Unlocking the transmission archive in Arabic manuscript cultures
Audition certificates (سماع, طبقة السماع or إجازة) are a salient feature of Arabic
manuscript cultures. They are notes written on a book to document the
authorised transmission of the book’s text from teacher(s) to student(s). In
concrete terms, the text was read out aloud (by the teacher or one of the
students) and at the end of the reading session one of the members of this
reading group added the audition certificate to the book. By virtue of their
participation all students now had the right to act as teacher in future
Audition certificates are brimming with data and can include: the name of the teacher(s), the name of the student(s) (including highlighting those coming late or leaving early), the name of the reader, the name of the writer of the certificate, the name of the book’s owner, the date of the reading, the place of the reading and many other surprises (such as a writer recording the birth of his son during the reading session in the room next door). These certificates contain a wealth of historical data, in particular on persons we do not find in many other sources such as women and slaves. They are thus a source of outstanding importance for fields such as social history, history of ideas, economic history, urban history, historical topography, and biographical studies. It goes without saying that, especially in a comparative perspective with other world regions, such as Latin Europe, this copious material represents a considerable resource for widening our understanding of Middle Eastern societies.
So far, the field of Middle Eastern history has used this unparalleled source for medieval history only for individual manuscripts or small corpora. The problem is simply that audition certificates are distributed in tens of thousands of manuscripts around the globe and that no systematic project to make them available was ever started. The farthest we got was a collaborative project between German and Syrian colleagues who published in facsimile a selection of certificates from the National Syrian Library in Damascus and provided them with an enormous index:
Stefan Leder/Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās/Maʾmūn al-Ṣāġarjī, Muʿjam al-samāʿāt al-Dimashqīya. Les certificats d’audition à Damas. 550-750/1155-1349, Damascus 1996 and Stefan Leder/Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās/Maʾmūn al-Ṣāġarjī, Muʿjam al-samāʿāt al-Dimashqīya - ṣūwar al-makhṭūṭāt. Recueil de documents fac-similés des certificats d’audition à Damas. 550-750/1155-1349, Damascus 2000
ACP is the first major project aimed at unlocking the potential of this unique source corpus. We have started to go through the holdings of selected libraries (Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, The Bibliothèque nationale de France, Syrian National Library), but we cannot claim to have identified all audition certificates in the manuscript books on their shelves. We will continue to go through further collections to enlarge this first large-scale and fully searchable corpus of audition certificates.
The data set underlying ACP is available as open access publication stored in the Research Data Repository at Universität Hamburg, https://www.fdr.uni-hamburg.de/record/13525. The data set is published under a CC BY 4.0 license allowing it to be reused for other projects. ACP will be updated periodically with consecutively numbered new versions. The current version 1.0 was published 26.10.2023.
Audition certificates are the result of complex documentary practices and they were written by highly specialised communities. We have only started to understand many of the scribal practices, documentary logics and archival practices that shaped the various forms of certificates in different places and in different periods. The following list provides some background in order to understand the wider historical context of the certificates and the practices that shaped them:
سعید ضامن الجوماني: دلالات المصطلحات الواردة في مجالس السماع والقراءة في المخطوطات العربية
Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 11
سعید ضامن الجوماني: وثيقة جديدة عن نقل العِلم في التاريخ الإسلامي. تحقيق أوراق السّماع لسنن الدّارقطني, مجلة كلية الشريعة والدراسات الإسلامي 38-2 , 19ـ75.
Davidson, Garrett: Carrying on the Tradition: A Social and Intellectual History of Hadith Transmission Across a Millennium, Leiden 2020.
Hirschler, Konrad: A Monument to Medieval Syrian Book Culture: The Library of Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī, Edinburgh 2020.
سعید ضامن الجوماني: صور الإجازات المنقولة في المخطوطات العربية: السبب، والوظيفة
Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 9 (2018) 72-100.
Andreas Görke/Konrad Hirschler (eds), Manuscript Notes as Documentary Sources, Würzburg 2011.
Stefan Leder/Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās/Maʾmūn al-Ṣāġarjī, Muʿjam al-samāʿāt al-Dimashqīya. Les certificats d’audition à Damas. 550-750/1155-1349, Damascus 1996.
Stefan Leder/Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās/Maʾmūn al-Ṣāġarjī, Muʿjam al-samāʿāt al-Dimashqīya - ṣūwar al-makhṭūṭāt. Recueil de documents fac-similés des certificats d’audition à Damas. 550-750/1155-1349, Damascus 2000.
Leder, Stefan: ‘Hörerzertifikate als Dokumente für die islamische Lehrkultur des Mittelalters’, in R. Khoury (ed.), Urkunden und Urkundenformulare im klassischen Altertum und in den orientalischen Kulturen, Heidelberg 1999, 147-66.
Leder, Stefan: ‘Eine neue Quelle zur Stadtgeschichte von Damaskus. Zur Alltagsgeschichte der Ḥadīthwissenschaft’, in H. Preissler (ed.), Annäherung an das Fremde, Stuttgart 1998, 268-79.
صلاح الدين المنجد: إجازة السماع في المخطوطات القديمة, مجلة معهد المخطوطات العربية 1 (1955), 51-232."
Audition Certificates Platform URL: https://www.audition-certificates-platform.org/.