Archiving Absence and Loss: Amili Manuscripts in Libraries Worldwide
My project tackles an under-represented and highly dispersed manuscript archive. According to a popular narrative distributed among the people of Jabal Amil Region, today’s Southern Lebanon, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar, the Ottoman governor of Acre confiscated all the Amili manuscripts and ordered them to be burned in the incinerators of Acre. These incinerators kept ignited for days.
Thought this incident cannot be proofed, the widely known narrative hints at the hitherto neglected intellectual history of South Lebanon, a region once known for its schools and madrasas founded by the prominent Amili scholars between the 14th and 16th centuries. It thus necessitates further research.
This cultural memory is monumentally celebrated and documented within highly rated bio-bibliographical encyclopedias, of which we mention Amal al-āmil by al-Ḥurr al-ʻĀmilī that was produced on the 17th century, and Aʻyān al-Shīʻah by Muhsin al-Amīn issued two centuries later throughout late 19th century. These two outstanding encyclopedias document for the lives and works of the Shia scholars of Jabal Amil and confirm the region’s intellectual legacy. Counter-parting this availability, an apparent loss was traced after searching for an Amili manuscript within the Lebanese available finding aids. However, the same search conducted within Western (American and European) finding aids reveal more relevant results.
By these means, this study is considered foundational in that it, for the first time, attempts to re-construct an absent and dispersed manuscripts’ archive and re-structure the documentary heritage of an intellectually productive region. It aims to document this archive’s construction process against its political, social and cultural factors of emergence, and follow the transmission paths from its first leg of production towards its final leg of preservation.
Revisiting this intellectual memory will be done through the lens of the original manifestations of this intellect, by which we intend to collect the Amili manuscripts and consider their para-texts as indicators for their creation, transmissions and usages. By using the manuscript notes as documentary sources, we aim to define the various agents involved in the making-off process for this archive, and cluster relationships between the texts, agents and places relevant to the Amili intellectual memory.