CfP: Under the Hammer. Trafficking, Trading, and Salvaging the Middle Eastern and North African Written Heritage

Call for papers, deadline 15 November 2022

The trade in written artifacts of Middle Eastern origin is flourishing and its dimensions are growing particularly in areas experiencing military conflict and/or extreme poverty. Yemen is one such area: given the ongoing war, manuscripts are being clandestinely taken out of the country. Syria, Iraq, and Libya are similarly affected. Islamic, Christian, and Jewish manuscripts that originate in the MENASA region are regularly offered for sale by Western auction houses, and many thus end up in private hands. The provenance of the objects sold often remains obscure or is at least not mentioned in the relevant sales catalogs. Additionally, artifacts of Middle Eastern origin are increasingly being offered and sold through social media, for the most part clandestinely. Such transactions not only are frequently illegal but also deprive the people living in conflict-ridden regions of their cultural heritage. Finally, scholarship, too, is impacted, since artifacts that are purchased by private collectors generally become inaccessible to scholars.

We invite contributions that showcase the fate of individual manuscripts and written artifacts, or entire collections of such materials, that have been auctioned or otherwise sold during recent decades. Papers that address instances of forgeries of manuscripts, broken books or fragmentology are also encouraged. We also welcome contributions that focus on initiatives aimed at preventing the trafficking of manuscripts, creating awareness of their cultural value among policy makers, customs and police authorities, and auctioneers, and at providing appropriate training to stop illegal trafficking. Contributions may also consider additional measures and initiatives that could help mitigate the problem and ensure the survival and accessibility of written artifacts from the MENASA region, or the thorny issue of the possible restitution of written artifacts.

Deadline for submission of titles and abstracts: November 15, 2022 (to be sent to Uta Nitschke, These will be reviewed by the editors until December 15, 2022.

Deadline for submission of final papers: May 30, 2023 (to be sent to Uta Nitschke, All contributions will be peer-reviewed.

For questions, please contact the volume editors, Stephane Ipert, Grigory Kessel, Sabine Schmidtke, and Jack Tannous.

Stephane Ipert ( is the director of the Distinctive collections (Heritage Library) in Qatar National Library (QNL), which is a unique collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps and archival collections about Qatar and the Islamic world. The QNL is, since 2015, the IFLA PAC - Preservation And Conservation Center for Arabic countries and Middle East, (IFLA is the International Federation of Libraries Associations).

Grigory Kessel ( is a research associate at Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences as well as at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on the literary heritage of Syriac Christianity with particular attention to the manuscripts. Besides manuscripts, his publications deal with Syriac medical and monastic texts. He participated in a number of cataloging projects, including the Sinai Palimpsests Project and that of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.

Sabine Schmidtke ( is is Professor of Islamic Intellectual History in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ. Her research focusses on Shīʿī history and thought (Imāmī and Zaydī), Islamic and Jewish Intellectual History, the Muslim reception of the Bible, manuscript studies and the history of libraries, and the history of Oriental studies 19th and 20th centuries.

Jack Tannous ( is Associate Professor of History and Hellenic Studies at Princeton University. His research focuses on the Syriac-speaking Christian communities of the Near East in this period and also in a number of other, related areas, including Eastern Christian Studies more broadly, Patristics/early Christian studies, Greco-Syriac and Greco-Arabic translation, Christian-Muslim interactions, sectarianism and identity, early Islamic history, the history of the Arabic Bible, and the Qurʾān.

Contact Email:

Stephane Ipert:
Grigory Kessel:
Sabine Schmidtke:
Jack Tannous: