Thoughtful History: The Post-Classical Islamic Philosophy Database Initiative

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Posted in Cultural Archives & Curation, Major Projects, Projects


Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Sprenger 1823)Though rich in sources, the post-classical period of Islamic philosophical thought (1100-1900CE) has largely been overlooked by Western Scholars. Dr. Robert Wisnovsky, of McGill’s Institute for Islamic Studies, hopes to expand the capacity for scholarly work in this area through the Post-Classical Islamic Philosophy Database Initiative (PIPDI), a division of the Rational Sciences in Islam project at the Institute.

Funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, PIPDI is engaged in digitization and metadata development for over 1,800 individual works from 1,200 manuscript codices from the period. The collection of such a wide-ranging body of sources, with detailed metadata entries and high quality digital images, will provide a much needed research tool for scholars currently exploring the field. Dr. Wisnovsky notes that most of the work of this period still remains un-edited and in manuscript form only, often making PIPDI the only non-site specific access point for a large number of sources.

Working in co-operation with the Max Planck Institute in Berlin and the Berlin State Library, Dr. Wisnovsky and his team have gathered digital images from manuscripts sources from all over the Islamic world, including Turkey, Iran and Egypt. Additionally, Dr. Wisnovsky has worked with the École de technologie supérieure in Montréal to develop optical shape recognition software that will make the digitized images of Arabic manuscripts searchable. Unlike optical character recognition tools, OSR focuses instead on clusters of connected characters, making it extremely useful for handwritten manuscripts, where letter shapes vary dramatically.

Although PIPDI is still under construction and currently remains closed to the public, many of the images will soon be available through the forthcoming open access initiative of the Staatsbibliotek. Dr. Wisnovsky hope to continue to build the data base and eventually be able to provide single metadata entries for each work that will connect to their associated digital images through individual hyperlinks. More information on the project, as well as a partial handlist of philosophical works and commentaries from the period is available at

The Post-Classical Islamic Philosophy Database Initiative

PI: Robert Wisnovsky
Faculty of Arts