Digitizing the Al-Qarawiyyin Library.

The History Blog reports:

Founded in the 859 A.D. by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant who was herself highly educated and who dedicated her considerable inheritance to the creation of a mosque and school in her community, the University of Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco, is the oldest degree-granting institution in the world. The Al-Qarawiyyin library has been in continuous operation since the 10th century and is believed to be the oldest library in the world. After years of neglect, the library is undergoing extensive renovation as part of a renewal program that will restore the Medina, Fes’ walled pedestrian historic district built in the late 8th, early 9th century. […]

The library is replete with extremely rare, some unique, volumes. There are more than 4,000 manuscripts in its collection, including a 9th century Quran written in beautiful Kufic script on camel skin, the earliest known Islamic hadiths, and an original manuscript of the Mukkadimah, a universal history written in 1377 by philosopher Ibn Khaldun which many scholars hold to be the first exploration of fields we know as sociology, historiography, demography and other social sciences. […]

Right now, only curator Abdelfattah Bougchouf has access to the rare manuscripts kept in the secure room. With the help of experts from the Institute of Computational Linguistics in Italy, that will soon change. All 4,000+ manuscripts are being digitized in the new laboratory. This will make them widely available to students and researchers all over the world. About 20% of them have been digitized so far. The scanning process will also highlight any small holes and areas in need of conservation that are not necessarily evident to the naked eye.

Exciting news for anyone interested in the Arabic literary/cultural tradition. Thanks, Paul!


  1. Actually, it looks like exciting news for anyone interested in the intellectual history of mankind…

  2. I hear library, I want pictures. Here are a few.

  3. When they say historiography, do they mean Forschungsgeschichte or Geschichteschreibung? Ibn Khaldun’s achievements were vast, but I can’t see a way that either interpretation could make sense.

  4. David Marjanović says


    Geschichtsschreibung. Because we prefer big-league consonant clusters over the risk of leaving the end of a phonological word insufficiently marked.

  5. I’ll say; /çtʃr/ is worthy of the Caucasus.

  6. No worse than English final /ŋθs/, really.

  7. David Marjanović says

    I wouldn’t even assimilate the extra s in this word, though that’s unstable.

    Unreduced sixths in English have final [ksθs]…

  8. Anyways, I don’t think that they mean that Ibn Khaldun was the first person to write narratives of the past based on evidence (De. Geschichtsschreibung ‘history-writing’: that would be someone in Akkad or Egypt) and I have a hard time believing that they mean that he was the first to write a history of earlier histories (De. Forschungsgeschichte ‘the history of research’: Polybius and Tacitus and Plutarch all discuss how earlier writers addressed particular topics and why they did so in particular ways, although it could be that Ibn Khaldun’s comments are unusually long and sophisticated).

  9. I wouldn’t even assimilate the extra s in this word

    Ah, so /çtsʃr/ — even better.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    It is unsurprising that the university in question gets its name spelled a variety of different ways in an English-prose context, but what’s up with the oddity of the variant spelling “Fes” for Fez? Is this now a thing for a certain faction of people who write about Moroccan toponyms in English? An error by a Moroccan (or other North African) writer who has decent English but whose primary Latin-scripted L2 is French? Something else?

  11. Fès is apparently the official Latinized spelling; it’s the one the Times Atlas uses. Wikipedia oddly has “Fez, Morocco” as the entry form, but begins “Fes (Arabic: فاس‎‎ Fas, Berber: ⴼⴰⵙ Fas) is the second largest city of Morocco…”

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    “Official” in what sense? And what the heck is an accent over the e supposed to connote, as a matter of English spelling, in a monosyllable?

  13. It’s a French thing, not an English thing, and Morocco has historical ties to the French language, as I’m sure you know. And I have no idea in what sense it’s official, or “official”; I just call ’em as I see ’em.

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