EPIGRAPHIE, CALLIGRAPHIE, CODICOLOGIE, LITTERATURE / EPIGRAPHY, CALLIGRAPHY, CODICOLOGY, LITERATURE
I have used my grant from the Fondation Max van Berchem to write a handbook of Islamic epigraphy, to be published by Edinburgh University Press in 1997. Designed to serve a wide spectrum of people who want to learn about inscriptions on buildings and objects created in the Islamic lands, the handbook is organized as a series of fifteen chapters that can be consulted separately or together. The text (about 75'000 words) combines general considerations with specific examples, and the accompanying photographs and line drawings help the reader to understand the material visually.
The handbook comprises four sections. A short introductory section explains why inscriptions are such an important and ubiquitous feature of Islamic culture. The two main sections of the book cover the major types of inscriptions found in the Islamic lands: monumental inscriptions and inscriptions on portable objects. In both cases, the discussions deal with epigraphic content as well as style and include specific examples and illustrations. The techniques for putting inscriptions on buildings and other objects and the reasons for doing so differed. Hence, the two sections are organized differently. The section on monumental inscriptions is divided into chapters dealing with the different approaches and methodologies used to study the vast corpus of monumental inscriptions, including linguistic, typological, geographical and stylistic considerations. The section on the portable arts, by contrast, is divided by media (metalwares, woodwork, ceramics, textiles and others arts) and by types of objects (tombstones; scientific instruments; arms and armor; and seals, talismans and amulets). The final section on reading and recording an inscription is the most practical. It shows the reader how to use the standard reference works to find out about a particular inscription and how to record a new text.
A lengthy bibliography supplies the reader with full references to the sources cited within the running text by author's name and year. A long and detailed index will help the reader find what he is looking for, for the book is designed to be consulted as well as read. The reader is invited to skip about and jump from section to section and chapter to chapter so that he can draw inspiration and method from other contexts, for the handbook is both an introduction and a provocation: It is meant to encourage the reader not only to look at and read inscriptions, but also to analyze and interpret them in order to better understand the rich material and visual world of the Islamic lands over the past fourteen hundred years.