What do we know about the authors of the earliest Arabic books in terms of their native origins and linguistic and cultural backgrounds? Were the majority of them Arabic-speaking Muslims from imperial capitals, or non-Arab converts or even non-Muslims? Could this information be useful in tracing the flow and formation of ideas and culture? To answer these questions computationally, one must begin with creating a corpus of texts – in this case the OpenITI – including robust metadata for the texts and their authors. In this blog, AKU-ISMC's Dr Aslisho Qurboniev discusses the question of the native origins of scholars and authors of early Islamicate society based on a sub-corpus of the OpenITI, which includes all the texts in the corpus written within the first five centuries of Islam ending at 505/1111, al-Ghazali’s death date. More generally, he hopes to show how a combination of quantitative and macro-analytic approaches can be useful for the study of premodern Arabic texts and the history of the Arabic book and its authors.
The usefulness of computer-assisted ‘distant reading’ and analysis have been convincingly argued by literary historians, more recently by Franco Moretti and Matthew L. Jockers, who in turn drew inspiration from the fields of economics, geography, and the natural sciences. Computational methods range from the study of metadata – a set of information about the books and authors in the corpus – the lowest hanging fruits, to more complex text-level analysis. These methods were also adopted and further developed within our own field of Islamic history by Maxim Romanov as exemplified in his study of al-Dhahabi’s (d. 748/1348) Taʾrikh al-Islam, and Ismaʿil Pasha al-Baghdadi’s (d. 1338/1919) Hadiyat al-ʿarifin, which offer relatively structured data on premodern authors and their output, reaching tens of thousands of entries (over 30, 000 biographies in Taʾrikh al-Islam, and 40,000 titles, for Hadiyat al-ʿarifin). Read more
Dr Aslisho Qurboniev
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at KITAB (Knowledge, Information Technology, and the Arabic Book) at AKU-ISMC in London. He is primarily interested in medieval Islamicate social and intellectual history, and his PhD research at the University of Cambridge was on Fatimid Ifriqiya (909-973). Dr Qurboniev's post-doctoral research looks at the formation of the Muslim scholarly community in the Islamic West with a focus on textual networks and cultural memory.