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Papers of Professor Robert Bertram Serjeant

 Fonds — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Coll-1062

Scope and Contents

The collection is composed of 11 unsorted boxes of papers which contain research notes (linguistics, ethonology and anthropology in South Arabia), bibliography notes, newspapers related to events in South Arabia, photocopies of Arabic manuscripts, typed notes on the political and military situation in Yemen during the 1960s (North Yemen Civil War).

The papers can be divided in four main categories:

  1. Papers relating to academic research, containing Serjeant’s own research notes, copies of articles and talks, newspaper clippings, reports, drafts, theses, and correspondence relating to publications.
  2. Files containing typed and manuscript notes on the political and military situation in Yemen in 1960s, supposedly from what Serjeant heard and read in news sources, and through his informants on the field.
  3. Photocopies of Arabic manuscripts from various libraries around the world; a small number of them annotated by Serjeant.
  4. Hundreds of newspaper copies (mainly The Times) relating to the Arabic and Islamic world.

More precisely, the collection contains, variously (non-exhaustive list):

Photographic copy of Yemeni manuscript, together with a notebook with Arabic notes; spiral-bound 'Universo' notebook with Arabic notes; rolled (paper) copy of Cairo manuscript; photographic copy of History of Yemen and its sovereigns, dating from 919 A.H. (Rylands Arabic MS.253); file with photo-copy ofNihayat Al-Rutba Fi Talab Al-Hisba, of Ibn Bassam Al-Muhtasib, edited and noted by Husam Al-Samarraie, Baghdad, 1968.

Serjeant's Arabic transcription of Kitab al-Tabyin Fi Al-Man; copy ofB ughyat al-Fallahin, an agricultural treatise; photocopy of a manuscript providing genealogies; copy of Tashi al-mudhakarah bi-ah-kam al-mukhabarah wa- l-mu-zara ah wa- '-mugharassah wa- ' -munasharah; several photographic copies of Arabic works; loose-leaf folder containing photographic copies of Arabic manuscript.

Circa 6 extensive copied Arabic manuscript material.

Photocopy of Al-Shamarikh, of Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Ahmad Ba Kathir, a Hadrami text from the late-19th century, early-20th century; photographic copy of Arabic manuscript (MS 3317) in the Chester Beatty Library; and, several extensive copied Arabic manuscript items.

Facsimile pages of Arabic work, K. al-Bukhata, 1937; notebook noted as 'Yemen 1966 tour'; loose-leaf folder of travel description of Muscat, Oman, South Arabia; loose-leaf folder of assorted notes in English, French, and Arabic, some printed matter; file of notes, possibly for a book; file of notes in Arabic; notebook containing (probably) Serjeant's handwritten copy of Bughyat al-Fallahin; and, two talks on Arabia, one for the BBC in 1950, another in Bonn, 1973.

File containing names of Subaihi tribes, Aden; assorted notebooks and files containing notes in Arabic and English; copies of manuscript Al-Manah al-Rabbaniyahon customary law; notes on an architectural planning thesis; notes headed 'Yemen 1962-68'; notes headed 'Yemen 1967-68'; notes on politico-military situation, 1960s; notes on Yemen, 1967, including printed matter; notes on Hijab manuscript, Hadramawt; notes relating to An introduction to Aden Colloquial Arabic; and, notes on Adwillah.

Notes of FAO report (UN Food and Agricultural Organisation; journal notes, Oct-Dec 1962; assorted notes in English and Arabic in various notebooks, files and envelopes, including South Arabian folk-tales; draft notes on custom and Sharia law in the family, Bedouin of the Judean desert; and, notes on Aden fish and fisheries.

Newspapers on the Arab world, from the UK and around the world.

Small spiral-bound notebooks; newspaper articles; clippings; off-prints; material about Yemen; publishers material promoting books; and unsorted material relating to the civil war in Yemen.

In addition, there is a folder containing a single telegram to R. B. Serjeant via Mukalla Government Wireless with the message: 'Passage available to Marseilles 31st shall we book'. Serjeant's answer is also noted: 'Regret unsuitable'. The telegram is dated 23 March 1948. (Al Mukalla was the capital of the Hadramaut region on the Arabian Peninsula, and is in modern Yemen).


  • Creation: 1940-1980


Language of Materials

English Arabic French German

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is restricted and cannot be produced. Researchers will need to fill out a Data Protection undertaking form to access the rest of this material.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Bertram Serjeant was born in Edinburgh on 23 March 1915. He studied at Edinburgh University where he obtained the degree of M.A. in 1935, before studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, to research Islamic textiles for the degree of Ph.D. which he obtained in 1939. He went to the Arabian Peninsula for the first time during the Second World War when he worked on Arabic dialects in the Aden area. He was commissioned into the Aden Government Guards and visited the remoter parts of the Aden Protectorate. In 1942, Serjeant worked for the BBC Arabic Service, editing the Arabic Listener.

At the end of the war he became a Lecturer at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, 1945-1947, during which time he returned to Aden's Hadramawt with a research fellowship. In 1948 he became Reader at SOAS, and in 1955 he was Professor of Modern Arabic there.

Serjeant resigned his Chair at SOAS in 1964, and went to Cambridge as Lecturer, 1964-1966, then Reader, from 1966, then became Sir Thomas Adam's Professor of Arabic in 1969. He retired in 1981 returning to Scotland, to Denhead, near St. Andrews.

Serjeant's work included: a translation of the Bukhala of Al-Jahiz; Portuguese off the South Arabian Coast, a collection of early Hadrami texts on Portuguese activity; South Arabian hunt, a study of the ritual ibex hunt; Sanaa, an Arabian Islamic city; and, with others the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature.

Professor Robert Bertram Serjeant died at his home near St. Andrews on 29 April 1993.


11 boxes

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the Serjeant Collection (including his books) was donated to the University in 1995. Later additions to the papers were donated in 2005 and 2011.

Accession nos: E2005.16; and, E2011.06.


Brodin, Aline, 'An Overview of the Robert Bertram Serjeant Collections at the University of Edinburgh Main Library', in Chroniques du manuscrit au Yemen, Special issue 2, 2018, pp. 13-27. [accessed 22/01/2019 - external link].
See also: Provençal, Philippe, 'La question des noms d'espèces de poissons en arabe : la liste de Robert Bertram Serjeant' in Chroniques du manuscrit au Yemen, Special issue 2, 2018, pp. 84-105. [accessed 22/01/2019 - external link].
Les Chroniques du Manuscrit au Yemen is an international online journal dedicated to research on manuscripts in Yemen, including many manuscripts studied or translated by Serjeant.

Processing Information

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections, in 2007. Updated by Aline Brodin in July 2018.

Papers of Professor Robert Bertram Serjeant (1915-1993)
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
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