Posts by Year


The Network of MESA (2009–2017)

26 minute read :: Posted on November 12, 2017

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Although it is not as large as such associations as AAR and AHA, it is very dear to most of us who are engaged in the study of Middle East. Those who attended the annual meeting in Boston must have seen an attempt to visualize acad... more...

A Digital Humanities for Premodern Islamic History

7 minute read :: Posted on October 18, 2017

Defining digital humanities is tricky. Our scholarship has been intrinsically digital for quite a few decades already, as we rely more and more on electronic storage to save, word processors to write, bibliography managers to organize, databases to consult, digital libraries to search and read. Living in the digital... more...

Cultural Production in the Islamic World

8 minute read :: Posted on October 14, 2017

Biographical and bibliographical texts can offer a valuable insight into the process of cultural production in the Islamic world. One of the most relevant texts is the Hadiyyaŧ al-ʿārifīn (“The Gift to the Knowledgeable”)—a bio-bibliographical collection written by Ismāʿīl Bāšā al-Baġdādī (d. 1338/1919 CE). Although... more...


Arabographic Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

less than 1 minute read :: Posted on October 5, 2016

The OpenITI team—building on the foundational open-source OCR work of the Leipzig University’s (LU) Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Digital Humanities—has achieved Optical Character Recognition (OCR) accuracy rates for classical Arabic-script texts in the high nineties. These numbers are based on our tests of seven... more...

Creating Frequency-Based Readers for Classical Arabic

4 minute read :: Posted on May 30, 2016

Learning classical Arabic is a long process. (One of my University of Michigan professors once joked that it is hard only for the first ten years—after that it gets worse.) Most of us took great pleasure in advanced reading classes with our professors. Yet, often struggling with the overwhelming volume of new vocabu... more...

Chronological Coverage of an Arabic Corpus

14 minute read :: Posted on March 29, 2016

While looking for a way to identify all biographical collections and chronicles (and, by extension, all other texts that offer data for time-series analysis) in a collection of 0ver 10,000 texts, it occurred to me that all these texts share the same common feature—they are teeming with dates. So, what if we try t... more...


Introducing OpenArabic mARkdown

1 minute read :: Posted on November 8, 2015

TEI XML has long become the standard for tagging humanistic texts for research purposes. It is the standard in most digital libraries (including the Perseus Digital Library). Having texts in a TEI XML format that conforms to the standards of a long-standing library allows one to take advantage of libraries’ infrastr... more...

Distant Reading & the Islamic Archive

less than 1 minute read :: Posted on October 17, 2015

On October 16, 2015, the Digital Islamic Humanities Program at Brown University held its third annual scholarly gathering, a symposium on the subject “Distant Reading & the Islamic Archive.” [View the story on Storify] more...

Mapping the Greco-Roman World

1 minute read :: Posted on April 2, 2015

“Envy is not a very good thing. Yet envy is precisely what an early Islamicist feels when he reads Roger Bagnall and Bruce Frier’s The Demography of Roman Egypt.” 1 These words stuck in my head since the very moment I read them and over the past two years of working among and with the classicists my classics envy ha... more...

BetaCode for Arabic

6 minute read :: Posted on February 7, 2015

Although both Windows and Mac OS now support Arabic, it is still quite difficult to type and edit Arabic texts. It is particularly frustrating to edit and manipulate fully vocalized texts, since most fonts either render “short vowels” (ḥarakāt) invisible, or do not render them properly. Because of the “stacking,” i.... more...


Islamic Urban Centers (661–1300 CE)

5 minute read :: Posted on August 23, 2014

Back to al-Ḏahabī’s Taʾrīḫ al-islām. The present dynamic cartogram shows how the prominence of major urban centers was changing over time. The focus is again on “descriptive names” (nisbaŧ) and the “size” of each urban center on the cartogram reflects the number of individuals with “descriptive names” that refer to ... more...

Computational Reading of Arabic Biographical Collections: Dissertation online @ U of Michigan

1 minute read :: Posted on February 4, 2014

A project in the digital humanities, the dissertation explores methods of computational text analysis. Relying on text-mining techniques to extract meaningful data from unstructured text, the study offers an effective and flexible method for the analysis of Arabic biographical collections, the most valuable source f... more...


Toward Abstract Models for Islamic History

25 minute read :: Posted on November 2, 2013

The advent of digital humanities has brought the notion of “big data” into the purview of humanistic inquiry. Humanists now have access to huge corpora that open research possibilities that were unthinkable a decade or two ago. However, working with corpora requires a rather different approach that is more character... more...

The Encyclopaedia of Arabic Poetry

12 minute read :: Posted on February 3, 2013

Prepared in cooperation with Michael Bonner (U of Michigan) In 1997, Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi ( started development of an extremely useful multimedia Encyclopaedia of [Arabic] Poetry (al-Mawsūʿa al-Shiʿriyya). The first edition (published in 1998) was pretty small and included only... more...

Islamic World, 661-1300 CE

2 minute read :: Posted on January 21, 2013

Evenly spaced across the entire period of 41–700 AH/661–1300 CE, the following series of four maps (click to enlarge) visualizes the frequencies of top 100 toponyms mentioned in biographies of al-Ḏahabī’s Taʾrīḫ al-islām: almost 13,000 biographies (44,4%); altogether these locations are mentioned in slightly over 25... more...

Python Functions for Arabic

1 minute read :: Posted on January 2, 2013

There are certain operations one has to repeat many times while manipulating Arabic text. For a number of purposes Arabic text must be normalized, namely “noise” characters deleted, the orthography of problematic letters unified, etc. Sometimes it is necessary to deNormalize search words, i.e. modify regular express... more...