All posts by DJCorrea

Read, Hot and Digitized: The Istanbul Urban Database project

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

The Istanbul Urban Database project, headed by Nil Tuzcu (MIT), Sibel Bozdoğan (İstanbul Bilgi), and Gül Neşe Doğusan Alexander (Harvard), seeks to preserve collective memory and the urban cultural heritage of Istanbul by becoming the most comprehensive online archive of Istanbul’s urban history. The project is based on a digital corpus of maps of Istanbul, aerial imagery, photographs, and geographical features. The project combines this wide range of historical data on a sustainable platform that can be integrated into other projects. The project does not stand alone; there is, in fact, an API in development for serving and exporting the various layers of the information it contains.

With the Istanbul Urban Database, users can select a variety of maps, photos, and other imagery to superimpose over one another, or compare. You can examine one historical map at a time, superimpose them with adjustable transparency, and overlay georeferenced features on the maps. The side-by-side tool allows users to compare maps from two different time periods (currently limited to the 19th and 20th centuries). Uniquely, the project draws on Ottoman and French maps, primarily from the Harvard Map Collection. This allows the user to get a sense of both the internal and external views of Istanbul in the early 20th century.

The map comparison tool.

In terms of infrastructure, the Istanbul Urban Database’s transportation layer hosts information drawn from a 1922 map on ferry, train, and tramway lines. The project organizers decided to present major roads separately because of their impact on city growth. The ferry, train, and tramway lines, and the roads, were drawn by Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative researchers––a quite labor intensive process from which                                                                                                  users benefit immensely. Users also will enjoy having access to Henri Prost’s master plan archives, which have had significant effect on the development of the city of Istanbul. Lastly, users can peruse photographs of everyday life at different points in Istanbul’s history. Examples include beaches, casinos, movie theaters, and patisseries; snapshots of lives well-lived so long ago, in some cases in places that no longer exist.

Looking at spaces of everyday life, including beaches and the spaces of Beyoğlu.

The Istanbul Urban Database project is significant for its combination of resources on an accessible platform with potential for applications in other projects. Istanbul is a difficult city to navigate, let alone understand, today, and so attempting to imagine its past lives might seem rather intimidating for researchers. The Istanbul Urban Database project streamlines access to crucial 20th and late-19th century resources to facilitate research on the growth, structure, and development of the city of Istanbul.

Using the comparison tool between 19th century maps.

I encourage readers to explore all of the tools available, especially the comparison tool that allows you slide two maps right and left to compare time periods. I also suggest looking through the photographs of everyday life that are exhibited through this project, and examine whether or not these places still exist today by zooming into the base satellite map. Readers who are interested in maps of Istanbul and Turkey more broadly would benefit from visiting the UT Maps Collection. The maps of Turkey and specifically Istanbul are extensive and of interest for those piqued by the Istanbul Urban Database.

Arabic Treasures from Turkey

Traveling internationally to secure unique and distinctive acquisitions for UT Libraries and to make essential academic connections for UT Austin is one of the true joys of serving as Middle Eastern Studies Librarian. In June of this year, I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for two weeks. I focused on collecting Arabic titles published in Turkey and investigating study abroad opportunities for graduate students in the Middle East and Islamic Studies programs at UT.

I had the pleasure of flying into the brand new Istanbul airport, located on the opposite side of the city from the stalwart Atatürk Airport that I knew so well. I arrived at the end of Ramadan, which meant that I got to enjoy Bayram (the Turkish name for the festival celebrating the end of Ramadan) sales. I stayed in the neighborhood of Kuzgüncuk, a small, religiously diverse section of the city on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, just before the first bridge. There were several local book and magazine sellers, as well as produce vendors. It was from one of the local produce vendors that I learned of a children’s bookfair happening on the Asian side of the city, and I made a plan to visit it in the coming days.

A Turkish produce stand.

While in Istanbul, I was able to receive a title for which I had been hunting in Egypt, Majallat al-Qaḍāʾ al-Sharʿī. There are only a handful of copies of this title around the world; yet, it is a crucial source for the social and legal history of early 20th century Egypt. So what makes a “rare” book in Islamic Studies, like this one?

Researchers at U.S. universities may often conceptualize a rare book as something necessarily old, a “first edition,” a banned title, etc. These are all potential markers of a rare book or special material, but they are not the only factors that librarians consider when making acquisitions for their collections. Consider government/official publications. They are often ephemeral in that they arere published for one run; they are often difficult to find because they are seen as an archival burden for someone else (presumably the government or organization); and, on top of all that, they may on the surface appear dull, dry, or irrelevant to deep (particularly historiographical) analysis. Even if one decides to go after government publications, it can be nearly impossible to track them down for these reasons. When I do manage to track them down, I’m often asked, why this?

Thanks to this acquisitions trip, I managed to obtain a copy of Majallat al-Qaḍāʾ al-Sharʿī, a briefly-issued publication of a judicial training school in Alexandria. It includes articles by figures who would end up shaping the Egyptian judiciary for decades to come, and provides insights into the political history of early 20th century Egypt. Cautiously, I may say that the UT Libraries will be the sole North American institution with the full set of volumes for this title (they are in processing now).

During my time in Istanbul, I also had opportunities to explore new and old publications and to learn more about the current frontiers of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies scholarship. I visited the Hilye-i Şerif ve Tesbih Müzesi (museum of manuscripts honoring the Prophet Muhammad, and prayer beads) to see excellent exhibits of stunning manuscript illumination and religious arts. I also stopped in to the official government Turkish manuscripts publications office to check on the latest Arabic and Ottoman editing developments. Additionally, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a PhD candidate from Princeton University, to hear about her research and projects and to get the impressions of a junior scholar on the state of research in Turkey and other parts of the Middle East.

As my trip continued, I reflected on how book buying can be simply wandering around––somewhat aimlessly––and relying on serendipity (although I admit to wandering neighborhoods known for bookshops; I cannot leave everything up for chance). I found myself in awe of the materials selection available in the average bookshop. Stopping in at one in Üsküdar (Asian side of Istanbul), I found books in Turkish, Arabic, French, English, and German; translations of seminal works such as the biography of Muhammad Ali; Turkish conference proceedings that fill gaps in our collection; a large and diverse children’s section; premier Turkish Studies scholarship; and popular hero fiction. 

There was a sign in the bookshop that read “3 books, 10 Turkish lira.” The shelves below it were a gold mine of popular fiction that will augment UT Austin’s Turkish literature collection and expand the options for our students to read during their intensive study of the Turkish language. I was able to procure them at a fraction of the price we would normally pay through other venues.

A book about mythical hero Battal Gazi Oglu.

Additionally, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Murteza Bedir, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity and Professor at Istanbul University. We spoke about our research projects, upcoming conferences, recent publications in Islamic Studies, and Turkish Islamic Studies graduate programs.

Dale with Murteza Bedir, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity and Professor at Istanbul University.

Professor Bedir also took me to the symposium on the history of science in honor of the late Fuat Sezgin at Istanbul University. Scholars from around the world—Turkey, U.S., Uzbekistan, and others—presented their latest research and reflected on Sezgin’s contributions to the field. It was quite a time to be in Istanbul.

Correa with Professor Bedir at an exhibit honoring Dr. Fuat Sezgin.

I continued my work making critical connections as the PCL and the UT Libraries Middle Eastern Studies librarian for both collections and scholarship opportunities by meeting with Recep Şentürk, professor of sociology and president of Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul, and some of his advanced graduate students. We met at the university’s Süleymaniye campus, housed in an Ottoman-era madrasa next to the Süleymaniye Mosque, following their class on Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din. Professor Şentürk knows of my interest in Arabic critical editions produced in Turkey, and graciously brought the first publication of the Ibn Haldun University Press—Mulla Gurani’s commentary on the Qur’an—to share with the UT Libraries. UT is the first university library in the world to acquire this edition, and I look forward to following the publications of this new press. 

I am grateful for, and awestruck by, the generosity and hospitality with which I was met in Turkey, and which made my trip possible. I extend my sincere gratitude to the UT Libraries and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies for supporting my travel and acquisitions in Istanbul this year.

Book Finding in the Arab World

UT Libraries’ Global Studies liaisons regularly travel internationally in order to maintain their expertise as librarians, establish and nurture international networks and productive collaborations, and acquire unique materials that distinguish UT Libraries’ collections and make them a destination for researchers from around the world. In March of last year, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Oman for materials acquisitions and networking on behalf of the UT Libraries. Dubai, UAE, served as my home base as I made trips to Abu Dhabi and Ajman, UAE, and to Salalah, Oman.

Dale with David Hirsch, formerly the Middle Eastern Studies Librarian at UCLA and now the Chief Adviser for the Muhammad bin Rashid National Library in Dubai
Dale with David Hirsch, formerly the Middle Eastern Studies Librarian at UCLA and now the Chief Adviser for the Muhammad bin Rashid National Library in Dubai.

Science fiction panel at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival in Dubai.
Science fiction panel at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival in Dubai.

In Dubai, I attended the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival where I was able to acquire a number of children and young adult books, as well as special editions on Shaykh Zayed, a leader in the UAE who was being celebrated in 2018. David Hirsch, formerly the Middle Eastern Studies Librarian at UCLA and now the Chief Adviser for the Muhammad bin Rashid National Library in Dubai, joined me at the festival and introduced me to local presses and booksellers. I also had the pleasure of attending a panel on Arabic Science Fiction featuring Ahmed Saadawi, the author of Frankenstein in Baghdad, winner of the International Prize in Arabic Fiction 2014 and short-listed for the Man Booker international prize this year; and Nora al Noman, a young adult science fiction author.

Entry at the Zayed University Library.
Entry at the Zayed University Library.

Dale with Riham al-Khafagi and Ahmed Salem of Zayed University.
Dale with Riham al-Khafagi and Ahmed Salem of Zayed University.

In addition, I was able to meet with new colleagues at Zayed University, one of the UAE’s top institutions of higher education. Riham al-Khafagi and Ahmed Salem were kind enough to give me a tour of the university, including its library, and sit down with me to discuss the unique challenges facing a top research university in the Middle East. In particular, we spoke about electronic resources, open access, print collection consortia in the Middle East and Middle Eastern Studies contexts, and censorship, all of which are current and pressing concerns shared by universities across the Middle East.

Dale with Ginny Danielson, Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi Library.
Dale with Ginny Danielson, Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi Library.

Dale with Brad Bauer, Special Collections librarian at the NYU Abu Dhabi library.
Dale with Brad Bauer, Special Collections librarian at the NYU Abu Dhabi library.

The Abu Dhabi Library at New York University.
The Abu Dhabi Library at New York University.

Following my visit to Zayed University, I took a day to drive down to Abu Dhabi and visit with colleagues at NYU Abu Dhabi. Justin Parrott, Middle East Studies Librarian for the NYU Abu Dhabi Library, kindly gave me a tour of the library and introduced me to his colleagues. I met with Ginny Danielson, Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi library, with whom I discussed the challenges of keeping up with local publishing and literature. I also met with Brad Bauer, Special Collections librarian, who told me a bit about the history of their young but growing Special Collections. I was particularly interested in their local photography and maps collections. The current exhibitions were of Shakespeare in translation, which was fascinating to see. Much of my conversation with Justin, however, had to do with being a Middle East subject specialist at, essentially, a small liberal arts college in the Middle East. I had time as well to meet with faculty members Masha Kirasirova and Maurice Pomerantz in Middle Eastern Studies, and to learn more about the programs on offer at NYU Abu Dhabi that may be of interest to UT Austin students and researchers.

Dale Correa with Dr. Al Awaid
Dale Correa with Dr. Al Awaid

I was also fortunate enough to visit Salalah, Oman, during my trip. There, I met with Ali Bakhit Salim Al Awaid, the library director at Dhofar University Library. Dhofar University aims to be the leading science and technology university in Oman, although they also have strengths in English language education and law. Mr. Al Awaid and I spoke about the library’s collections, services, and areas of development, as well as the possibilities for an Interlibrary Loan cooperation. I also met with Khalid Mashikhi, the dean of the Arts and Humanities college, who was eager to discuss potential collaborations of benefit to both UT and Dhofar University student bodies. Dhofar University is a promising location for UT Arabic students to study Arabic and subjects relevant to their majors in the Arabic language. The U.S government Critical Language Scholarship program already relies on Salalah as one of their primary Arabic program sites.

Arabic children's books.

Arabic fantasy literature.

I spent my last days in Dubai visiting local booksellers to collect young adult and science fiction. I found works in this genre from all over the Middle East, but I was particularly pleased to invest in titles from local authors. Gulf publishing is still developing, and it is difficult to track, but more and more I am finding materials more than worthy of adding to UT Libraries’ distinctive collections. This focus on youth literature and science fiction introduced me to a number of local authors and artists who might otherwise not normally make it onto the shelves of a research library in the U.S. I am sincerely grateful to the UT Libraries and CMES for supporting my travel to the UAE and Oman to purchase these materials, learn more about publishing, research, teaching, and technology in the area, and establish contacts on behalf of UT.

 

 

 

Illuminating Explorations: Satire at the End of the Ottoman Empire

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “That's a Young Turk, My Son." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “That’s a Young Turk, My Son.” 1908.

Turkey, or the Ottoman Empire, has long occupied the political and strategic sights of the West. Today’s news often focuses on the constitutional amendments—in some cases styled as reforms––that the Erdoğan government has pursued. In Western academia and media, these maneuvers are most often read as an “Islamist” approach to governance; they may be more accurately labeled neoliberal, and indeed follow patterns shared with other eras of reform and significant political change in Turkish history.

In recognition of the contemporary significance of Turkish political change and development, UT Libraries’ “Satire After the Young Turk Revolution” online exhibit brings to the fore poignant political cartoons featured in the bilingual (Ottoman Turkish-French) weekly magazine Kalem. Kalem was founded following the Young Turk Revolution in the early 20th century, a movement that sought to implement significant political and social reforms in the late Ottoman Empire. These reforms and the political issues raised at the time would continue to roil Ottoman society through the First World War and into the formation of the Turkish Republic.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Funeral of the Eastern Question." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Funeral of the Eastern Question.” 1908.

The cartoon images have been selected for this exhibit because of their accessible meaning, illustration of the top issues of the time period, and aesthetic value. Kalem magazine was chosen for this exhibit because it represents UT Libraries’ rare Ottoman collections that are ripe for digitization to increase access for the public.

This exhibit will be of interest to those fascinated by pre-WWI Europe, the Ottoman Empire, satirical and political cartoons, and French publications in the Middle East. It will be of particular interest to researchers and students of the Middle East, early 20th century Europe, and popular art and literature across cultures.

Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Now the Ministers Do the Cleaning." 1908.
Esad Arseven, Celal and Cimcoz, Selah, “Now the Ministers Do the Cleaning.” 1908.

The print magazine is available at the Perry-Castañeda Library at UT Austin and through the Center for Research Libraries. An incomplete digital copy (issues 2 – 40) can be found through the HathiTrust Library. It is hoped that a full-color and complete digital copy of Kalem magazine will be available as an initiative of the Middle East Materials Project of the Center for Research Libraries.

Dale J. Correa is the Middle East Studies Librarian & History Coordinator for UT Libraries.

 

 

Read, Hot, and Digitized: KITAB Project Brings Distant Reading to Middle Eastern Studies  

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

The KITAB Project, headed by Sarah Bowen Savant of the Aga Khan University, seeks to develop tools and techniques for producing scholarship on text reuse and intellectual networks in the premodern Arabic textual tradition. The project is based on a digital corpus of published texts that represent all genres of writing in Arabic from the earliest works to the beginning of the 20th century CE. Although the corpus draws in part from digital databases of texts, it also relies heavily on digital surrogates of printed volumes which require Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for computational analysis. The KITAB project has partnered with the Open Islamicate Text Initiative to develop an OCR software that has proven more successful than commercially-available products. The collaboration’s published results of this OCR development—called Kraken—can be found here.

A snapshot of initial results using the Kraken OCR software
A snapshot of initial results using the Kraken OCR software

The KITAB project is noteworthy not only for bringing the concepts of text reuse and distant reading to Middle Eastern Studies from a digital humanities perspective, but also for its development of tools designed for Arabic script languages. The needs of right-to-left and non-Roman script languages such as Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Hebrew—namely bidirectionality and non-Roman script recognition capabilities—unfortunately have been neglected to date in key tools utilized by highly successful digital humanities projects. The KITAB project brings the necessity of right-to-left and non-Roman capabilities to the fore by centering the Arabic textual tradition and committing to the development of tools that best meet the needs of the questions asked.

In addition to Dr. Savant, the team behind the KITAB project includes scholars from the U.S. and Europe, notably David Smith (Northeastern University) who developed the passim software upon which the text reuse project is based, and Maxim Romanov (University of Vienna) who heads the Open Islamicate Text Initiative. The team supports the continuing evolution of algorithms that seek to determine which Arabic texts were most quoted, most used by historians, and most commented on over several centuries (roughly 700-1500 CE). These questions might be answered simply enough within one text with a full-text search engine. However, to answer these questions across the Arabic textual tradition requires not only a massive corpus (currently over 4200 items), but also incredible computing power.

The latest KITAB visualization of text reuse across two works attributed to Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE).
The latest KITAB visualization of text reuse across two works attributed to Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE).

I encourage readers to take a look at the latest text reuse visualization from the corpus, which is based on two works by Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE). I also suggest reading Dr. Savant’s critically reflective post on running the passim software across the entirety of the corpus, and the questions raised by the results about intertextuality and what text reuse means in the Arabic context. Lastly, I recommend that those interested and/or involved in the field review information on the KITAB Project’s corpus, including the FAQ links to the Open Islamicate Text Initiative for suggesting new digital titles and new titles requiring OCR. UT Libraries’ collection of historic Arabic texts is one of the largest in the United States and ripe with suggestions for the KITAB corpus (check out this Islamic Empire — History subject heading search to see a sample of UT’s rich Arabic collections).

 

A New Frontier for Middle Eastern Studies in Qatar

Doha skyline.In early January of this year, Libraries’ collections development staff traveled to Doha, the only major city and capital of the small Persian Gulf country Qatar. Although in English our convention is to say the Persian Gulf, Qataris in fact speak a dialect of Arabic. This was a particularly exciting opportunity because Qatar was new territory for Middle Eastern Studies at the Libraries. Although the Middle Eastern Studies staff have traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Qatar just had not made the list until this year. This fact presented challenges that have proven useful to our professional development, most notably in gaining experience with utilizing professional relationships that lead to local, on-the-ground contacts in unfamiliar locales.

This trip was instrumental in three principal ways: first, for enhancing the Libraries’ distinctive collection in Middle Eastern Studies, especially in the areas of Islamic law and Persian Gulf Studies; second, for getting a sense of the research environment in Qatar; and third, for our professional development.

View of book fair from aboveOne of the reasons that January was chosen as the ideal time for this trip (besides the weather being much more pleasant than the Persian Gulf in summer) was to attend the Doha International Book Fair.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the book fair.We could say that book fairs in Arabic-speaking countries are a big deal, but that would be an understatement. The Cairo International Book Fair, which we have attended in the past, is the largest of the book fairs in the Middle East. It is part scholarly paradise and part carnival. Whole families come out to look at books, make purchases, and find unique materials for their children. The Doha Book Fair was similar, especially as the fair itself put an emphasis on children’s literature.

Book fair booth map and publisher list, including children’s materials.

Armed with a booth map and publisher lists, we started working the book fair on the night of its opening. One of our new colleagues – so new that we met for the first time in Doha through our professional contacts – was in charge of a booth for an interfaith center, and another was a professor at the Georgetown Qatar School of Foreign Service. Yet another was a graduate student in the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies and a Doha local. Their insights and recommendations for local presses and the best ways to get around town and the book fair were indispensable. Continue reading A New Frontier for Middle Eastern Studies in Qatar