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Benedikt Reier

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Archive Fever in Egypt and Syria: The Social Logic and Use of Biographical Dictionaries in the Mamluk Period (1250-1517 CE)

Archive Fever in Egypt and Syria: The Social Logic and Use of Biographical Dictionaries in the Mamluk Period (1250-1517 CE)

Among the most flourishing genres of literary production in Syria and Egypt during the Mamluk period, 'biographical dictionaries', a subgenre of history writing, occupy an important place. These partially enormous ‘Who-is-Who’ collections of short biographies have for a long time been used as source for all kinds of queries by historians but have themselves rarely been made the subject of study.

In my research, I aim to explore two separate yet related topics concerning biographical dictionaries that did not attract sufficient attention of scholarship yet: their social logic and their utility. The 14th century appears to be the zenith of this mode of history writing. What are the cultural, social, political, and economic reasons for this heyday? How did biographical dictionaries not only reflect social realities but generate them? 

In a case study, I will examine al-Ṣafadī’s (d.1363) Kitāb al-Wāfī bi-l-wafayāt, a multi volume dictionary including thousands of individuals from the 7th to the 14th century. I am primarily interested in the social site of the text and the effects it caused. Complementary to this, I will study the manuscripts culture of the genre to shed light on the actual use of biographical dictionaries. By analysing paratextual elements and the layout of the text, I want to find out who made use of these texts and in what ways.

 

First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Konrad Hirschler