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Brockelmann Online

Brockelmann Online consists of both original print volumes of  Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (GAL) by Carl Brockelmann (1868-1956), as well as the three supplement volumes, including the indexes. It is full-text searchable, making it much easier to consult for researchers and students. The “Brockelmann” has become an indispensible research tool for anyone working on the Islamic world in general and the Middle East in particular.

Brockelmann’s Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur offers bio-bibliographic information about works written in Arabic and their authors, with an emphasis on the classical period. The multi-volume reference work is divided in chronologically organized sections, which are subdivided by literary genre. Individual entries typically consist of a biographical section and a list of the author’s works in manuscript and print, with references to secondary literature.


“I have used the online edition as a supplement to the print for the reason that using the print indexes is problematic to say the least, and searching the online edition is more effective and faster and makes up for the print indexes many shortcomings. I search the online edition, figure out just where I am in relation to the print (sometimes a chore), and then go to the print as necessary to recover to my satisfaction the context as I know it from experience using the print for years. The online edition in my opinion is indispensable, and does not completely supersede the print. I cite the print, of course, since there is not yet in practice a standard and accepted citation for the electronic–but see below.

For example, I search online for Suyuti’s tabaqat al-huffaz (as full-text, no diacritics), and the results index lists 64 possibilities. I choose #7. 6 Kapitel Der Hadit. There begins a very long passage of text, including all of chapter 6 (print, GAL I pp. 163/156-176/167–although the citation at the end of the passage refers to: [Print Version: Volume 2, page 163, column ].  The electronic citation is: Citation:  Brockelmann, Carl. “6 Kapitel Der Hadit.” Brockelmann Online. by Carl Brockelmann . Brill, 2010. Brill Online…  By comparison, a search for the same phrase in the print yields something quite different: G II, 47 [nothing relevant] and G II, 156 #275 [Suyuti].  I should add that the layout of the electronic version is far easier to browse than the print with its several types and sizes and confusing layout.

Consequently, the use of both print and electronic together yields the most reliable results and is advisable.”


GAL [Print. Source of following: MELA Basic Reference Outline Series, Number 1]

Brockelmann, Carl. Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, Zweite den Supplementbänden angepaßte Auflage. Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1943–49. 2 v. Supplementbänden. Leiden, 1937–42. 3 v.
I. Organization of the publication.
See the Inhaltsverzeichnis (Table of Contents) for each volume.
Vol. I divides Arabic literature into two main periods:
Book I: The Arabic national literature from the beginning until the downfall of the Umayyads.
Further subdivided as follows:
1. From the beginning until the appearance of Muhammad.
2. Muhammad and his time.
3. The Umayyad period.
Book II: Islamic literature in Arabic, about 300 yr. period, further subdivided as follows:
1. The classical period from ca. 750 to ca. 1000 (A.D.)
2. The post-classical period from ca. 1010 to ca. 1258.
Within each of these periods, Brockelmann treats the literature according to subject: first belles lettres; then
history; then religious writing: hadith, fiqh, Qur’an exegesis, mysticism; then astronomy, medicine; and
finally encyclopaedias. Within each of the above categories, the authors and works cited are grouped
Vol. II is organized slightly differently from Vol I. The periods treated are as follows:
Book III: The decline of Islamic literature, as follows:
1. From the period of Mongol rule until the conquest of Egypt by Sultan Selim in 1517.
2. From 1517 to the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt in 1798.
3. From 1798 to the present (i.e., ca. 1900).
Rather than dividing these periods into subject, and then into geographical area, as in Vol. I., this volume is
grouped, within each of the periods, by geographic area, further divided by subject. The additions and
corrections to both volumes appear at the end of Vol II. N.B.: Authors are only listed once, even though
they may have written on a number of different topics.
Supplementbänden: Volume I supplements the first two books, contained in Vol. I of the original. It has an
appendix of corrections and additions. Vol. II supplements book III, contained in Vol II of the original. It
has an appendix of authors whose time and place cannot be ascertained, arranged alphabetically according
to the European alphabet, within subjects, in the same order as given above for Vol. I.
Volume III of the supplement is devoted to modern Arabic literature to the outbreak of the Second World
War, organized by country and then by literary form. Then comes the key to the whole work, the indices:
1. author index
2. title index
3. European editor index
Finally, it contains the additions and corrections to Supplementbänden I–III. Each chapter or section of the
GAL has a few introductory paragraphs, sometimes including bibliographical references.
Entries: Each entry consists of a short biographical sketch, usually a sentence or two, giving dates and
place or origin and/or activity. Then a paragraph in smaller type which first provides biographical
citations, then – identified by Arabic numerals, printed in italics, and separated by dashes – titles of the
known works by this author. These citations include all known manuscript copies and the references to the
appropriate catalogs, printed editions giving place of imprint, date of imprint, and editor, as well as
citations to older bibliographical works in Arabic in which these works are cited. This latter citation may
be the only record we have of a work which hasn’t survived. In the supplements, the most important part of
the author’s name in each entry is given in italics.
N.B.: The page numbers given in the indices for the citations in the basic volumes(G I and G II) refer to the
pagination of the 1898–1902 edition. These page numbers are printed in the margins of the 1937–1942
edition. [Where possible, both editions of the GAL should be available for reference, as some citations in
the first ed. appear not to be repeated in the second ed.]

II. Using the GAL.

The difficulty one encounters in using the GAL lies in the abbreviations, which are not adequately explained. The abbreviations for most of the works cited in the first two volumes will be found on pp. 3–6 of Volume I, in this order:

  • Biographical works
  • Bibliographical works
  • Catalogs of Manuscripts

nb. Brockelmann does not always use the abbreviation or the first element of the entry when citing these works.

Supplementband I lists the abbreviations used for proper names on p. xvii. Thus, e.g., A. = Ahmad; ‘A. = ‘Ali; ‘Al. = ‘Abdullah; ‘Ar. = ‘Abdarrahman.

The system of romanization is explained on the following unnumbered page. The indices are difficult to use.  Frequently, there are two entries for every name, one under the first name in direct order, and one under the last part of the name or the most commonly used part of the name.  Title is usually the best access point. Once you have found an entry in the index, there is the problem of checking each citation.

III. Strategy for using Brockelmann’s GAL:
1. Figure out how title or author will be romanized in Brockelmann’s system.
2. Check first under title.
3. If no luck, try under author, but first figure out what elements will be abbreviated, if you know
full name. If there are many possible entries and citations to be checked, and you know the date and
provenance, figure out what part of the work it is likely to be cited in.
4. If still no luck, try looking in the appropriate place in the GAL, after figuring out plan.
Remember, authors are only listed once, requiring several searches for authors with wide interests.
5. Once the citation you want is tracked down, use lists of abbreviations in G. I and S. I to figure
out where you want to look next.
6. Don’t forget to consult all the additions and corrections: Nachträge in G. II, S. I and S. III.
N.B.: The original 1902 ed. uses the Abjad alphabetical order in the index at the end of Vol. II.
Written by Richard S. Cooper, originally published in MELA Notes 3, October, 1974.



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