This research addresses challenges posed by the study of distanciated Oriental manuscripts in research collections. Such challenges include language barriers, incomplete provenance, inaccuracies in the catalogue entries and limited research on individual manuscripts. As a result, questions of meaning and significance of such manuscripts are difficult to answer. Focusing on one volume, Sad kalamih Shah Vilayat: Manzumih dar Hajj/ [bih] khatt-i Shah Mahmud (MUL 17), in the Middle Eastern Collection of the University of Melbourne, this research proposed a methodology to investigate:
- The potential meanings understood or attributed to these manuscripts in their current time and place and their original meaning, both as a book and object.
- The significance of each manuscript in its current and original time and place.
The manuscript is a composite manuscript with two separate and independent books, bound into one volume.
- Book One is a copy of One Hundred Sayings of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib in Arabic and their translation into Persian (Farsi) by ‘Adil ibn ‘Ali Shirazi
- Book Two is a copy of a Hajj travelogue named Futuh al-Haramayn by Muhyi al-Din Lari.
Using qualitative methodology including codicology, textual criticism, translation, art history and historical methodologies within an interdisciplinary approach, this thesis explored values and information embedded in the materiality, art and text of the volume. Codicological methods, involving raking, UV, IR and normal light, light sheets, magnification and microscopy, were applied to understand materials and techniques, page layouts, ordering system, scribes and illuminators. Formal analysis of the shapes, motifs and colours was used to investigate illuminations and illustrations.
Comparative studies of maps and other copies of the books was used to expose missing pages and revealed the date of the manuscript and place it in its proper chain of transcription. Book Two was partially translated into English. In order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the cultural and social context in which the books were produced, literary and historical documents, manuscripts and treatises were studied.
The result of the interdisciplinary approach provided information on the meaning of the volume by determining its history, bibliographical data, biography and provenance of each book, and the significance of both books, providing insights into the cultural and religious contexts in which the volume was produced.
The research found Book One is a copy of One Hundred Sayings translated into Persian (Farsi) by ‘Adil ibn ‘Ali Shirazi in the seventeenth century in Iran. It is made from two independent copies of One Hundred Sayings of ‘Ali, with one scribe but two different illuminators. It was repaired in Bukhara and belonged to a person named Farrukh, either in the year 1603 or sometime between the years 1688 and 1785.
Book Two was found to be a rare example of one of the oldest versions of the text of Futuh al-Haramayn, transcribed in late sixteenth century, around 1560 CE (968 AH), outside Mecca and probably in Iran. Findings included identifying Nitami or Nizami as the transcriber and illuminator of the book; that one owner was an Azerbaijani who used the book as either a Hajj guide or a practical source of knowledge on Hajj and another was named Zayn al ‘Abidin; and that at least three illustrations were intentionally removed and the catchwords manipulated to cover up this deletion.
The findings of this research demonstrate the value of focused interdisciplinary study of one distanciated manuscript. The results enhanced our knowledge of the manuscripts, contributing to the current body of knowledge, providing links and connections between communities with shared cultures, histories and interests, and establishing a methodology that can be transferred to new studies of distanciated collections.