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Islamic collections

Collection Details

Islamic collections held at Oriental Collections Central Bodleian [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

The Bodleian Library has a long history of acquiring books in Arabic, Persian and Turkish and books on the religion and civilization of Islam and houses the University's collections of Islamic manuscripts as well as many early printed works by English and European orientalists. It also has considerable holdings of printed books published in the Middle East in the three major languages of the region. These range from lithographs and early examples of printing with movable types down to recent serials and monographs published in the Arab world, Iran and Turkey. There is no single Islamic or Middle Eastern collection as such but all manuscripts and printed materials in Arabic, Persian and Turkish are in the care of the Department of Oriental Collections.

History and development

Sir Thomas Bodley, the Library's founder, was the first to encourage the acquisition of Near Eastern manuscripts and this policy was continued after his death by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Among the several donations Laud made to the Library between the years 1635 and 1640 there were some 147 Arabic and 74 Persian and Turkish manuscripts. Over 150 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Turkish came into the Library in 1659 with the bequest of John Selden and in 1678 the Library bought the collection of the orientalist Thomas Greaves and his brother John. By the second decade of the eighteenth century the library already possessed over 1500 Arabic manuscripts, together with a smaller number in Persian and Turkish. These foundation collections remain the centrepiece of the Bodleian's Arabic and Islamic resources.

There were no large-scale accessions during the nineteenth and twentieth century, but a number of important items were acquired. During the 1970s a substantial number of Turkish manuscripts was purchased, chiefly of literary and historical interest and adding to a an older collection of manuscripts. The Library continues to build on the strengths of its Islamic collections by acquiring relevant material published world-wide and in a variety of languages. The Bodleian's status as a library of copyright deposit means that its holdings of books and periodicals on Islam published in the United Kingdom may be considered comprehensive.


The Bodleian's holdings are strongest in the areas of classical and pre-modern Islam (to the end of the eighteenth century). The manuscripts exemplify most, if not all, the branches of learning cultivated in traditional Islamic society in the Middle East and North Africa, with particular strengths such as Arabic science, mathematics and medicine. The printed material can be considered as supplementing the interests of the manuscripts.

General arrangement and access regulations

The collection is housed, with the exception of the Turkish printed books, in the New Library building. The Turkish books are now located in the Oriental Institute Library though a small section of Turkish reference works is retained in the Bodleian's Oriental Reading Room and a number of antiquarian printed items remain in the Bodleian bookstack. The rules of the Bodleian Library forbid the borrowing of all Library materials by readers.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Near & Middle East and North Africa.


Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen.

Languages of material

Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Turkish, Ottoman (1500-1928).


Arts, Geography, History, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Science and technology.

Languages as linguistic focus

Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Turkish, Ottoman (1500-1928).

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Books, Manuscripts, Serials.

Total size of collection

Manuscripts: Arabic 2350; Persian 2530; Turkish 480; Printed books: Arabic 16,000; Persian 6500; Turkish 17,500 (includes material in Western languages)

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Annual intake

500-800 titles per year

Content date range

950 to present

Interlibrary loan procedure

Collection Catalogue Information


Records for all the Bodleian's western-language books, including those on the Islamic world, can be found on OLIS, the University's online catalogue. The same applies to books printed in Arabic, Persian and Turkish acquired since about 1990. For books in these languages acquired before that date the card catalogue in the Oriental Reading Room should be consulted. There exist several printed catalogues for parts of the Arabic and Persian & Turkish manuscript collections (see web-site). For a complete record of the Bodleian's Arabic manuscripts there is a separate card catalogue in the Oriental Reading Room.

Catalogue transliteration schemes

The in-house transliteration employed in the card catalogue for Arabic and Persian differs in some respects from the Library of Congress (LC) transliteration followed on OLIS, notably in the use of "k" with subscript dot where the LC scheme uses "q". The divergence between the two schemes is more marked in the case of Persian than Arabic.

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