Vortrag bei GAM, 13. Juni 2018

Maxim Romanow (Wien): “Open Sesame!” Digital Keys to the Treasures of the Arabic Written Tradition

Maxim Romanow (Wien): “Open Sesame!” Digital Keys to the Treasures of the Arabic Written Tradition


Moderation: Tara Andrews



With at least 40,000 unique titles identifiable for the period before 1900 CE, the Arabic written tradition is one of the greatest treasuries of knowledge in human history. Covering practically every aspect of Islamic culture, this tradition is particularly rich in extensive historical sources such as chronicles and biographical collections. The value of these sources has been recognized by scholars for decades, but their sheer volume posed a significant challenge and they remained largely impenetrable to traditional methods of historical inquiry. The recent digital turn offers new and exciting opportunities and the lecture will provide an overview of two sets of relevant computational approaches. Revolving around the identification of “text reuse”—or “who quotes whom”—the first set of methods offers a novel perspective on practically any textual source and its place in the interwoven texture of the Arabic written tradition. Focusing on the extraction of meaningful data from the unstructured text, the second set of methods offers ways of modeling large-scale and long-term historical processes. In the presentation of these methods, the lecture will summarize the results of the author’s ongoing analysis of “The History of Islam” (Ta’rikh al-islam). Written in the 14th century in Damascus and spanning over 50 volumes (~3,4 million words) in one of its modern editions, this mammoth of the Arabic biographical tradition covers seven centuries of Islamic history (c. 600–1300 CE) in over 30,000 biographies and 10,000 descriptions of historical events.

Zum Vortragenden:

Maxim Romanov is Universitätsassistent für Digital Humanities at the Institute for History, University of Vienna. 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. Currently, he is working on the study of “The History of Islam” (Ta’rikh al-islam) by the Damascene scholar al-Ḏahabī (d. 1348 CE), which will serve as the methodological and infrastructural foundation for the study of the entire extant corpus of Arabic biographical and historical tradition. Additionally, he is working on a series of foundational projects for the field of digital history of the Islamicate world, which include 1) a machine-readable corpus of classical Arabic texts, 2) a text-reuse project, and 3) a gazetteer and geographical model of the classical Islamic world.