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Western books: the Middle East from the rise of Islam

Western books: the Middle East from the rise of Islam” is a collection of 10,000 microfiche containing over 2,500 pre-1921 Western-language titles, selected from the collections of the Harvard University library. 

Scope of the Collection:  Western books on the Middle East and North Africa since the emergence of Islam in the seventh century constitute a large and remarkably varied corpus. Over the centuries, European diplomats, soldiers, merchants, travelers, pilgrims, missionaries, and scholars have produced a rich legacy of works which, for all the interpretive shortcomings and cultural biases they may have in the eyes of contemporary readers, remain valuable sources for the continuing study of Islam and this region, as well as for the investigation of the West’s own evolving perspectives and assumptions concerning them. Drawing on the world-renowned resources of Harvard University Libraries, this collection makes readily available to students, researchers, and other interested readers a substantial part of this corpus. It contains rare material of value to specialists in a wide range of disciplines, while more generally complementing and enhancing library collections with strength in more recently published works and in non-Western language materials. The collection includes a comprehensive selection of travel literature, published documents, memoirs, reference works, and scholarly studies in numerous academic disciplines, such as philosophy, history, literature, sociology, art and architecture, international relations and religion. It also contains many texts in translation, which makes accessible to readers unfamiliar with the languages of the region a substantial number of important works produced by Middle Eastern and North African authors since the early Middle Ages. Approximately half of the works selected are in English, with the remainder being in other Western languages, including French, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Russian. These works continue to be invaluable as rich sources of historical information and as cultural artifacts significant for the evidence they contain concerning the methods and cultural assumptions which shaped European and American perceptions and writing on Islam and the region over the centuries. At the same time, they include an abundance of material useful for reflecting on the history and cultural values of their Western authors.

Subjects available include the following:

  • Art and architecture
  • Bibliography
  • Economy and society
  • History
  • Language and literature
  • Politics, government and law
  • Religion and thought
  • Science, technology and medicine
  • Social life and custom
  • Travel and description



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