Of graphs, maps, and 30,000 Muslims: Digital Humanities & The Premodern Islamic World

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Maxim Romanov

Maxim Romanov

University of Leipzig
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
12:30 pm
Co-Sponsored by Roshan Institute for Persian Studies

In the course of 14 centuries, Muslim authors wrote, compiled and recompiled a great number of multivolume collections that often include tens of thousands of biographical, bibliographical and historical records. Over the past decade, many of these texts (predominantly in Arabic) have become available in full text format through a number of digital libraries. The overall number of texts in these libraries amounts to thousands with their overall volume exceeding 1,5 billion words. Scholars of Islam and Islamic history have already realized the value of the newly available resources, but it is the new digital methods of engaging with these texts that offer the qualitative change of the field by opening research opportunities that were unthinkable a mere decade ago. In particular, various text-mining techniques allow us to study such multivolume collections in their entirety, making it possible to engage into the data-driven exploration of the “longue durée” of Islamic history. Following the general introduction into the digital Islamic humanities, the lecture will then zoom in on the results of the computational analysis of the largest premodern biographical collection—“The History of Islam” of the Damascene scholar al-Ḏahabī (d. 1348 CE), who covered 700 years of Islamic history through over 30,000 biographical records. The riches of this collection hold the keys to understanding of both the Islamic written tradition as well as the history of the Islamic society. What was the Islamic society in the course of 700 years of its history? How was it changing in time and space? What were the major cultural centers? Did they remain the same or passed on the baton among each other? Focusing on these and other questions, the lecture will showcase a variety of analyses possible through text mining and algorithmic reading, pondering on the implications of novel digital methods for the field of Islamic studies.

Maxim Romanov is a research fellow at Alexander von Humboldt-Lehrstul für Digital Humanities, Institut für Informatik, Universität Leipzig. His dissertation (Near Eastern Studies, University of Michigan, 2013) explored how modern computational techniques of text analysis can be applied to the study of premodern Arabic historical sources. In particular, he studied “The History of Islam” (Taʾrīḫ al-islām), the largest of surviving biographical collections with over 30,000 biographies, written by the Damascene scholar al-Ḏahabī (d. 1348 CE). He is continuing his research and develops methods of computational analysis for other genres of premodern Arabic literature, mainly large volume collections that can offer insights into long-term and large-scale developments that took place during the pre-modern period of Islamic history. He is working on two book projects: (1) “The History of Islam”: An Essay in Digital Humanities continues the study of al-Ḏahabī’s tremendous collection of biographies, while (2) The Gift to the Knowledgeable 2.0, explores cultural production in the Islamic world until the beginning of the 20th century through the study of the Hadiyyaŧ al-ʿārifīn, a bibliographical collection composed by Ismāʿīl Bāšā al-Baġdādī (d. 1920).

A continuously updated schedule of talks is also available on the Digital Dialogues webpage.

Unable to attend the events in person? Archived podcasts can be found on the MITH website, and you can follow our Digital Dialogues Twitter account @digdialog as well as the Twitter hashtag #mithdd to keep up with live tweets from our sessions. Viewers can watch the live stream as well.

All talks free and open to the public. Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunches.

Contact: MITH (mith.umd.edu, mith@umd.edu, 301.405.8927).