Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Digitizing old Arabic medicine manuscripts

<img alt=“Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts Online.png” align=right src=“” width=“196” height=“300” />

The Wellcome Library, in partnership with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, and King’s College London Department of Digital Humanities, UK, has created a digital library which will contain 1,000 manuscript books and fragments relating to the history of medicine created during the Arab Golden Age of Science.

The Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts Online, which is freely available, contains well-known medical texts by famous practitioners (such as Avicenna, Ibn al-Quff, and Ibn an-Nafis), lesser-known works by anonymous physicians and rare or unique copies, such as Averroes’ commentaries on Avicenna’s medical poetry.

""Providing global access to our collections is at the heart of our mission to foster collaborative research, and we are delighted to see these particular treasures become freely accessible online," Simon Chaplin, head of the Wellcome Library, said in a press release.

The project started in 2009, but the first challenge was to come up with a cataloguing system for Arabic manuscripts.

Elena Pierazzo, from the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College, was responsible with coming up with the system and explains his approach here. The team started with a tool that was already available but that was craeted for Western manuscripts. They ended up heavily modifying it, while maintain compliance to the original tool.

The tool, the repository, and the website was developed by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina with direction from the Wellcome and King’s College London team members.

So far, 450 manuscripts have been digitized and catalogued with the new tool. Last week, the website went live to the public for the first time, offering a sample of 150 manuscripts that visitors can see.

Once a manuscript is selected, the reader can flick through the manuscripts page by page from cover to cover right inside their browsers.

The rest of the manuscripts were be made available throughout the summer.


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