Max van Berchem was the first to recognize the value of Arabic inscriptions for a more exact reconstruction of mediaeval history. Founding scholar of Arabic epigraphy as its own discipline, he began systematically to explore the old quarters of Cairo looking for inscriptions and photographing mosques, schools, palaces and walls. Acknowledging the immensity of the task, he divided the work between a number of scholars, mostly French and German, but kept the larger cities of the Middle East - Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus - for himself. To mention a few of his more important travels, he explored Egypt in 1887, 1888, 1889 and 1890; Jerusalem and Palestine in 1888, 1893 and 1914; and, Syria in 1894 and 1895. Between 1895 and 1914, he devoted most of his time to the publication of the huge volume of texts he had collected. As late as 1915, he wrote to one of his correspondents: "I have at least ten years worth of work!". But World War I had broken out in 1914 and had severely disrupted the international collaboration he had laboriously set up. The letters written during those years reflect his despondency. In the spring of 1921, having travelled to Cairo in order to supervise the printing of the Corpus of Jerusalem, he was suddenly taken ill and returned precipitately to Geneva where he died a few weeks later.