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The Making of a Poet: Mohsen Mohamed & Sherine Elbanhawy residency, 23 – 27 Oct. 2023

The Making of a Poet is a Trent Grant and Laertes Press sponsored residency for Mohsen Mohamed and Sherine Elbanhawy. In 2021, Mohsen published his first book of poetry, مفيش رقم بيرد (Mafīsh raqam bīrudd)  which won first prize for vernacular poetry at the Cairo International Book Fair as well as the Sawiris Cultural Award. He wrote the poems while incarcerated in several prisons between 2014-2019 as he notes, “poetry in prison is like dreaming; it’s an alternative space to live, experience, and see the world.” Written in Egyptian Arabic, his poetry oscillates between longing and loss, between the present and the past, and between optimism and despair.

Mohsen will be joined by Sherine who was inspired to translate Mohsen’s work after a chance meeting at a workshop. She read his poetry and noted that “[his] poetry is very much ingrained in the tradition of poetry as a voice of resistance.” Sherine’s translation was published earlier this year by Laertes Press, an independent press committed to literary translation based in Chapel Hill and is entitled No One is On the Line.

The Bedfellows Are Sleeping and I’m Whispering

Oh, what a story,
the story
of my oppression

الرفاق نايمين و أنا بهمس

يا حكاية ظلمي يا حكاية

Mohsen was born in Mansoura, a city in Egypt located along the Nile, and had been pursuing a degree in Business Administration. However, he was wrongly arrested in 2014 and spent 5 years incarcerated in 6 different jails. He currently lives in Oxford, England. Last year he was interviewed about his poetry and his time in prison (in Arabic).  Some of the poems in No One is On the Line, as well as new poems by Mohsen will be published later this year in a new collection of Egyptian prison writings in the post-2011 period by the University of California press.

In the deafening
silence of the nights
in the colossal
isolating barrier,
I grappled with question and answer,
like a mute who strives
to interrogate someone sightless

في الليالي وصمتها القاتل
والجدار العازل الحائل
كنت أجاوب فيها و أتسائل
زي أخرس يسأل الأعمي
حطوا ليه على عينه غماية

Sherine Elbanhawy, is currently pursuing a MA in Islamic Studies-Women and Gender Studies at McGill University. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She’s the founder of Rowayat, a literary magazine showcasing Egyptian and Arab/SWANA writers.


Running and fleeing at a protest
in a snapshot caught by a friend,
a taste of teargas,
and people making way for you
to revive a friend
suddenly passed out.
On the left side
of the photo
betrayers and decent people.
In the back,
a throng, seen and unseen.


وكر وفر في مظاهرة
و صورة لقطها ليك صاحبك
بطعم الغاز
وناس توسع لك طريق
علشان تداوي رفيق
أغمى عليه فجأة
وناس في شمال الصورة كات خاينة
وناس صادقة
وناس في الخلف مش باينة
وناس في الخلف

Over the course of the 23-27 Oct. week, Mohsen and Sherine will participate in a number of events and we hope you’ll attend!

On Tuesday, we’ll visit with Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a reading and discussion with her students in her course entitled Iranian Prison Literature.

The next day, Mohsen and Sherine will present at the John Hope Franklin Centre as part of the W@C speaker series.


But I can still say
that I love, that I dream,
get inspired,
and get hurt.
The booming of the poem
vibrates inside iron bars,
but its wrists have never been shackled,
nor has steel ever muzzled its songs,
nor has the voice of an ode become hoarse.


لكني لسه بعرف أقول
وأحب وأحلم وانشرح
صوت القصيدة العالي يتسلل
بين الحديد أبو سلسلة ومعصم
الشعر عمره ف مرة ماتسلسل
ولا صوت غنا بحديد بتكمم
ولا عمر مرة قصيدة صوتها أتنبح

On Thursday evening, our esteemed guests will be hosted by Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham for a soirée of reading and translating. Sherine’s translation will be on sale and Mohsen and Sherine will be delighted to sign your copy!

Our final event, entitled Egypt’s carceral poetry and the public sphere will take place in Duke Libraries RL249 where Mohsen and Sherine will be in discussion with Duke University Professors Frances Hasso and Corina Stan.  The hope is to extract commonalities and parallels that help us to understand the carceral experience with respect to care and caring, its reconfiguring of human distances, and its impact on human rights and the suppression of artists.

Aid for Türkiye & Syria

The situation in southern Türkiye and northern Syria is dire. On 6 Feb. 2023 , a significant earthquake of 7.8 Richter scale devastated this region with Kahramanmaraş being the epicentre. Since that first earthquake, there have been a number of earthquakes and aftershocks registering as high as 7.6 and earlier today of 5.4. The destruction and loss of life is enormous and is compounded by freezing temperatures with snow and rain.

Below are a few resources for those seeking to give donations. No donation is too small, everything helps. These are only suggested organisations and not meant to be comprehensive.

From 2nd year Duke PhD student, Arif Erbil:

The Sancar Centre based in Chapel Hill:

From Prof. of Ottoman History at New York University, Ayşe Baltacıoğlu-Brammer: is collecting donations directly to her account, so far raised about $12, 500.
Venmo: @AyseBrammer

The White Helmets are directly involved in the rescue in the impacted Syrian region. They are well-organized. You can easily donate to them with one click:


Jewish Federations of North America: 

Heyva Sor a Kurdistanê (



Jennifer Hattam, a journalist based in Istanbul has also compiled a list via her blog:

Agitate Journal has also compiled a thorough list of organisations:

Sean Swanick, Librarian for Middle East, North Africa, and Islamic Studies, Duke University.

South Asia Cooperative Acquisitions Program (SACAP): 60 Years of Building Unique Collections

Today, as inflation and economic uncertainty put severe stress on library collection budgets across North America, cooperative collection development is en vogue once again. Fortunately, librarians who collect for international and area studies have always been at the forefront of collaborative efforts to build robust and distinctive collections, even during tough economic times. One of the earliest and finest examples of such initiatives is the South Asia Acquisitions Program (SACAP), which this year celebrates its sixtieth anniversary.

The South Asia Cooperative Acquisitions Program (SACAP) was launched by the Library of Congress in 1962. This federal initiative was intended to foster the systematic and collaborative collecting of books, journals, and ephemera from this large, diverse, and multi-lingual region by research libraries right here in the United States. Recognising the importance of this field of study and the timeliness of this project, Duke University Libraries joined 10 peer institutions in agreeing to pay an annual fee of $500 USD—over $4,900 USD by today’s standards (according to the CPI Inflation Index)—in exchange for a selection of the latest South Asian publications. This collective investment in international collecting was an unparalleled success and SACAP continues to this day with Library of Congress field offices in New Delhi and Islamabad.

The materials on display in this 60th anniversary exhibition come from Duke University Libraries’ South Asia Pamphlet collection. Reputed to be the largest such collection in North America, it contains approximately 7,500 English-language pamphlets, with another 392 in Urdu and Bengali still waiting to be catalogued. The pamphlets cover a plethora of subjects: in addition to the items currently displayed in the Hubbard Case, there are pamphlets documenting tourism, economic development, arts, and refugees, among other topics. The collection comes from several South Asian countries: India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

The items in the Hubbard Case will be on display until 2 January 2023. After exploring this exhibition, come on up to the International & Area Studies suite, on the second floor of Bostock Library, to view the exhibition “Land of Lapis lazuli and Gold Afghanistan in the Collections at Duke University Library” while it lasts.

Additional resources

  • Patterson, Maureen L. P.  “The South Asian P.L. 480 Library Program, 1962-1968.” The Journal of Asian Studies, 28: 4, (Aug., 1969):  743- 754.

(Photo credits: Sean Swanick & Luo Zhou)

Greetings from Egypt! أهلاً في مصر

International and Area Studies at Duke University Libraries

Greetings from Egypt! أهلاً في مصر

Egypt, known in Arabic by its sobriquet “Mother of the World” (Umm al-dunya, أم الدنيا), remains the most important and -studied country and culture in the South-West Asian/North African region. A recently acquired collection of 163 postcards (dating from the 1880s to the 1930s) provides an immersive overview of some of the wonders and joys of Egypt, from the north of the country in cities like Port Said and Alexandria to iconographic places like Cairo and Luxor along one of the most important waterways in the world, the Nile River.


Cairo (القاهرة- al-Qāhirah), the capital of Egypt, is a megacity, with a current population of more than 20 million people, or about one fifth of the country’s total population.  This panoramic view of Cairo (French: Le Caire: Vue panoramique) depicts the city’s Citadel complex. Originally built in the 9th century, it has had many additions throughout its history. In the 12th century, Saladin (Salah al-Din, 1171-1193), the Kurdish-born sultan of Egypt and Syria, fortified the complex to stave off the attacks of the Crusaders. Successive Muslim rulers have since then added to the Citadel. The large alabaster mosque in the upper-right corner of this image is named after Muhammad Ali Pasha, an Albanian-born Ottoman governor and the de facto ruler of Egypt from 1805 to 1848, who is considered the founder of modern Egypt. He is also credited with the development of the Bulaq (Bulak) Press, one of the most important printing press operations in the Middle East.

The Mogamaʻ (مجمع)

This striking image is a photograph of the Mujamaʻ, or Mogamaʻ in Egyptian dialect (مجمع التحرير).  The Mogamaʻ stands over Maydan al-Taḥrīr (ميدان التحرير) in the bureaucratic centre of Cairo. The building was constructed on the orders of King Farouk and was designed by Muḥammad Kamal Ismāʻil, an Egyptian engineer and architect to be a government building—see this map for an overview of different offices. Ismāʻil also designed the expansion of the Great Mosque of Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. The Mogamaʻ was completed in 1952 shortly before the ‘Free Officers’ coup and the rise to power of Gamal Abdel Nasser. It stands at 14 storeys as a towering figure over Taḥrīr square, its architecture garners many debates from those who consider it magnificent and those who object to its utilitarianism. For better or worse, the Mogamaʻ recently closed, in part due to its dilapidated state. It is now being refurbished and remodeled into a luxury hotel.

Maydan al-Taḥrīr, from where the Egyptian revolution of 2011 took place is in the foreground of the photo and to the right of the Mogamaʻ is the Omar Makram Mosque. Omar Makram was a political leader of the late 18th century, his mosque was designed by the Italian architect, Mario Rossi. Rossi designed or helped design several important mosques in Egypt.

The Nile

Cairo sits on the headwaters of the Nile River, which has provided the water for not only the capital but also the entire country from time immemorial.  The importance of water and the Nile is apparent in the following postcard, which references to one of the historically more important jobs, that of the water bearer (saqa, سَقى). Water bearers, a profession dating back to ancient times were generally young, healthy men who, according to this al-yawm al-sābiʻ article had to prove their endurance and strength by carrying a 67-pound bag of sand for 3 days and nights without sitting or sleeping. Once passing this test, a saqa delivered fresh drinking water to the public water fountains (sabil, سبيل) for locals to drink freely. The profession no longer exists, at least in the traditional form due in large part to the founding of the Egyptian water company in 1865.

Qahwah (قهوة)-Kahve (Turkish)-Coffee

 The fascinating history of coffee has been condensed by the rappers Omar Offendum & Thanks Joey suggest in this YouTube video, the Story of Qahwah ☕️ is the story not only of Egypt, but the entire Middle East.

This postcard depicts a typical Cairo street scene, showing men playing backgammon next to a large coffee stand manned by a young barista. The coffee stand includes a representation of a Turkish coffee pot (Turkish: cezve, Arabic: جذوة), a small, long-handled pot with a pouring lip designed specifically to make Turkish, Arab, or Greek style coffee. It is traditionally made of brass or copper, occasionally also silver or gold.

Duke University Libraries’ Egyptian Postcard Collection: includes many more fascinating images. For more information about the collection, contact Sean Swanick, Librarian for Middle East, North Africa, and Islamic Studies.



Announcement! Covid-19 Web archive is now live.

Earlier today, the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation announced the launch of a brand-new, web archive project entitled, “Global Social Responses to Covid-19 Web Archive (Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation).”

(Image: Shadi Ghanim, The National 9 August 2020.)

From the announcement:

“Created in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic — and curated by 29 librarians throughout the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation and beyond — the Archive documents regional, social responses to the pandemic, which are critical in understanding the scope of the pandemic’s humanitarian, socioeconomic, and cultural impact. With an emphasis on websites produced by underrepresented ethnicities and stateless groups, the Archive covers (but is not limited to): sites published by non-governmental organizations that focus on public health, humanitarian relief, and education; sites published by established and amateur artists in any realm of cultural production; sites published by local news sources; sites published by civil society actors and representatives; and relevant blogs and social media pages. At the time of its launch, the Archive featured over 2,000 websites from over 80 countries in over 50 languages.”

This is the largest and most diverse Ivy Plus web archiving project ever created under the auspices of the thirteen-member library confederation. The Covid-19 web archive contains a multitude of materials—most of which are born digital—in all fields of research. The task of preserving such materialsis essential for future researchers. That is why the task has been assumed by the subject specialists of numerous research libraries, including here at Duke University.  Four librarians from the International & Area Studies Department of Duke University Libraries are taking part in this digital initiative: Heather Martin, Miree Ku, Luo Zhou, and Sean Swanick. Each librarian also helped curate a subject guide hosted by Princeton University. The guide is divided by region and includes further information about the project and Ivy Plus Web Archiving.

Unfortunately, until the pandemic is over and some semblance of normalcy returns, this Ivy Plus web archiving project will continue to grow. If you have recommendations please send them along via this form.

Muftiships Web Archive

Based at Columbia University, the Ivy Plus Web Archiving “is a collaborative collection development effort to build curated, thematic collections of freely available, but at-risk, web content in order to support research at participating Libraries and beyond. All Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation members participate in the Program.” Fitting well into this category, the newly launched Muftiships Web Archive project strives to preserve all known centers and websites producing and/or documenting fatawa (sg. fatwa), that is religious edits.

So, what is meant by muftiship? Columbia Professor Brinkley Messick in his The Calligraphic State on p. 140 defines muftiship as, “A mufti is a type of Muslim jurist who delivers a nonbinding legal opinion known as a fatwa, exercising in the process the form of legal interpretation called ijtihad. Across the Middle East and North Africa for many centuries, muftis great and small, official and unofficial have worked at the interface of shari’a text and practice. Analogues for the muftiship have been identified in both Roman and medieval Jewish legal institutions. [4] According to Weber (1978: 798–99, 821) and Schacht (1964: 74), the muftiship was originally a “private” institution that later became “public.” Schacht correctly adds, however, that the later official muftis “had no monopoly of giving fatwas, and the practice of consulting private scholars of high reputation never ceased.” As a consequence, a significant dimension of authoritative interpretation consistently eluded the purview of Muslim states.”

Currently the project documents some 100 websites and pages, the majority from the MENA region. In addition, the project has a special section on fatawa and Covid-19. Those links were provided by Dr. Adnan Zulfikar of Rutgers University and are part of his larger project, Mapping Covid-19 Fatawas. The project will continue to grow and be source for the study of Islam.

The project is lead by Gayle Fischer (Harvard), Guy Burak (NYU), Roberta (Robin) Dougherty (Yale), Peter Magierski (Columbia) and Sean Swanick.


Welcome to the Abode of Happiness!

Istanbul, also known as Der Saadet (Abode of Happiness), is a city unlike many others. Its very name evokes a mythical image of earthly paradise. And for those fortunate to have visited the Turkish cultural capital, whether for business (as I did during a book-buying trip) or pleasure, there are plenty of reasons why this is the case. Situated between the Black and Mediterranean seas, Istanbul has always been a picturesque city, brimming with diverse cultures, languages, ideas, and technologies.  A collection of 174 Turkish postcards and photos from the late 1890s to the 1930s, recently digitized by Duke University Library, allows us to get a glimpse of this happy abode at the turn of the twentieth century, immediately before things went very badly.

Most of the images in the Istanbul postcards collection depict everyday life in Üsküdar, a historic neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul that was once home to thriving communities of Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and other ethnic groups.  Considering Üsküdar’s cultural and linguistic diversity, it is not surprising that this neighborhood was also commonly known as Scutari (in English and Italian), likely a diminutive of the Greek Skoutàrion (Σκουτάριον), the original name of the area.

The Istanbul postcards collection contains striking images that document everyday life, historic buildings and ports, various architectural features, and other topics that may be of interest to students and researchers of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century Istanbul.

Perhaps one of the more iconic landmarks in Istanbul is the Kız kulesi (Maiden’s Tower)–also known as Leander’s Tower (after the Greek myth of Hero and Leander)–a lighthouse situated in the Bosphorus straits, between the European and Asian sides of the city. There have been several towers over the centuries, with the original wood construction dating back to 1110 CE. The one depicted in this postcard was restored only in 1725.  Here the Tower is festooned with lights to celebrate the ten-year anniversary since the founding of the Republic of Turkey (1923), a vivid example of the government’s attempt to appropriate historical sites of memory for contemporary political purposes.

On the banks of the Bosphorus lies the impressive Beylerbeyi Sarayı (Palace), the historic building depicted in the postcard below. Completed in 1865, the palace was the summer home of Sultan Abdülaziz (1830-1876), the first Ottoman Sultan to travel to Western Europe. After Greek nationalist forces defeated the Ottomans in Selanik in 1912, Sultan Abdülhamid (who had previously been confined to the Villa Allatini) would be forced to move to this palatial residence.  The embossed stamp (reading “Constantinople,” rather than Istanbul) on the bottom left corner of the postcard suggests, however, that the creators of this souvenir sought to emphasize the building’s status as a European-style architectural landmark, rather than its role as a place of political exile.The influence of France, and in particular the French language, was pervasive throughout the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth-century, especially among the literary elite. That is why, for example, many Ottoman-language journals (like the ones included in the recently launched digital project on the French Press in the Ottoman Empire), would often include a French translation or sub-title. To meet this growing demand, French educational entrepreneurs began opening schools in Istanbul.  One of these schools, the Fransız Sainte Marie Okulu, is pictured in the postcard below.  Note that although the writing on the back of the postcard is from 1933, the image of the school itself likely dates to the late nineteenth-century . Today, the historic building in which the school was once housed is part of a larger restoration project (Bağlarbaşı ilköğretim ve İş Okulu Restorasyonu).Another historic building depicted in the Turkish postcard collection is the Üsküdar Haydarpaşa Sultan tıbbiye mektebi (Üsküdar Haydarpaşa Sultan neighbourhood and Medical School). Built in 1827 as a military academy for the study of modern medicine, the school employed European and Ottoman doctors, who taught their students in French.  The field of medicine was yet another example of the wide circulation of French (and, more broadly, European) ideas and practices in late Ottoman culture.  You can learn more about the school and its place in Ottoman and European intellectual history with this recent publication.Another postcard on the theme of medicine and society is the one that portrays the Üsküdar miskinler tekkesi ve sebili (Üsküdar Leprosy house and water kiosk), the public health institution to which individuals suffering from this stigmatized infectious disease were confined and where they received such medical care as was available at the time. Although the term for this institution could also be translated as “lodges for the poor, helpless, wretched”—in addition to leper, the word miskinler, which is of Arabic origin with a Turkish suffix, also means poor, helpless, wretched; while tekke,  a word borrowed from Persian but of Arabic origin, means lodge) —the miskinler tekkesi were colloquially known as tembelhâne, meaning “lazy houses.” Indeed, it is fair to say that rather than being sent for professional medical treatment, lepers were banished from society to live in miskinler tekkesi. For further information on Ottoman laws and debates about such matters see Studies in old Ottoman criminal law. And for further information about Ottoman disability studies, see Disability in the Ottoman Arab World, 1500-1800.A few images in the newly-digitized Istanbul postcard collection depict a very dark period of Turkish history, known as İşgal (the period of foreign occupation). After its defeat in World War I (1918), the Ottoman Empire was dismembered by the victorious military powers.  As a direct result, British, French, Italian, and Greek troops moved into the former Abode of Happiness and took over the administration of the city.  Istanbul and its residents were kept under strict watch, not least by means of naval vessels, such as the two steamships depicted, in the postcard below, patrolling the waters off Ortaköy with Üsküdar in the foreground. This tumultuous period witnessed the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and ended only with the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 (a defining political event that was celebrated as a national holiday in the abovementioned postcard of the Maiden’s Tower, and that continues to be celebrated today).Finally, I will end this short blog entry on Duke’s newly-digitized collection of Istanbul postcards with this fantastic image of an old pier in the Kandilli neighbourhood of Üsküdar. The steamship and other boats (depicted on the left and center of the postcard) illustrate the importance that piers and the Bosphorus have played in Istanbul’s centuries-long history, while also giving us a glimpse (on the right-hand side of the image) of the traditional yalılar (waterfront residences and mansions), which dot the Bosphorus coast.  This is a reassuring image, which suggests that whatever political and name changes the city may yet to undergo, the Abode of Happiness will remain, first and foremost, a strategically located sea port in the very heart of Eurasia.Like the previously digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection, the Istanbul postcards collection adds depth to Duke University Library’s holdings on the Middle East and offers yet another electronic resource for scholars of many disciplines to use for research and teaching.

Please feel free to explore the digitized Istanbul Photographs and Postcards Collection, 1890s-1930s, and see what you can discover for yourself.  The images are free to download and use for research, but please cite Duke University Libraries.

Should you have questions, please contact Sean Swanick, Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Duke University.



Greetings from Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki!

International and area studies librarians facilitate research not only about different parts of the globe, but also about different eras in time.  A prime example of this historical orientation is the recently-acquired and-digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection.  This new addition to Duke University Library’s already extensive International Postcard Collection consists of 208 images documenting the famous Aegean Sea port-city from the late 19th to the early 20th-centuries.

Thanks to its favourable location and its large and natural seaport, this ancient city hosted merchants from near and far. In part because of its function as an international trading post, the city’s population was a mix of cultures (Armenian, Jewish, Greek, Arab, and Turk) and religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). During the 20th-century, however, the formation of nation-states with regulated borders, the eruption of major wars in the region, and the consequent displacement of populations through both natural and forced migration, effectively destroyed the diversity of this multi-ethnic metropolis. The Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection allows us to get a fleeting—and, therefore, all the more special—glimpse of the world that was lost as a result of war and genocide.

“What’s in a name?”

The Aegean port-city was founded in 315 BC and named after Thessaloniki (Greek: Θεσσαλονίκη), the wife of King Cassander of Macedonia and half-sister of Alexander the Great.  When the Byzantine Empire – the Christianized successor to Alexander’s empire – fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1423, Thessaloniki’s days as a Greek city were numbered.  In fact, just seven years later, the Ottomans captured the Aegean port city and changed its name to Selanik (Ottoman Turkish: سلانیك‎). The city would officially retain this name from 1430 until 1912, when Greek nationalist forces defeated the Ottomans and changed its name back to Thessaloniki.

During the long period of Ottoman rule, the city was also informally known as Salonica (Ladino: סאלוניקו). This toponym was the Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish variant of the Ottoman Turkish name for the city. Like the city itself, Ladino was a mix of cultural influences: “based in Spanish and other Iberian languages, with a strong Hebrew Aramaic component,” but also incorporating “many elements from the languages of the Mediterranean world, including Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, and Arabic.”  The widespread use of the name Salonica is a reminder of the once sizable Jewish community of the Aegean port city.  The Jewish population came to call Salonica home after the Reconquista and the Edict of Expulsion from Spain in 1492. However, in World War II the Jews of Salonica suffered dramatically during the Nazi occupation, which all but erased their physical presence and their role in the city’s history, save for some architectural achievements.

Wish you were here!

As the following selection of greeting cards from the digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection demonstrates, the creators of the images were very cognizant of the way they wished to portray their city and, therefore, very deliberate in their choice of subject matter.  Everything was meant to leave the tourist who bought and sent the postcard with a positive memory of his or her visit to the city and the addressee who received it with a desire to visit it for him or herself.

The colourful postcard below, for example, displays a tranquil street scene from the usually bustling and crowded business district of Selanik.  The street in question is not just any street, but the “Grand rue de la Banque Ottoman.”  The influential Ottoman Bank (seen on the right) was built in 1903 by the Turkish architects Barouh and Amar with an eye to synthesizing local and European architectural aesthetics of the time.  This attempt to appeal to multiple constituencies at one and the same time may explain why the title of the card is printed in both French and Ottoman.

Near the Ottoman Bank and its busy shops was the Allatini brick factory, which now sits abandoned. The brick factory was named after the family who founded it. The Allatini family was of Iberian Jewish heritage and had settled in Salonica in the early 16th century. The family would also open the Allatini flour mill, which is still in operation to this day, though now located in Sindos, a suburb of Thessaloniki. The Allatini family also owned the Villa Allatini, which is a historic building not merely because it was the family’s country estate, but also because it came to play a role in one of the most dramatic events in the history of modern Turkey. In 1908, a nationalist group called the Young Turks led a successful revolution to dethrone the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and restore the Constitution.  The Sultan was forced to abdicate and was later put under house arrest at the Villa Allatini (depicted in the black-and-white postcard below).

Other building-related postcards in the digitized collection offer views, frequently only in passing, of architectural features that are no longer a regular part of the everyday modern life. One example are the images of the sahnisi (σαχνισί), or traditional protruding balconies, which were meant to allow sunlight into a specific space of a home (as seen on the right hand side of the next image):

Among other topics, the digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection offers images that depict vestiges of Thessaloniki’s Turkish heritage, for example this Deniz hamamı (traditional Ottoman-Turkish bathhouse):

And this image of a sünnet bayramı (circumcision festival), a ceremony regularly held and often documented in manuscripts known as Surname-i Hümayun.

The collection ends in 1917, the year Thessaloniki was ravaged by a tremendous fire. From the dramatic image on the following postcard, it is possible to get a sense of both the magnitude of the fire as well as the terror that must have overcome the locals. The Great Fire, as it came to be known, drastically transformed the layout of the city, adding yet another layer to the palimpsest that is the history of Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki.

Please feel free to explore the digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection, and see what you can discover for yourself.  The images are free to download and use for research, but please cite Duke University Libraries.

Should you have questions, please contact Sean Swanick, Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Duke University.

Part 2: How can Librarians Teach with Materials in German Script?

This post is contributed by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies.

The Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds  the papers of Oskar Morgenstern, whose diaries span the years 1917-1977. The diaries were digitized, a few years ago, in a collaboration between the Rubenstein Library  and  the University of Graz, Austria, and can be seen at the Oskar Morgenstern Website.  This 50-year-long personal archive of a renowned scientist is an ideal Open Educational Resource for teaching with primary sources. How can librarians help students use this wonderful material in courses at Duke and at other institutions?

An understanding of  the historic development of German Script will show why the Morgenstern Papers are very approachable, even though they look difficult to decipher at first.  The older, pre-1900 versions of German Script allowed for many individual and regional variations for forming letters. The chart below shows the many ways in which an individual writer might have shaped their letters in the18th and 19th century:

The reason why 20th century Script is easier to read is because, between 1910 and 1915, several regional German-language  school systems simplified German Script to make it easier for students to learn. Ludwig Sütterlin, a graphic artist working in Berlin, designed a script for the Prussian educational ministry that became popular very quickly. This script was known as the Sütterlin Script (Sütterlinschrift), and became the handwriting taught in most German schools until 1941, including the ones attended by the young Oskar Morgenstern.

Taking a closer look at Morgenstern’s handwriting, it is interesting to compare the cover page inscription with the first page of the diary.  It is immediately clear that the loose leaf inscription was added later, when Morgenstern’s handwriting had become more modernized.  It would be totally possible for students to learn to decipher Morgenstern’ s hand (with some human help and some charts) during a session with these materials. Furthermore, as the team at the University of Graz continues their transcription, students can use the website to improve their German reading skills by comparing the scans of the original pages with the transcription, and they can copy and paste the plain text into a translating tool like DeepL.

German Script and Blackletter have an ideological association with nationalism in 1871 (see “Antiqua-Fraktur debate”) and a visual association with fascist propaganda under Hitler. It is understandable that American students associate Blackletter with fascism.  In fact, today Germans themselves recoil whenever populists and rightwing groups use Blackletter in their event publicity. However, Nazi Germany did not invent these styles. The historical  irony is that the Nazi government first embraced  German Script and Blackletter typeface as “German” and then outlawed the styles in 1941 as “Jewish.”  That is why it is important to teach reading German Script and Blackletter with circumspection and as an auxiliary tool of historical research.

While the styles have that tainted heritage, students should not forget that these styles were also used by diverse German-language communities across the centuries. Rubenstein Library has an amazing collection of German Studies materials and interdisciplinary materials in the German language  across several of the Rubenstein Centers serve to prove this point. Outstanding collections in German Studies are German Americana, the Harold Jantz Collection, German Judaica and Religion, Alchemy, Science, and Medicine, World War II and National Socialism, and collections for the study of Germany in the 19th and 20th Centuries, including important literary editions, and editions that illustrate the history of printing.  Other examples of German-language materials across the disciplines are the Heschel Collection, the J. Walter Thompson archives in advertising, and the Viennese Economists’ Archives. In fact, a search for German-language materials in the Rubenstein Collections comes up with over 300,000 hits. Our teaching with Rubenstein Library materials ensures that these archival collections never become a  Library of  the Unreadable. The Morgenstern example shows just what efforts and resources are needed for transcription and translation, as well as what treasures may be uncovered in the process.

What follows are some resources for learning to read  and write German Script. The  Geist Institute  in Winston Salem, NC, offers a week long Script course every year. The course draws researchers and genealogists from across the country, as well as staff and volunteer researchers from the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, an archive for the local community of Moravians, founded by German protestants (the Herrnhuters) in 1753.  Other German Script workshops in the US are held at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA. , and at the Center for Family History & Genealogy and Department of History at Brigham Young University, Utah, which also offers a thorough online tutorial, the German Script Tutorial.

The  Geist Institute in Winston-Salem, NC will hold the workshop again this year, from July 25 to August 1, 2020. The workshop leader, Julie Tomberlin, Ph.D., recommends the following key resources to prepare and deepen the study of  German Script:

  • Dearden, Fay, and Leland K. Meitzler, 2013, Deciphering Gothic records: useful hints for helping you read “Old German” script!, provides tables of Old German Script alphabet variations.
  • Digitale Schriftkunde, Bavarian State Archives, provides examples and transcription by century, and is a good addition to the the German Script Tutorial from the Center for Family History & Genealogy and Department of History at Brigham Young University, Utah.
  • Minert, Roger P. 2013, Deciphering handwriting in German documents: analyzing German, Latin, and French in historical manuscripts, provides a history of German Script, and gives many tips on best practices in reading German Script, including reference works.
  • Schober, Katherine, 2018, Tips and tricks of deciphering German handwriting: a translator’s tricks of the trade for transcribing German genealogy documents, provides a good starting point for understanding strategies for working on German Script documents efficiently. For example, a reader can start by looking at how a particular writer forms the common words like articles and question words, they can look for distinctly formed letters across several documents by the same writer, and build a register of how particular letters are formed.
  • Süß, Harald. 1991. Deutsche Schreibschrift Lesen und Schreiben lernen (2 volumes: Lehrbuch and Übungsbuch)  Augsburg: Augustus-Verl., is a highly visual introduction to German Script together with many examples and detailed notes on stroke order. Learning the stroke order for each letter helps trace older more varied forms of handwriting when working with original documents.
  • Verdenhalven, Fritz, 1994, Die deutsche Schrift: ein Übungsbuch = The German script. Frankfurt/M.: Verl. f. Standesamtswesen, offers many examples of script and transcription side by side, which is very helpful in training the eye of the reader.

Digital Tools for reading Script are emerging. For example, the archive for German Colonial History has developed a reading tool called  Old German Script-Typewriter (Kurrent-Schreibmaschine). You type in the letters you can decipher, and the tool looks in various historical dictionaries for a term that might fit.  Another tool, Alte Deutsche Schrift allows you to enter words in plain text, and see the Script version underneath; this makes it possible to double check a transcription, by mapping every transcribed letter back to what the word should look like in Script. The site also helps to train the eye; enter your name in the text field and and click through results in several styles:

For more information about Script resources, especially more detail about the Geist Institute Script course in Winston-Salem, NC, contact Heidi Madden.



Part 1: A Library of the Unreadable?

This post is contributed by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies. 

Documents in German Script (cursive handwriting) and books and pamphlets  printed in Blackletter typeface (Fraktur) represent the lives of many diverse German-language communities from the 15th to the 20th century. However, as many scholars can attest, these Scripts are notoriously difficult to read. So how can libraries and librarians help students and researchers learn paleography?

Rubenstein Library (RL) has a very active instruction  program and  I frequently collaborate with Rubenstein librarian Elizabeth Dunn on teaching with materials in old handwriting, both in English and German. We work with faculty to  “literally”  help students read the Script and Blackletter.  In fact, Elizabeth began building  a small library of transcriptions that she sets up alongside the original documents. Students are always fascinated by the idea of immersing themselves in these unique materials, especially pieces of correspondence recounting private lives, which make the past come alive.

While brainstorming ideas about possible materials for a recent RL session, Elizabeth and I  decided that making the  Oskar Morgenstern papers more approachable could be a wonderful pedagogical project. Oskar Morgenstern was a German-born economist, university professor, and author in Austria and the United States. Together with John von Neumann, he founded the mathematical field of game theory and its application to the field of economics. The Rubenstein collection includes Morgenstern’s handwritten diaries, spanning the years 1917-1977. The diaries were digitized,  a few years ago, in a collaboration between Rubenstein Library  and  the University of Graz, Austria, and can be seen at the Oskar Morgenstern Website.

German Script and Blackletter are notoriously resistant to machine reading, i.e. scanning with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.  This means that all  of the Morgenstern documents have had to be transcribed manually, word by word and letter by letter. A team of researchers at University of Graz has already transcribed entries from the late 1930s to 1976; they have also built an index of Morgenstern’s  network of collaborators. However, the published results of their labor have appeared only in German.  Nevertheless, this combination of unique , local, manuscript holdings and an active, freely accessible,  digital project presented an ideal opportunity for creating a meaningful and memorable Rubenstein Library session.

Assuming that college students would  relate particularly well to documents from the author’s early years,  I decided to transcribe the inscription on the cover sheet and the very first page of the diary, dated March 14, 1917, and  written when Oskar Morgenstern was just 15 years old. Here is an image of the inside cover page of Oskar’s diary:

Image Label: Oskar Morgenstern Diary entry from March 14, 1917.

After transcribing the diary entry, I translated it as follows:

March 14, 1917 

“So, you shall be my diary, you shall hear all that is important to me and be a trustworthy keeper! On Monday the 12th my father brought home Gloy: Train your Memory. And I am very grateful to him. It is excellent, and I need to work through it. Tomorrow we have a Latin test. Schmitzi thinks it will be “child’s play,” but he says that about everything that he can translate. I have no confidence when it comes to this, and I just need to study so much harder, because I must get a C (3= Genügend).  The German Emperor is right when he calls exams in Latin inane nonsense. Yesterday we were in the chemistry laboratory because the academic High School building saw a case of Scarlet fever, and the classrooms had to be disinfected. Today we were once again in the usual classroom.The idea of auto suggestion from Gloy is excellent. I must adhere to all instructions. I convinced myself that I would succeed in the Latin exam. Will that be of any use?

 Thank God that the cursed exam is over. Of course Feldman is right again. I maintain that it is “patiaris” and he says “passiusis”. Wechs says I am right. But he won’t concede the point, stupid games. Tomorrow we will probably get back the math exam. How will it turn out? Let’s hope for the best. In Petersburg a revolution broke out, hopefully the French will imitate this, and hang all the crooked ones!!
I am going to train my left hand. I have to be able to write as well with the left as with the right hand, that will double the power of my brain. Why should I ignore that possibility, and not use it to my advantage? Enough for today, especially since I have nothing else to report, and I want to go to bed. I will wake up at 6 am. Auto suggestion.”

This is just the first entry in a diary spanning 50 years. Yet even this single entry shows how many questions one might pursue when working with students in a session on the use of primary (archival) sources. Putting aside young Oskar’s laudatory reference to the Russian Revolution of 1917, it may be best to focus on something smaller and closer to home.  For example, the reference to training your memory is to Hans Gloy, Gedächtnis-Ausbildung, 1913. Gloy (born in 1888) was a German merchant, who also wrote advice pieces for trade journals.  The table of contents of the Gloy volume shows that the book is a training manual, organized into daily exercises, spaced over the course of seven weeks.  The training, however, is not physical, but intellectual.  Indeed, Gloy’s manual is part of a long tradition of practical memory training (also known as  mnemonics, memory sports, mental discipline, study skills, or cognitive learning,–) an area of study that is curiously located between Greek philosophy and self-help books.  And now, thanks to our transcription and translation of Oskar’s first diary entry, we know that such mental gymnastics also informed the ideas of the man who invented game theory.

Image Label; Cover of the book by Hans Gloy Gedächtnis-Ausbilding. 1913, and biographical entry in Degeners Wer ist’s? 1935

In Part 2 “How Can Librarians Teach with Materials in German Script?” We will discuss the digitized Oskar Morgenstern diaries as an Open Educational Resource, and will offer some resources for teaching German Script for students and teachers at Duke and beyond. For questions, contact Heidi Madden

Welcome to the VUCA World! The Frankfurt International Book Fair 2019. Part 2

This post is by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies, and Sarah How, European Studies Librarian at Cornell University. 

The Frankfurt International Book Fair is a trade event that attracts professionals from many countries and nearly all segments of the publishing and information science worlds.  This includes academic librarians from the US. Every year members of the  European Studies Section of the American Library Association (ALA) team up to get as much out of the Frankfurt Book Fair events as possible; they spend evenings pouring over the programs, and record what they want to report back to colleagues at the next ALA conference, including recommended readings published during the fair. For 2019, the responsibility for this task was assumed by Heidi Madden (Duke) and Sarah How (Cornell), both of whom attended the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair and who have collaborated on the writing of this blog post.

Trade publications issued around the fair provide excellent reading for librarians. Expert White Papers  (free, but registration is required for download) help visitors familiarize themselves with issues and trends before the Fair. What follows below are a few examples of our required reading for 2019.

As is apparent from this list, digital publishing was one of the overarching themes of the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair.  Those fairgoers who attended the sessions on publishing in the digital age were invited to enter the “VUCA World.” The VUCA world is not some happy, imaginary planet, but rather the confusing information landscape in which we all currently find ourselves: the letters of the acronym stand for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Visitors to the 2019 Fair had many opportunities to hear international experts speak on issues connected to this theme, which ran like a red (read) thread through many of the presentations. For this blog post, we have decided to focus on two of the more substantial “hot topics”: the availability of new subscription models for journals and e-books and the concept of e-books as an accessible digital ecosystem.

Library administrators and researchers from across Europe presented on Plan S, an initiative launched by Science Europe in September 2018 for making open-access science publishing a foundational principle of the scientific enterprise. There was also discussion of Project DEAL, an initiative by a consortium of German university libraries and research institutes to re-negotiate large contracts (“deals”) with the major publishing houses of e-journals, which are usually the biggest line item in any research library’s acquisitions budget. In another forum, e-book vendors approvingly noted that newspaper publishers have created innovative business models that work on the Internet by devising formulas for offering just enough free content to trigger a sale of premium content. These vendors suggested that e-books, both fiction and nonfiction, could potentially be marketed using the same sort of model, that is, by offering a preview on the Internet extensive enough to trigger either a sale of an entire volume or a “subscription” to individual chapters, one chapter at a time.

Just when publishers appear to have figured out how to monetize premium content based on the free content that appears in an Internet search, legislation triggered by the new European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market appears to complicate matters once again. Certain aspects of the EU directive are popularly referred to as the “link-tax,” because they effectively mean that the makers of search engines can be fined for showing too much free content in the result list under a link to a content provider, especially for news content. The link tax issue is playing out in real time in France, where legislation based on the European Directive has already been introduced, and where a fierce debate between Internet giants (like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) and legislators will influence how the EU Directive is incorporated into the cyber-laws of other EU countries.

One of the most discussed topics at this year’s fair was the implementation of the European Accessibility Act, which was written on the basis of a directive by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO has 192 member states, and administers 26 international treaties, including the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled,” which was adopted in 2013. The European Union signed the European Accessibility Act in March 13, 2019. This act directs EU member countries to incorporate WIPO’s accessibility requirements into their national laws, and to be compliant by 2025. The European Accessibility Act applies to a suite of digital services, like computer hardware and operating systems, payment terminals, websites, and e-readers. In the context of accessibility, e-books are considered a service, and the act requires that the entire publishing chain, i.e. content producers, digital distributors, catalogs for searching, and e-readers participate in making content available to Print Impaired People (PiPs). In effect, the Accessibility Act creates a vision of e-books as part of a larger and more accessible digital ecosystem.

Exemptions are planned for art books, comic books, children’s books, and smaller companies with under 2 million Euros in revenue. The print segment of the market will continue to exist, but it must align with a digital edition. For this reason, there is a provision for third party “authorized entities” to produce accessible-format copies of non-compliant publications on a non-profit basis. The work of these entities will be instrumental for foreign publishers who market materials in Europe. Organizations like Fondazione LIA, the Daisy Consortium, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), EDRLab, and EDItEur  are working to understand the implications of this act for the publishing industry and for libraries in Europe, and are helping to develop standards for born accessible publications and for converting non-compliant publications and back files.

Fondatione LIA presented their research at the 7th International Convention of International University Presses at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019. The full report, co-authored by Gregorio Pellegrino, Cristina Mussinelli, and Elisa Molinari:  “E-BOOKS FOR ALL.Towards an accessible digital publishing ecosystem,” can be downloaded (with free registration) at the LIA website.

In sum, although we continue to live in VUCA world, the Accessibility Act, along with advances in digital publishing, search and discovery (e.g. Artificial Intelligence, algorithms, complex metadata, voice search) promise to make electronic and audio books more accessible and more functional for every reader. And American research libraries are actively helping their patrons to navigate through this changing publishing landscape. The creation of digital publishing services departments, such as the recently-founded Scholarworks at Duke or Scholarly Communications and Open Access at Cornell, is one way of engaging with the general trends and developments in the new digital publishing ecosystem. Another is to anticipate these changes by incorporating some of the proposed solutions into libraries’ strategic plans, as has been done, for example, in “Engage, Discover, Transform: Duke University Libraries,” 2016-2021. Last, but not least, is support for librarians’ attendance at international library fairs (like the one in Frankfurt), which allow librarians to stay informed about the latest developments, learn about the looming challenges, and discover innovative ways to overcome them, and inspire practical applications in their institutions.

Many organizations publish informative white papers around the time of the book fair. Pictured is the cover of ”The Universe of Books,” published by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels in the “The Frankfurt Magazine. German Stories, 2019,” which captures the global book market.

About the authors:

Heidi Madden is the Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies at Duke University; she serves as Chair of the European Studies Section of the Association for College and Research Libraries.

Sarah How is the European Studies Librarian at Cornell University, and serves as the Chair of the Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections in North American Libraries (CIFNAL), a Global Resources Project of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), in Chicago, IL. Sarah and Heidi are happy to help colleagues prepare for their first international book fair visit; send us an email or find us at the ALA Annual convention in Chicago 2020.

The Frankfurt International Book Fair 2019. Part 1

This post is by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies, and Sarah How, European Studies Librarian at Cornell University. 

International book fairs provide great opportunities for librarians to discover new books and other media; learn of new trends in publishing, translation, design, and book production; and build personal connections that directly benefit both their own work and that of their home institutions. Being abroad, being there in person, immersed in the language and culture of another place, is in itself of significant benefit, although one that is difficult to quantify. That is why we are grateful for the opportunity afforded by this library blog to write about our experiences at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair, and thereby to describe some of those benefits.

For international and area studies librarians, book fair visits are an essential component not only of professional development but also of collection development.  That serious research libraries need materials that would not — could not, economically — be provided by our standard commercial supply channels is accepted wisdom in the profession. Book fair visits are an efficient way to address this need, since they make it possible to interact with many publishers at once, in a single exhibition space. In addition, cultural and linguistic immersion at international fairs strengthens the skills and knowledge that support research services and give academic librarians “street cred” with international students and faculty, as well as researchers engaged in foreign-language humanities, social sciences, and area studies. Visits to specialized bookstores, meetings with local librarians, and visits to local libraries and cultural institutions can be squeezed-in around a busy fair schedule for additional benefit.  This is especially true for those librarians who are able to attend an international book fair in a place as rich in resources as Frankfurt, Germany.

The logo of the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse), an annual international event for the publishing trade community, is the world’s largest book fair.  This Fair is fundamentally a commercial event, focused as it is on the business of publishing and related industries. It is the place, for example, where publishers, agents, authors, illustrators, film makers, translators, printers, authors, media specialists, book distributors, and libraries negotiate and license rights for distribution, publishing, translation, and film and media versions of the items on display. However, the Frankfurt Book Fair is also the occasion for substantial programming related to contemporary literature and, as we shall see, can even serve as a forum for robust cultural and political debates. Similarly-designed book fairs, more regional in scope, are held in Paris (Salon du livre), Bologna (Bologna Children’s Book Fair), Madrid (Liber), Guadalajara (International Book Fair), Beijing (International Book Fair), Hong Kong (Book Fair), and Moscow (International Book Fair), to name just a few.

According to established tradition, the Frankfurt Book Fair lasts for 5 days, from Wednesday to Sunday. The first three days are usually focused on exhibiting books. On those days, a European Studies librarian can, for example, peruse the publishing program of dozens and dozens of publishers from every European country, including small, independent presses. On the weekend, the fair is open to the public, and books are sold directly to individuals. On those days the sections of the fair devoted to publishers of graphic novels, cookbooks, travel literature, zines, and German language fiction are jammed with people and cosplay participants. In October 2019, 302,267 individuals from 100 countries visited the Frankfurt Book Fair. There, they were met by 7,500 exhibitors and encountered 400,000 individual books, maps, manuscripts, visual materials, and digital media objects (audio and e-books).

The special exhibit of the guest country Norway combined nature imagery, mirrors, and book tables designed to represent poems in spatial dimensions. Norway also celebrated 500 years of the printed book (Nidaros Missal and the Nidaros Breviary, from 1519) in the exhibit.

Each year, Frankfurt hosts a “Guest of Honor” country: Norway was the 2019 Guest. The guiding theme for the Norwegian events and exhibits was “The Dream We Carry.” The theme title was inspired by the famous Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge, and his poem “It is that Dream.”  Norway sponsored prominent Norwegian writers, who spoke and schmoozed with the attendees, while fair organizers produced a free bibliography of new publications from Norway in German translation to promote writers and publishers to the German reading public. Karl Ove Knausgård, a Norwegian author who has been described as one of the 21st century’s greatest literary sensations, spoke in several different settings, both about his own work and about his recent experience curating an exhibit on Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, whose best known work, The Scream, has become one of the most iconic images of world art. In other interviews, contemporary Norwegian authors Erik Fosnes Hansen and Erika Fatland covered a diversity of topics, from the Oslo cultural scene to food science, which is at the heart of Hansen’s novel Et Hummerliv (“A Lobster’s Life”). Maja Lunde spoke about her forthcoming book The End of the Ocean, while Jo Nesbø was interviewed about Knife, the next installment in his Harry Hole series of crime novels.  More highlights and full listing of authors can be found in the online program.

Karl Ove Knausgård amd Jurgen Boos (CEO of the Frankfurt Book Fair)

Norwegian literature was represented by many authors reading from their work.

In addition to lectures and authors’ talks, the Frankfurt Book Fair also hosts special celebrations for the winners of the Nobel Prize, the German Book Prize, and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Overall, ninety-three prizes were awarded by various organizations during the book fair in 2019. Polish-born 2018 Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk (awarded in 2019) spoke at the opening session of the Fair. Oddly, Austrian-born Peter Handke, the 2019 Nobel Laureate, was not present in person, and was only represented by his publisher’s special display. Handke’s absence did not prevent him from becoming the subject of intense controversy. Saša Stanišić, the winner of the 2019 German Book Prize, who fled to Germany with his Bosnian mother and Serbian father in 1992, was the most prominent voice at the book fair, taking Handke to task for his sympathetic attitude toward former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes.

World newspapers, including The Guardian, chronicled the Handke debate.  One of its articles, entitled “A troubling choice: authors criticise Peter Handke’s controversial Nobel win. reported on the views of famous international writers, such as Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Slavoj Žižek who opined that the 2019 Nobel laureate “‘combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness’.” Another article, entitled “Peter Handke’s Nobel prize dishonours the victims of genocide,” referenced the Austrian writer’s stance on the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, which has been characterized by some critics as genocide apologism. At some point during October 2019, Peter Handke announced that he would no longer speak to journalists, so for now the debate will continue in literary circles, and will most likely re-emerge around the December 10, 2019 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony.

The 2019 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was awarded to Sebastião Salgado, the first ever photographer to receive this prize.  During the course of several interviews, the Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist introduced his book Gold, which showcases haunting images of Amazonia taken in the 1980s. As with his other work, Gold highlights environmental and human rights issues by investigating habitats and communities with his camera.

Cultural events inspired by Norway as the Guest of Honor were only a fraction of the international author events and talks at the Fair and in the city of Frankfurt. The gala of literary stars included Margaret Atwood, Maja Lunde, Elif Shafak, Colson Whitehead, Ken Follett, and Jo Nesbø (video Highlights can be seen on the Fair’s website). More media outlets broadcast from the book fair than can be mentioned here. The two outlets with the most video content are ARD Mediathek and  ZDF Mediathek, especially the venue “Das Blaue Sofa,” which gives access to 90 interviews with authors from the Frankfurt 2019 fair alone.  Social media followed along under #fmb19, and have already transitioned to the hashtag for the 2020 fair, #fbm20, as planning for the next fair gets underway. Canada will be the Guest of Honor at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair.

On Saturday and Sunday, while the public floods into the fairgrounds, specialized, ticketed, professional events are held at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  The two that we attended this year were the 7th International Convention of University Presses 2019, which focused on the European Accessibility Act, and an event for non-fiction editors. The non-fiction publishing event “Non-fiction Publishing: It’s a Women’s World,” consisted of a panel and discussion with female publishers from Morocco, Turkey, India, and Norway, who spoke about their experiences with producing important works documenting and giving voice to issues and experiences which might not find a home with large commercial publishers.

Look for more on Frankfurt hot topics in the next blog post on Welcome to the VUCA World! The Frankfurt International Book Fair 2019. Part 2

Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 publisher displays

On Saturday, cosplay fans come dressed as their favorite characters.

“Stellt das Buch her / Make the book”: three containers stacked on top of each other, with exhibits on each level in the courtyard of the book fair.


Been All Around This World: Lessons Learned from the International Partnership between the American Library Association (ALA) and the German Library & Information Association (BID).

European Studies librarians in North America build collections from multiple countries in a variety of languages. How can they become acquainted with the networks of libraries, publishers, and vendors necessary to develop these collections, and to provide research support effectively? Studying the bibliographical guides to European Studies librarianship are, of course, an excellent first step. There is the classic text by Dan Hazen and James Henry Spohrer, Building area studies collections, from 2007, and the Suddenly Selector Series  will include practice-based guides for European Studies in the future. A more general recent introduction is provided by Lesley Pitman in Supporting Research in Area Studies (2015), and the collaboration of area studies administrators on International and Area Studies Collections In the 21st Century, addresses mutual concerns in all area studies such as training, recruitment, digital content and finances.

Professional associations offer opportunities to learn from peers. The European Studies Section of the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) of the American Library Association (ALA) provides a forum and a resource page for five hundred thirty three North American European Studies librarians. In addition to that, ALA hosts several international initiatives within the International Relations Round Table  (IRRT), and brings many international speakers to ALA conferences.

European Studies librarians also work with the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), where the Germanic collectors organize in the German-North American Resources Partnership (GNARP), the French & Francophone collectors organize in the Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections in North American Libraries (CIFNAL), and Eastern European collectors collaborate in the  Slavic and East European Materials Project (SEEMP).

Library and cultural heritage organizations nationally and internationally use acronyms as short hand for pointing to projects, standards and organizations. Outlining the basic organization of European Studies associations illustrates what a challenge it is to develop a deep understanding of each organization, its mission, and its audiences

All theory is gray, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Faust. 1808.

The American Library Association and the German equivalent, Bibliothek & Information Deutschland (BID) e.V, decided to embark on an extended information exchange to provide the “tree of life” kind of learning needed for getting to know how our respective information and cultural heritage organizations operate. ALA and BID signed an agreement for the collaboration in 2014, and the exchange was set up to help a large number of subject librarians build a professional network both on the national and international level over three years, from 2016 to 2019. The many projects, meetings, and activities that resulted from the initiative demonstrate what it takes to explore issues and trends in librarianship in just one country, Germany, and can serve as a model for learning about other countries.

The article describing the exchange: “The American Library Association and German Library & Information Association Partnership: A Celebration,” was co-authored by Sharon Bostick (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL), Fred Gitner (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL), Hella Klauser (Internationale Kooperation, Deutscher Bibliotheksverband e.V. (dbv); Kompetenznetzwerk für Bibliotheken (knb), and Heidi Madden (Duke University).

The article appeared simultaneously in two venues, in the O-Bib, Das Offene Bibliotheksportal (Open Access Library Platform, Germany) and in International Leads (A Publication of the International Relations Round Table of the American Library Association).

If you want further information about the behind-the-scenes work in writing the article or European librarianship, email Heidi.



Been All Around This World: Open Access resources for Middle East & Islamic Studies

As this week is Open Access week, I thought it would be good to write a short post about OA resources for Middle East and Islamic Studies. Like many other disciplines, there are copious amounts of resources available in different formats from interviews to journals and ebooks.

Before listing those resources, I would like to draw your attention to this informative post from our friends at the University of Toronto: OA 2019: THE HIDDEN COST OF DOING RESEARCH. Yayo Umetsudo, Scholarly Communications & Liaison Librarian provides details of some UoT subscription costs.

For Middle East and Islamic Studies, there are a number of tremendous resources. Perhaps the most important is AMIR (Access to Middle East and Islamic Resources) which has been collecting OA materials since its founding by Charles Jones and Peter Magierski in 2010.

A relatively new OA digital resource is provided by the University of Bonn’s Digital Translatio project. The resource provides free access to rare or hard to find journals in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman. Check it out here. In a similar vein, أرشيف المجلات الأدبية والثقافية العربية, which translates roughly as the Archive of Arab literary and cultural magazines, provides terrific access to a large collection of Arabic journals. Check it out here. Announced yesterday, the important Istanbul Kadı sicilleri (Court records) is now freely accessible online in Turkish transcription from the original Ottoman. Check it our here.

A highly valuable lecture series is the History of Philosophy (HoP) podcasts from King’s College, London. HoP covers the Classical age, Later Antiquity and the Islamic World striving to seamless illustrate the evolution of ideas in different eras, epochs and religious vantage points. The Islamic World covers the idea of falsafah (philosophy) before moving on to some of the great proponents of philosophy in the Islamic World, e.g. al-Kindī, al-Fārābī and others. Each episode lasts for about 20-30 minutes and offers a bibliography of core texts.

Many such podcasts have recently developed. Perhaps the largest is the New Books network, which includes a specific section on Islamic Studies and Middle East Studies. Also, do not forget Ottoman History podcast. Moreover, for those who love maps: The Afternoon Map.

Yale University has a number of series and lectures freely available. Included amongst these are some 20 lectures pertaining to different aspects of the Islamicate, Islam or the Middle East. Each one of these lectures is roughly 40-45 minutes and includes an assignment and often a mini-syllabus.

iTunes U offers a many freely accessible resources.  One has to register with iTunes U but after that a number of valuable resources are available. A particularly delightful feature of iTunesU are the language courses, check out the Arabic one. These are great for the multi-tasker in you!

Finally, a very general resource of OA materials spanning multiple disciplines is Open Culture. There are countless resources available to the researcher from language classes to ebooks to short essays of interesting facts such as the last, known, hand-written newspaper Musalman.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Ivy Plus web collecting project of which a number of DUL colleagues are active participants. See the list of projects here.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather to peek your interest in some of the freely available resources. Happy OA week.


Been All Around This World: A Trip to Turkey

This post was contributed by Sean Swanick, the Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Duke.

This past summer I was fortunate to visit Turkey and Morocco. In my previous blog post, I documented some of my experiences sleuthing for books in the Maghreb. This post concerns my time in Turkey, where I was again on the lookout for books, ephemera, and related materials to enhance Duke University Library’s growing Middle East and Islamic Studies Collections.

Turkey is a remarkably diverse country with a population of some 85 million people. My purpose was to find (elusive) books, make new contacts, and to continue expanding my knowledge of Turkey, Turkish, Ottoman, and related matters to better help students and researchers.

In Turkey, I spent time wandering the many delightful sahaf çarşılar (second-hand book markets) of Istanbul, the country’s cultural capital city.  This was followed by visits to Diyarbakır and Mardin, two smaller cities in the south.

When I arrived in Istanbul, a second mayoral election was in full swing.. There were lots of posters, booklets, and related ephemera for the major political parties. I personally was able to collect some of these materials, which will be added to our growing Turkish political ephemera collection.

Spray painted official ephemera for Mayoral candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu. Mr. İmamoğlu would eventually win the election. This was his campaign slogan and reads: Everything will be fine.

Besides visiting numerous sahaflar, I also went to a number of museums in Istanbul, such as the Pera Museum, Istanbul Modern, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Museum of Innocence, Istanbul Photography Museum, Istanbul Research Institute, and the recently opened Yapı Kredi Vedat Nedim Tor Museum. At the Yapı Kredi there were two excellent exhibitions. The first concerned photographs of Ataturk called Hoş Geldin Gazi: Atatürk’ün İstanbul Günleri (1927-1938) (the catalogue will soon be at Duke Library for you to explore further). This was the first image of the exhibition:

It reads: Yaşasın Reis-i Cumhurumuz (Hooray for the President of our Republic.)

The other exhibition displayed the archive of Turhan Selçuk, aptly called Turhan Selçuk Retrospektifi. Turhan was a famous and influential caricaturist, who had a knack for finding humour or satire in most subject matter. We have many satirical journals for you to peruse, and two years ago I led the curation of Yasak/Banned, a Duke University library exhibit highlighting these collections. The Turhan exhibition had many highlights, including the following:

Istanbul is a city known as Der Saadet, an Ottoman-Turkish combination of an Arabic word (saadet) and a Persian word (der) together meaning the “Abode of Happiness.” Certainly, anyone who has visited Istanbul would agree. The city offers everything a curious traveler might want: books, diversity, museums, restaurants, spectacular views, incredible history…in short everything that is the abode of happiness.

So-called ‘umbrella-street’ in Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

From Istanbul, I flew to Diyarbakır in southern Turkey. Diyarbakır has witnessed inhabitation since at least the 1300 BC, during the time of the Assyrian kingdom. In its current conception, there are two cities: yeni ve eski (old and new). The old city contains the historic walls dating back to the 4th century, when the Romans colonized the city, while the new city contains shops, new housing, military barracks, and government offices. Diyarbakır is home to a wide variety of people, languages, foods, and traditions.

While the city structure, architecture, food (especially ciğer/ceger, or liver), and people are incredibly generous, thoughtful, and helpful, for me it is always about the books. There are several terrific bookstores in Diyarbakır, in both the new and old cities. In the old city, I spent several hours in bookstores while also taking-in some of the cultural activities, like visiting the Diyarbakır Dengbej Evi, Dengbej is a traditional form of story-telling. Two bookstores were of particular interest. Ensar Kitapevi holds an enormous collection in Turkish, Kurdish (Soranî and Kurmancî), Arabic, Persian and a few English titles. Subjects are as diverse as the languages represented: history, literature, cultural studies, language manuals, etc. But even more, the building was awe-inspiring with many reading nooks to sit and read at one’s leisure while also being offered local teas and coffees. Here’s a photo to entice you:

The other noteworthy bookstore in Diyarbakır, and the one with which Duke will be working closely to acquire Kurdish and Turkish materials is Pirtukakurdi. Based in the new city, the shop opened a few years ago. I spent most of a day with these bibliophiles as we discussed issues related to Kurdish languages and books. Here’s a photo from their warehouse:

From Diyarbakır, I hired a taxi to Mardin, a trip that should normally take one hour; my trip took a bit longer, since we stopped a few times to take-in the views and to help a fellow with a flat tire. A gorgeous drive through Mesopotamia on a new highway was enriched by conversation with the taxi driver and the radio playing Selda Bağcan.

Mardin is another city that divides the new from the old. The new city contains the famous state-run university, Mardin Artuklu University. The old city is built on a hill, a mountain really, overlooking the vast expanse of Mesopotamia and its farmland. Mardin is famous for a number of reasons, including its diversity, its Churches, Mosques, and formerly Synagogues. Süryani (Syriac language) is still spoken and taught here; in fact, the people of Mardin speak Süryani, Kurdish, Turkish, and Arabic, sometimes in the same sentence: a truly remarkable experience of linguistic diversity. There is certainly some truth in the Turkish proverb: Dil bilmek, bilgeliğe açılan kapıdır, which translates as “knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom.”

In addition to the cultural sites mentioned above, the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin Kent Müzesi museum is a tremendous resource, offering exhibitions of its permanent collections, Mardin city history, as well as travelling exhibitions, such as the one on modern photography, to which I was treated during my stay in Mardin.

Mardin is also near the Syrian border. Prior to 2011 and the pain and devastation that has been inflicted on the locals by so many domestic, national, and international actors, the border was open with more-or-less free passage, especially for the trading, bartering, and buying of goods and services. Those days are now long gone, replaced with a heavy military presence and ubiquitous checkpoints. Shortly after I visited the border town of Nusaybin, for example, a Church in neighbouring Qamishli, Syria was bombed. The ramifications of these actions are felt by many people, not just the victims.

On my last night in Mardin, I was able to meet with Engin Emre Değer, an incredible person, originally from Istanbul, who moved to Mardin a few years ago. Engin works with a theater troupe, whose main purpose is to help the many Syrian refugees living in Turkey, particularly children. Listening to his stories of the encounters he has had and the joy he hasbrought to so many was remarkable. One of Engin’s projects is the Flying Carpet Mardin Children’s Music Festival: The festival takes place over a few days with free music and a circus-like atmosphere.

This summer’s book buying excursion was full of remarkable experiences. The books Duke University Library is acquiring continues to enhance the reputation of the Library, as well as the scholars for whom it primarily serves. Over the coming months, I will highlight some of these collections while also providing suggestions and ideas on how to make the most of these unique materials.

All photos were taken by Sean Swanick.