Region's history to go online

Published online 12 August 2012

Over half a million medieval pages from the British Library that focus on the Persian Gulf region will be digitized and made available in English and Arabic online for free.

Amr El Beleidy

The Pythagorean theorem in the Arabic translation of Euclid’s Elements. The manuscript copy is dated 1258.
The Pythagorean theorem in the Arabic translation of Euclid’s Elements. The manuscript copy is dated 1258.
© The British Library Board

Medieval Arabic scientific manuscripts are among an archive of the East India Company to be digitized by the British Library through a partnership with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF).

More than half a million pages of the company's records stored at the India Office have been identified as significant and will be published online for universal access. The three-year project will be funded by QF and is expected to cost £8.7 million (US$13.5 million).

The first tranche of records will include a copy of the Pythagorean theorem in Arabic as translated from Euclid's Elements and revised by the Persian polymath and writer Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. It will also be home to a digital copy of the Description of the Fixed Stars, written by the astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi as well as a chart of pearl banks along the Arabian shore of the Gulf.

Tariq Al-Sada, a spokesman for QF, described the eclectic range of material unearthed in the archive. "Dating from the mid-18th century to 1947, the India Office Records include a wealth of information on the politics, people, places, trade, culture and customs of the Gulf region," said Al-Sada. "[The] partnership stems from a desire to transform people's understanding of the history of the Middle East and the region's relationship with the world."

The collections will include maps, photographs, manuscripts and letters. The Arabic manuscripts were chosen to highlight the influence of medieval Islamic scholars on science, particularly astrology, medicine and geometry.

Preservation experts at the British Library will ensure the integrity of the archived material is protected during the process and all the documents will be published in English and Arabic. Qatari researchers have already begun translating the documents and QF will be responsible for editing the Arabic material.

A spokesman for the British Library, Ben Sanderson, explained the project's importance in the context of British and Arabic history "The collections for digitisation have been identified by British Library curators and related to Gulf History and in particular the engagement between the British and the Gulf from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century," said Sanderson

The public will also have a chance to contribute to the online portal "whether by sharing images of mementoes and old photographs or by recounting the stories their grandparents once told them," said Al-Sada.