Gentile Bellini - Scribe, 1479-1481 (Image courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)
The argument we are advancing in these blog posts is that when al-Tabari (d. 310/923) created his Taʾrikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk, Jamiʿ al-bayan ʿan taʾwil ay al-Qurʾan (Tafsir) and Tahdhib al-athar, he relied on notes that were bound into notebooks of some kind, and we can reconstruct something of their contents.
We base our argument of the notebooks’ existence on practical evidence: the long interval between the time of writing and the time of his contact with the people he cites, the extensiveness of the citations (which would represent an astonishing feat of memory without written records) and the quick pace at which al-Tabari appears to have worked. There is also more direct evidence. This evidence consists of the citations themselves, including the ways in which they map onto probable notebooks, and of the alignments between all three books revealed by text reuse data.
A further point that emerges from our data set is the extent to al-Tabari appears to have gone back to the same sets of notes when composing each of his works. Let us look more closely at our data and numbers on this point. Continue reading
Sarah Bowen Savant is Professor of History at the Aga Khan University's Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations and Principle Investigator of the KITAB project. She is preparing a book entitled A Cultural History of the Arabic Book that explores the many ways that writers reused earlier texts to create new ones in the period spanning from 700-1500 CE.
Masoumeh Seydi is KITAB’s Digital Lead. She is pursuing her PhD degree in DH on processing and modeling the pre-modern geographical descriptions.