Virtual Forum: Jews, Christians, and Muslims as Colleagues and Collaborators in the Abbasid Near East
Registration is now open for the virtual forum Jews, Christians, and Muslims as Colleagues and Collaborators in the Abbasid Near East, which will take place as 9 sessions (18 presentations) between October 20th and December 11th. The presentations listed below involve digital humanities and might be of particular interest to those on this list. Please see for the full program of the virtual forum.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 16:00 CET Project Demo
Communities of Knowledge ( Tagging, Prosopography, and Networks

Nathan P. Gibson, Nadine Löhr, Robin Schmahl
University of Munich (LMU)

The project “Communities of Knowledge: Interreligious Networks of Scholars in Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s History of the Physicians” aims to examine the social encounters of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars in the Abbasid Near East, broadly defined as 750–1258. While the fact of exchange between scholars of many different communities during this period is well established, and their accomplishments are well known, the ways in which this exchange occurred are not as well researched. Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s (1203–1270 AD) biographical dictionary provides rich information about such interactions, which sometimes occurred directly between scholars, but other times involved much larger networks of people, including patrons, patients, family members, rulers, and slaves.
The project asks, in general, how Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa depicts these networks, as well as, more specifically, which people, places, and types of communication were involved in them. This project demo will explain the different stages of this analysis. First, we identify and “tag” people and places in the source text. Next, we use these tags to create prosopographical nuggets called “factoids,” which encapsulate many different assertions throughout the text about the people involved and form the basis for mapping their relationships as a network. Finally, we analyze these networks, using quantitative metrics to focus our attention on the persons, places, or features in the network that call for in-depth qualitative study. We anticipate—and our preliminary results suggest—that this process will bring to light specific but underappreciated aspects of interreligious exchange.

The “Communities of Knowledge” project is funded by the “Kleine Fächer – Große Potentiale” program of the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, 2018–2021.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020, 16:00 CET Research Paper Discussion
Off the Record: Networks of Lost Arabic Books

Nadine Löhr
Saxon Academy of Sciences

Library records and manuscript catalogues are fundamental sources for historians, nevertheless, researchers are aware that a ​transmission process is determined by both the extant manuscripts as well as by a great number of texts which were lost in time. Historians of German literature claim that for every preserved work there are thousands of lost ones. While it is difficult to appreciate the number of lost sources, it is vital to consider the untransferred and lost knowledge in order to understand the exchange of ideas within a community.

To get a better insight into ​once well known scientific Arabic literature​, this article seeks to trace networks evolving around works which were ​produced and circulated between the 8th and 13th century and are ​presumed to be lost today​.

As a starting point, this study will be based on an analysis of the works mentioned in ​Ibn Abī Usaibiʿa​’s ​History of Physicians​. I wish to draw attention to the quantity of missing works still read, or at least heard of by ​Ibn Abī Usaibiʿa​. I examine ​general trends of what kind of books got lost and (if feasible) through what processes. ​Thereby it may be possible to observe certain regional, cultural, temporal or religious trends, and determine what the percentage of lost medical literature from a certain region is.

The second part of this article will ​focus on the afterlife of astronomical and astrological works lost after the 13th c. An analysis of networks evolving around the lost works will be backed up with further resources and literature. I wish to understand who were the authors and owners of books on the astral sciences now lost? Were these books according to ​Ibn Abī Usaibiʿa​’s insights shared, studied and discussed within various communities or were they held in so-called “small world communities”?

Friday, December 11, 2020, 16:00 CET Research Paper Discussion
Labeling Religious Affiliation in Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s History of Physicians: A Quest

Nathan P. Gibson
University of Munich (LMU)

The biographical dictionary of Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa (1203–1270 AD), titled The Best Accounts of the Classes of Physicians (Arabic, ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ) or History of Physicians for short, is perhaps unequaled in the extent to which it details the social interactions of scholars from many different religious communities. Ṭabaqāt literature in general tends to provide a kind of Who’s-Who resource collecting information about personages in particular categories, such as hadith transmitters or poets. Normally authors tended to make these categories applicable to a certain religious tradition, but Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s project broke the mold by outlining a profession (medicine and related areas) in which collaboration and exchange among communities was typical. The History of Physicians is thus an ideal target for large-scale analysis of interreligious exchange, as the project “Communities of Knowledge” is in the process of doing.

Nevertheless, incorporating “religious affiliation” as a factor in analyzing Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s text is fraught with complexity. First is the looming issue of what religion even means in this context. Second is the question of which terms or phrases the author uses to intentionally signal a particular affiliation. Third, which other characteristics may be taken to indicate religious affiliation, as perhaps certain titles, professions, actions, or (very cautiously) names? Finally, what should be done with mixed indications, whether these are due to inaccurate sources, ambiguous affiliation, or conversion?

I will present a case for recording these textual indications using the prosopographical tool of “factoids,” which can support a more nuanced analysis than simply recording a single affiliation for each person. Each factoid, representing an assertion by Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa or his sources, is one of several markers of religious affiliation, which may point toward different affiliations for the same person. The strength of these markers and their agreement or variance for a particular person provide specific data points that can be used to reconstruct networks of communities while also allowing for alternate scenarios.

The “Communities of Knowledge” project is funded by the “Kleine Fächer – Große Potentiale” program of the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, 2018–2021.

Friday, December 11, 2020, 17:00 CET Project Demo
Indexing a Shared Knowledge Culture from Many Perspectives: Historical Index of the Medieval Middle East (HIMME) as a Tool for Researching Diversity

Thomas A. Carlson
Oklahoma State University

The medieval Middle East, at the crossroads of Africa and Eurasia, included more distinct yet intersecting literary traditions in more languages than any other part of the premodern world. While several of these literary traditions were religiously demarcated, others such as Arabic and Persian were multi-religious written cultures. Despite this, the religious diversity of this region is often conceptualized as separate communities who sometimes interacted. Religion was certainly a socially relevant category employed by medieval people to organize their world, and yet people from every religion wrote about the same government, the same society, and largely the same culture as expressed in religious multiplicity.

A new digital research project (HIMME: Historical Index of the Medieval Middle East) is developing a reference tool to demonstrate the shared culture and society of the diverse medieval Middle East. It will provide a union index to selected primary sources in Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Persian, and Syriac, indexing the people, places, and practices mentioned in each literary tradition. The result is that someone interested in, for example, the famous counter-Crusader (and sultan loyal to the Abbasid caliphate) Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn can search a database and discover relevant primary sources in unexpected Hebrew and Syriac as well as expected Arabic and Latin sources, while the later conqueror Timur Lenk is also mentioned in Greek and Armenian texts that might easily be missed. This presentation will offer a preview of the project (to be published officially on August 1, 2021), a discussion of its scope, and an exploration of its implications for the culture of knowledge shared among Jews, Christians, and Muslims of the medieval Middle East.

This project has been made possible in part by the (USA’s) National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this presentation do not necessarily represent those of the (USA’s) National Endowment for the Humanities or of Oklahoma State University.

How it works

The virtual forum is conceived as an opportunity to discuss the state of research on interreligious knowledge exchange. Half-hour project demos will showcase ongoing projects in the area, while one-hour research paper discussions are a chance to interact on a deeper level with researchers who are in the process of formulating approaches to the subject.

  • Students, academics, and anyone else interested may register by clicking on any of the registration links. This will take you to a Zoom page, where you can select any or all of the nine sessions to attend virtually. The number of Zoom participants for each session is limited to 100.
  • Registered participants will be sent drafts of research papers to read and comment on ahead of time. We’ll use the web tool to do this collaboratively. You can get a free account here, and you’ll receive an email ahead of the session containing a link to read the paper and another link to join the private group where you can comment or ask questions.
  • During the live Zoom sessions, you’ll hear two presentations and, for research paper discussions, 1–2 responses from invited participants. The remainder of the time will be open for you to interact with the speaker, so come with questions!
  • Proceedings: Revised papers from the forum will be submitted to a special issue of medieval worlds: comparative & interdisciplinary studies, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ISSN 2412-3196).
All times are Central European Time (CET). Logistical support has been provided by team members Vanessa Birkhahn and Malinda Tolay.


From the eighth century to the thirteenth century and beyond, scholars in the Abbasid and neighboring realms pioneered study in medicine, mathematics, the astral arts, and many other disciplines. Scholarly treatises from that era together with biographical sources such as Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s History of Physicians and documentary texts from the Cairo Genizah show that this scholarly activity was not isolated to a single community. Instead, it emerged from a rich exchange between scholars affiliated with many different communities: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Samaritan, and others. Sometimes this exchange occurred through books or letters while at other times it was face-to-face in formal, institutional settings, side-by-side in the workplace, or even mediated through patrons, servants, or family members.

In the framework of the project “Communities of Knowledge” (funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research), we are hosting  a series of discussions on the topic of person-to-person knowledge exchange among Near Eastern communities during Abbasid rule.

Principal Investigator, Communities of Knowledge/Wissensgemeinschaften (
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Institut für den Nahen und Mittleren Osten

Associated Projects: Syriaca.orgBiblia Arabica

Published by Marten Düring
October 20, 2020

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