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  • Monday, February 3, 2020 - 5:15pm to 6:30pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion, Van Pelt 6th Floor

We will be welcoming Paul Cobb (Penn) for a talk entitled "The Book of Contemplation: The curious case of a photostat, a medievalist, and the history of Arabic printing in the US."  Paul writes:

An unusual item in the Columbia University Libraries Rare Books and Manuscripts collection bears the shelf-mark X893.7 Us1 S4, and has an interesting story to tell. It is not a manuscript at all, but rather a photostatic reproduction of a medieval Arabic manuscript, known as the Kitab al-I'tibar or Book of Contemplation by the Syrian Muslim warrior-poet Usama ibn Munqidh (d. 1188). My presentation will take 4 key features of this object: its subject (the Arabic manuscript), the location of its original (in the Escorial Library in Spain), its function as a photostat in the US, and finally its final deposition in Columbia University, as threads to pull on, revealing the afterlife of this one Arabic unicum: a story involving, among other things, the sultan of Morocco, pirates, a French Orientalist, a Penn medievalist, a Princeton Arabist, and a key moment in the history of Arabic printing in the US.

Paul M. Cobb is Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Penn. He is the author, most recently, of The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades for Oxford University Press and translator of The Book of Contemplation for Penguin Classics. He is hard at work on his next book, The Boundless World of Johannes Schiltberger, which follows the adventures and travels of its titular hero, a German teenager who was captured in 1396 in Hungary while on crusade against the Turks and subsequently spent some 30 years in service to the greatest Muslim rulers of his day, criss-crossing eastern Europe, central Asia, and the Middle East. Thankfully, he wrote a memoir about it.