni Manuscripts - Their History and their Study” at the Google Cultural Institute.
We would like to thank the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - PK, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek for their cooperation and Jens Kupferschmidt for technical support.
Principal Investigator — Prof. Sabine Schmidtke
Project Coordinator — Daniel Kinitz
Curator — Christopher Resch
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz — www.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/en/
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek — www.onb.ac.at/ev/
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek — www.bsb-muenchen.de/en/