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This content is taken from the University of Birmingham's online course, The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds SUSAN WORRALL: The Birmingham Quran manuscript is part of a collection of over 3,000 Middle Eastern manuscripts held at the Cadbury Research Library. Long recognised by academics as one of the most important collections of Middle Eastern manuscripts, the collection has many manuscripts of great significance within it. Their uniquely rich Mingana collection was brought together between 1924 and 1929 by Alphonse Mingana under the patronage of Edward Cadbury. Cadbury was a Quaker philanthropist. He was a man who was particularly interested in intellectual endeavour. And he was part of the very famous Cadbury chocolate making company, which is based here in Birmingham. Mingana was an Assyrian theologian. He was a historian, an orientalist, and a former priest.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds Like the majority of Assyrians in Zakho, his family belonged to the Chaldean Catholic Church. As Sami, Kahlil Samir, says in his study of Mingana, much about Mingana’s life remains enigmatic. Born in Iraq, he abandoned his country for reasons that we still do not clearly understand. And he emigrated to England, where for good reason, he became famous. In 1913, Mingana came to England at the invitation of J. Rendel Harris, director of studies at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, part of the Birmingham Selly Oak colleges. During the period when Edward Cadbury was the chairman of the college’s central council, Mingana remained at Woodbrooke for two years, where he met his future wife.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds In that same period, he was also appointed to the staff of the John Rylands Library in Manchester at its university, to catalogue their collection of Arabic manuscripts. He lived in Manchester until 1932, and by the time he left, he’d risen to the post of keeper of oriental manuscripts. During the time he was in Manchester, Edward Cadbury sponsored Mingana to undertake three different journeys to the Middle East to collect manuscripts for him. In the spring of 1924, Mingana went to Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. And he acquired 22 Arabic and also some Syriac manuscripts for the John Rylands Library. and other Syriac manuscripts for Cadbury.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 seconds A visit in the autumn of 1924 and ‘25 to Syria, Iraq, and South Kurdistan enabled him to get mostly Syriac manuscripts, also with some Arabic. And then finally in 1929, he visited the Sinai Peninsula to St. Catherine’s Monastery, and Upper Egypt, where he mostly collected Arabic manuscripts, and also some Coptic and some Greek. So the collection is so diverse. These expeditions are well documented in Mingana’s own archive collection, which is held at the Cadbury Research Library. Mingana used to report to Cadbury about his achievements in collecting manuscripts on a regular basis. So in this letter from December 1929, he says– “I have just now finished packing two large boxes containing about 300 Arabic manuscripts.

Skip to 3 minutes and 28 seconds I have had no time to number them. I shall insure them tomorrow and send them through Cooks to England to your address, as agreed.”

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 seconds SPEAKER: Mingana was an excellent linguist. He was competent in Turkish, Iraq, Persian, Kurdish, and Arabic, and also Syriac. And also in Latin, French, and English. And he was acknowledged as an outstanding scholar of the day in Syrian and Arabic languages. The role of Edward Cadbury in the collection is less well known, largely because, unlike many gift givers, he discreetly endowed the collection without giving his name to it. Cadbury’s involvement was certainly that of a philanthropist, rather than a collector, connoisseur, and a bibliophile. The university assumed responsibility for the Selly Oak College’s collection in 2005 when the colleges became part of the university.

Skip to 4 minutes and 22 seconds In 2010, the collection was relocated from Selly Oak to the university’s Cadbury Research Library on the investor’s Edgbaston campus where it’s based today in the purpose-built storage at the Cadbury Research Library. And it was generously gifted to the university by the Edward Cadbury charitable trust.

The journey of the manuscript from the Islamic heartlands to the University of Birmingham

When watching this film consider these points:

  • What factors might have motivated Edward Cadbury to commission Alphonse Mingana to collect manuscripts from all over the Middle East for his new library in Selly Oak, Birmingham? (This will also be picked up in Week 4.)
  • What skills might Alphonse Mingana have needed in order to catalogue the collection?
  • What skills might we need now to be able to effectively curate and care for the collection in the 21st century?
  • At the Cadbury Research Library (CRL), we provide supervised access to the manuscripts within the collection for all interested researchers at whatever level. We have also digitised a number which are available on our Virtual Manuscript Room and we catalogue onto the index FIHRIST – what more could or should be done to ensure that people know that these manuscripts exist?

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This video is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham