In 1959 Middle Eastern scholar Professor John Bowman (1916-2006) arrived at the University of Melbourne and began to expand the Department of Semitic Studies. One of his most significant legacies was the collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, now held in the Rare Books Collection in the University Library.
The collection comprises works in Arabic and Persian, as well as Turkish, Urdu, Ethiopic, Syriac, Hebrew, Sanskirt, Pushtu, Prakit and Mongol scripts. The texts include Islamic religious texts, including Qur’ans and commentary on the Qur’an, as well as significant poetic works, educational textbooks and writing on history, biography, astrology, mathematics, philosophy and weaponry.
In 1995 Australian Research Centre funding, awarded to the University’s Conservation Centre, in partnership with the School of Physics, to undertake scientific analysis of specific manuscripts in the collection. The manuscripts are internationally significant. In 2007 scholars from around the world took part in the Symposium on the Care and Conservation of Middle Eastern Manuscripts at the University of Melbourne. Expert visiting scholars have come to investigate the materials and techniques and the writings of which the manuscripts are compromised. Currently four PhD students at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation are working on John Bowman’s collection. Four manuscripts from the University’s Middle Eastern Manuscript Collection are currently on display in Arts West.
We are very grateful to Anna Bowman for her knowledge and film-making expertise, our colleagues at the Islamic Museum of Australia https://islamicmuseum.org.au Sherene Hassan and Jake Carter; and Susan Thomas, Rare Books Curator, Bailieu Library http://library.unimelb.edu.au/collections/special-collections/rare-books/internatonal-rare-books/memss.