By Dr. Alan Godlas, Professor of Religion
The cover of the Zad al-ma'ad.
In addition to the Georgia-related collections you might expect the state’s flagship university library to hold, the University of Georgia Libraries is home to several unexpected collections as well. In April 2007 the family of the late Bradford G. Martin donated his large collection of books about Islam as well as several hand-illuminated Ottoman, Persian, and Arabic manuscripts.
Dr. Martin was born in 1925 in Boston, Massachusetts, but spent much of his childhood with his mother’s family in Vermont and always considered Vermont his home. His service in the army signal corps during World War II gave him a knowledge of the German language and European countries. After the war, he earned A.B. and M.A. degrees in romance languages from Harvard (1949 and 1950), had several jobs (one as a translator with the Haydn Society), then switched his field to Islamic Studies, receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1958.
Dr. Bradford G. Martin as a young man.
From 1958 to 1959 he worked for an oil company in South Arabia (‘Uman), after which he took a job at Manchester University as temporary lecturer in Persian for two years. Manchester University at that time was a center for the emerging field of African Studies. While at Manchester, Dr. Martin was invited by Thomas Hodgkin to go to the University of Ibadan to help set up a program on Islam in Africa. In 1964, he followed Hodgkin to the University of Ghana at Legon where he helped establish Islamic Studies in the new Institute of African Studies. He traveled all over Nigeria and Ghana interviewing local Muslim scholars and collecting manuscripts for the university library.
In 1966 Dr. Martin left Africa for Bloomington, Indiana. From then until his retirement in 1989 he served as a professor of history at Indiana University. In August 1989 he and his wife moved to her hometown of Elberton, where they lived until his death on April 10, 2006.
Zad a-ma'ad. Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad Taqi al-Majilsi (c. 1700) The title is translated as "Provisions for the Resurrection." This is a well-known Shi'i text containing prayers in Arabic.
The books and manuscripts in his collection came from his trips throughout Africa and from Istanbul, as well as from antiquarian bookstores in London and Paris. His wife Louise and his three children Jennifer, Philip, and Andrea have gladly donated his collection to UGA Libraries in honor of Dr. Martin’s love of scholarship and his wish to extend knowledge of the Islamic world.
In this 21st century when an understanding of the Islamic world is clearly seen to be a pivotal element in our nation’s security, the B.G. Martin Collection will be a crucial tool for students at all levels, but especially for graduate students, who will now be able to access numerous primary sources in Arabic and Persian. The collection, containing close to 3000 printed volumes in the field of Islamic Studies and a significant number of hand-written medieval manuscripts, will be an important foundation both for UGA’s recently developed strengths in faculty who have expertise in Islamic Studies within the departments of History, Religion, and Political Science & International Religions (SPIA) as well as for the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Islamic World that is being formed here. In addition the collection will be welcomed by students and faculty in UGA’s Arabic program (which will offer a major in 2007-8) as well as by those in our newly developed federally funded Persian and Turkish programs. Many Ph.D. students, who will need to be able read pre-20th century Arabic and Persian manuscripts in their research, will be able to learn that craft here at the UGA library.
The B.G. Martin collection consists primarily of books in the field of Islamic history,with strengths in African (both North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa), Yemeni, and Iranian Islamic history. There are also numerous works concerning the political and religious dimension of Islam, especially Islamic law and spirituality (Sufism), and Islamic literature. A majority of the books in the collection are in English, although roughly 10% of the books are in Persian and Arabic (with a few in Ottoman and modern Turkish); and a substantial but smaller percentage of books are in French and German. There is also a significant number of rare 19th century Arabic lithographed books.
Sa'di, Gulistan. This Persian text with the Ottoman commentary in the margins dates from the 15th century. It is written in prose interspersed with verse and deals with ethical themes.
The centerpiece of the collection consists of twenty-four valuable and beautifully calligraphed leather-bound manuscripts, many of which are rare or masterpieces of the Persian literary heritage of the 13th – 15th centuries written by Sa’di, Hafiz, Jami, and Amir Khusro. Eighteen of the manuscripts are in Persian, four are in Arabic, and two are in Ottoman Turkish. Fifteen manuscripts have illuminated (multicolored and gold) geometric floral arabesque frontispieces, five of which are stunningly beautiful. Nine of the manuscripts (ranging from the 15th through the 18th centuries) include the date when they were copied, the oldest being a well-known masterpiece of Persian poetry by Jami, copied in 1489, just six years after the original was written. In addition, six others can be conclusively dated to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Eight of the manuscripts are in poetry. The manuscripts are primarily within the subject areas of Islamic and Iranian history, ethics, mystical poetry (Sufism), and both Shi’ite and Sunni Islamic worship and devotion. Finally, there is a rare treatise in poetry on Arabic grammar and an important manuscript dealing with geography (which includes an intriguing 15th-16th century copy of a 14th century world map).
In short, not only will students and faculty in the field of Islamic Studies benefit greatly from both the printed books and manuscripts in this rare resource at UGA, but also the general public will be able to marvel at the exquisite illuminated manuscripts that are the jewels of the B. G. Martin collection.