Campus News

Special Collections Exhibits Islamic Manuscripts

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 26, 2009) - Shelved in the Rare Books stacks of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library is a unique collection of more than two dozen book-like manuscripts from the Middle East. Much like the medieval European books of hours devoted to Roman Catholic liturgy they share shelf space with, these bound manuscripts, for the most part, are religious texts: copies of the Qur'an, and Qur'anic commentaries in Arabic, Persian and Turkish; a few devoted to secular matters. UK Libraries now invites the public to peruse these uncommon resources at an exhibit running through Nov. 16, in the lobby of the M.I. King Building. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The collection of Islamic manuscripts on exhibition also includes three early examples of printed books from the region, including a 1729 history of Egypt written in Turkish, an Arabic commentary on ethics from 1775, and an 1833 book of Persian poetry. The manuscripts in the UK collection are dated as early as 1517—an illuminated rendering of the epic Shahnameh by the Persian poet Ferdowsi—and continue to as late as the mid-nineteenth century. A variety of illustrative styles can be found, from rather spare geometric and floral patterns to ornate court, hunting, and battle scenes in miniature—most of whose pigments are still fresh and vibrant.

Accession records for this collection are sparse, but in preliminary cataloging work of these pieces, UK library and information science graduate assistant Melissa Riehm used her Arabic skills to differentiate the various languages employed, and uncovered useful information on provenance and UK acquisition dates for a number of the manuscripts. Chicago businessman and philanthropist Philip D. Sang, among whose gifts to UK Libraries are the large bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln and a number of the manuscript books of hours mentioned above, was also the donor of several Islamic manuscripts in this collection. 

Curator of Books Jim Birchfield is responsible for mounting this exhibit of representative Islamic manuscripts at the M.I. King Building. Viewing of the exhibition is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information on the exhibit, contact Birchfield at (859) 257-8408 or e-mail to For further information on the ongoing cataloging project, contact Gordon Hogg, director of the Special Collections Library, at (859-257-1949) or e-mail to