DEROCHE François

A short history...
FiMMOD is an acronym for « Fichier des manuscrits moyen-orientaux datés » (File of dated Middle-Eastern manuscripts). Strictly speaking, its history goes back to 1992, with a first issue, no. 0, followed a few months later by no. I/1 (June 1992). But it was actually the result of a longer process the origins of which can be traced in two directions. The first one concerns primarily palaeography: the plates published by William Wright between 1875 and 1883 provided the idea of a publication in the shape of files (1) and the concept of the Catalogue des manuscrits datés provided a theoretical frame. The latter was worked out by Charles Samaran as soon as 1929 for the Latin manuscripts and work started in 1953 under the auspices of the « Comité international de paléographie » (International Committee of Palaeography). Its aim was primarily to help palaeographers who needed to compare scripts in order to date and locate undated manuscripts. The first volume was published in 1959. The scripts are reproduced, but the information about the manuscripts is limited to a few data, such as the date and the place of the copy and the name(s) of the copyist(s).

In Paris, at the beginning of the 90's, a conjunction of interests was instrumental in giving shape to the FiMMOD. In the Department of Oriental Manuscripts of the Bibliothèque nationale (now: Bibliothèque nationale de France), research on the palaeography and codicology of Middle-Eastern manuscripts had been developing for some years: the keepers and other scholars had been working in this field, either on individual projects or on joint programs. They were well aware that the information on manuscripts was still meagre, whereas comparison was central in their researches. In 1989, a professorship of Arabic codicology was set up in the Ecole pratique des hautes études (IVe section) in Paris and François Déroche was selected for the job. Soon the newsletter project was revived and enlarged: it was decided to publish twice a year descriptions of dated manuscripts with a reproduction of the script and the colophon. In order to cover a wider field and start without delay, any frame (collection, chronology or origin) was disregarded and the file format, already chosen hundred years ago by Wright, gave the required flexibility.

The other inspiring principle was the result of a debate which took place at the end of the conference on codicology and palaeography of Middle Eastern manuscripts (May 1986, Istanbul). The participants expressed their wish to have a newsletter that would keep a link between those interested in these studies and inform them about any development in the field. The Nouvelles des manuscrits du Moyen-Orient were an answer to this; it also provided a protective folder for the files. Its four pages were available for information, short papers and, every two years, for a general index; due to limitation of space, it has been impossible to publish a comprehensive index of the titles and authors, for it seemed more advisable to focus on the codicology and the history of the manuscripts.

In the fall of 1991, thanks to the help of Louis Holtz, then director of the Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes of the CNRS, a meeting with specialists of various manuscript traditions took place in Paris; it was instrumental in giving its final shape to the codicological side of the file. The same year, the Foundation Max van Berchem of Geneva decided to support the project and gave a grant which was instrumental in starting to publish. In 1994, the size of the operation led to the foundation of a non-profit association, the SEMMO (Société pour l'étude des manuscrits du Moyen-Orient) which became the force behind the FiMMOD. In 2002, ten volumes had been published, with a total of 375 manuscripts described, from the most various libraries: Algiers, Berlin, Bologna, Brussels, Geneva, Istanbul, Leiden, Leipzig, Liege, London, Lyons, Munich, Oxford, Paris, Rabat, Strasburg, Tashkent and the Vatican City. Arabic manuscripts were the most numerous ones, followed by those in Persian, in Ottoman Turkish and Syriac. The size of the FiMMOD became then a drawback and its paper version had to be stopped; an electronic version, either on CD-Rom, or on the internet, should replace it in the future.

The aims of the FiMMOD

In the preceding lines, some of the reasons for the existence of a publication entirely devoted to the dated manuscripts have already been perceived. In codicology or palaeography, the comparative method is crucial. Even if every single manuscript is unique, it is the result of a process deeply rooted in a particular period of time. When a scholar has to date a manuscript which has no colophon, he will have to search for similar dated items. He can work on the script itself with the FiMMOD, the number of plates published in the FiMMOD now gives a larger spectrum of scripts than any existing album. He can also look for codicological details in the descriptions or in the index.

The FiMMOD does not intend to be a catalogue of manuscripts: it is only focused on the dated manuscripts kept in various collections and the identification of the text is always short, in contradistinction to recent catalogues. On the other hand, it is far more comprehensive than a catalogue of dated manuscripts since it devotes more room to the description of codicological features, and its index covers the various material aspects of the manuscript. As was the hope of those who started this project, it provided a wealth of the information used in the Manuel de codicologie des manuscrits en écriture arabe (2).

Next to the interest of the FiMMOD for codicology and paleography, it could become a major tool towards the development of the history of the book in the Islamic world. Although the section devoted to the history of the manuscript is a limited one and restricted to dated information, the data as a whole could give new insights into many questions which we are facing. Which was the text or genre most popular at a given moment of time ? What was the diffusion in time and space of a work ? When and where did a copyist work ? Whom was he working for ? What kind of text was he copying ? Can we link his activity with the diffusion of this text ? To these questions and the like, the FiMMOD will be able to answer when it reaches a larger size in the coming years.

The contents

When the FiMMOD was started, it was necessary to define a provisional time limit, namely 1500 AD/ca 905 AH, in order to work on a limited number of manuscripts. All dated manuscripts should be taken into account by the FiMMOD, but it will mainly depend on the users/contributors to decide when the more recent manuscripts could also become part of the effort, perhaps by steps. The versatility of the file system is an advantage: it avoids the problem of the exhaustive publication of the single collections and allows for various classifications (date, place, library, script, etc.).

What does a typical FiMMOD file look like ? Its recto provides in its upper part the basic information about a manuscript: language, collection (town and name of the collection), shelf number and date. The date is always the latest one when the manuscript contains various colophons. Then comes the data found in the colophon (place and date of copy, name of the copyist) and possibly the name of the patron. The text(s) and the author(s) are identified. The following area is devoted to the history of the manuscript: waqf, seals, various statements, etc. when dated. The codicological description comes next: dimensions of the page and of the text area, number of pages or folios, material, quires, catchwords, numbering of the quires, Oriental foliation(s), ruling, ink(s) and number of lines. The information about the decorative devices and the binding complete the description. By using systematically the same frame for the description, it was possible from the start to work in any language, the order of the entries remaining the same all the time.

The verso of the file is devoted to the illustration: a photograph of a full page of text, as close as possible to the dimensions of the original, with the folio number next to it, and the detail of the colophon (also with the indication of the folio number).

The future

The next step will be that of the computer edition of the FiMMOD. The limitation of the A4 sheet of paper will disappear and we could think of reproducing for instance samples of the illuminations or paintings found in a manuscript, even of its binding or of a sample of paper. The Kabikadj software which had been developped for the FiMMOD by Dr. Vlad Atanasiu will be multilingual and will make its use easier (3). Later on, contributors might also be able to send their descriptions via internet -a relief for the editors….

Francis Richard
Conservateur chargé des collections
Département des arts de l'Islam
Musée du Louvre