The Middle East has seen the expansion of empires and the rise of world religions. The medieval period (600s-1500s) in particular spans from the first appearance of Islam and conquests by Arab Muslims to the extension of Islam as a world religion, but one increasingly under Turkic rule as the Ottoman Empire conquered most of the Middle East. While the Umayyads and the early Abbasid caliphs maintained far-flung empires, the disintegration of the latter caliphate in the late 800s enabled a multitude of local dynasties and foreign invaders to establish micro-states, until the “gunpowder empires” of the Ottomans and Safavids defeated their rivals to partition the Middle East between them in the 1510s.
The medieval Middle East included a bewildering variety of written languages (Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Coptic, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Pahlavi, Persian, Syriac, and Turkish, to name only the most significant), representing the literate classes of an equally broad range of ethnicities and several religious communities. While the linguistic diversity has often forced scholars to choose one or two languages on which to focus their scholarly effort, sources in all of these languages frequently discuss the same people, the same places, the same social structures, and the same popular practices.
In order to study the medieval Middle East as the historical unity which it was, we must gain access to the broad range of available sources. The Historical Index of the Medieval Middle East (HIMME) seeks to broaden access to the full range of historical sources for studying this fascinating period of human history.
The Historical Index of the Medieval Middle East will provide a synthetic reference work identifying sources referring to particular people, places, and practices (such as jizya, the poll-tax paid by non-Muslims under Islamic rule). Its temporal scope is from 600 to 1550, and its geographical scope from al-Andalus in the west to Samarqand in the east, from Yemen in the south to the Caucasus in the north. Each entry will correspond to an individual person, place, or social practice, and will list the references to that entity which have been gathered so far. Rather than restricting its attention to sources in Arabic or any other single language, it will deliberately incorporate sources from as many languages as possible. This will help the scholarly community quickly locate primary sources relevant for medieval Middle Eastern topics, and scholars may consider HIMME’s citations when deciding which languages to learn. The broader public will find brief identifications of the people, places, and practices, and references to translations of primary sources where available. The digital humanities community will find the canonical data records encoded in TEI, published on GitHub as they become available. The project is a work in progress, publishing its citations as they are collected, rather than waiting to publish an authoritative “final” reference work. Instead, HIMME will grow over time, becoming steadily more useful as it incorporates the references from additional sources.
The scale of the data collected so far is indicated in the following table:
|# persons||# places||# practices|
|Michael the Syrian||Syriac||Yes||2457||170||64|
|Benjamin of Tudela||Hebrew||Yes||300-400||500-700||40-50|
* Note that the numbers in the last three columns cannot simply be added to arrive at a total, because some persons and many places occur in more than one, even several, sources. For example, Baghdad is mentioned in all these sources.
A handful of sample entries may be explored here.
Questions can be directed to the Principal Investigator, Thomas A. Carlson.
This project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or of Oklahoma State University.