The International Treasury of
Islamic Manuscripts

The Glaser Collections

Union catalogue of Yemeni manuscripts in Berlin, London, and Vienna

At the end of the 19th century, three European libraries were the recipients of rich collections of Yemeni manuscripts, thanks to Eduard Glaser (1855–1908), an outstanding Austrian Arabist and archaeologist. Glaser was one of the 19th century’s leading researchers on South Arabia and is regarded as one of the pioneers of Sabaean studies. With a thorough knowledge of the Arabic language and the customs of the region, he undertook four extensive scientific journeys in Yemen between 1882 and 1894.

Although Glaser's collections of manuscripts are an invaluable treasure, his main interest was in copying and studying inscriptions. While the manuscripts were not of paramount importance to him, selling them was, and this created, in modern terms, a win-win situation: Libraries were able to increase their holdings, and Glaser was able support himself both during and in between his travels.

Glaser managed to sell 23 manuscripts he had collected during his first journey (1882-1884) to the Royal Library of Berlin, and he felt encouraged to try again. The Royal Library purchased another bulk package of manuscripts, this time numbering 241, which Glaser had collected during his second journey. The British Museum in London purchased 328 manuscripts from Glaser’s third trip to Yemen, and he undertook a fourth journey from early 1892 to the spring of 1894. At the end of that year, the Austrian Ministry of Education (Unterrichtsministerium) donated a collection of 252 manuscripts purchased from Glaser to the Court Library in Vienna – now the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library).

The three Glaser Collections offer unprecedented insight into the intellectual history of Yemen, particularly on the subject of Zaydi legal tradition. In addition to this topic, various other fields are addressed, such as the Qurʾān and exegesis, ḥadīth, history, grammar, lexicography, poetry, medicine, theology, and geography.

The union catalogue of Glaser manuscripts at ITIM

The union catalogue of Glaser manuscripts now available ( Database , PDF Berlin 1, PDF Berlin 2, PDF Berlin 3, PDF London, PDF Vienna ), combines for the first time approximately one thousand catalogue records for the Yemeni manuscripts at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the British Library in London, and the Austrian National Library in Vienna. [1] The virtual Glaser collection consists of the 527 cataloguing records on composite and single manuscripts in Berlin, 234 cataloguing records for single-text manuscripts in London, and 221 cataloguing records for single-text manuscripts in Vienna. [2]

In this way, a once lost part of the Yemeni manuscript tradition is united again – and made accessible and preserved as cultural heritage.

The enterprise of bringing the three Glaser collections into one catalogue is closely linked to a larger project, virtually uniting Yemeni and Zaydi manuscripts into one database, a project initiated and promoted by Prof. Sabine Schmidtke (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton). In addition, digital surrogates of manuscripts belonging to the Zaydi manuscript tradition are currently being brought together through the virtual reading room of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (, conveniently accessible through a digital portal housed on the website of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton ( ).

Although it may seem an easy undertaking, unifying the three collections has not been a trivial task and would not have been successful without the preparatory work and the support of the following persons and institutions:

  • a Proof of Concept project by Prof. Sabine Schmidtke, funded by the European Research Council;
  • the support of the libraries and their representatives, namely Mr Christoph Rauch and Dr Thoralf Hanstein, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, as well as Dr Andreas Fingernagel and Dr Katharina Kaska, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek;
  • the work of student assistants retrospectively converting cataloguing data from the Glaser collection at the British Library (Rieu 1894), in accordance with codicological advice related to that task (Mrs Beate Wiesmüller, currently at Hamburg University);
  • close cooperation with the administration of TIMA’s manuscript repository, namely Mr Jens Kupferschmidt, at Leipzig University;
  • and, last but not least, a TIMA grant to finally unite and publish the catalogue data, with the tireless commitment and support of TIMA’s database coordinator, Dr Stefanie Brinkmann.

On a technical level, many scripts had to be written to add, convert, and check the romanisation of Arabic, to automatically import additional information (data mapping/ XML-based data transfer), and finally to make everything work on TIMA’s MyIHS data repository according to ITIM’s data model (for details see the Final Report ). Whenever available, the links to digitised manuscripts have been included.

But, more importantly, see the catalogues of the unified Glaser collections ( PDF Berlin 1, PDF Berlin 2, PDF Berlin 3, PDF London, PDF Vienna ) and, for detailed search queries, go to the Database .

Daniel Kinitz, March 2017


[1] Composite manuscripts in the London and Vienna collections have not yet been considered. [back to text]

[2] The number of cataloguing records exceeds the 844 manuscripts Glaser sold because of the way in which the composite manuscripts are treated. They were first sorted out into single texts (a procedure so far done only for Berlin manuscripts), following which the physical volume of the composite manuscript was also represented and counted as one set of metadata. [back to text]