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Manuscripts of the Islamicate World and South Asia

Identifier: Or Ms

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of over 700 manuscripts pertaining to the Islamicate world and South Asia, dating from the 10th to 19th centuries C.E. (the majority being post-1500). Chiefly bound paper codices, it includes sacred texts of importance to the Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh faiths, Qur’anic commentaries, Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and the Shi’i Imams, works treating Islamic law, world history, the history of India, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, divination, philosophy, ethics, grammar, rhetoric, dictionaries, poetry, prose, tales and romances, proverbs, travel, music, agriculture and war. It also includes biographies, and correspondence between Indian rulers and dignitaries, and East India Company officials.
Some of the collection’s manuscripts are among the most iconic items found at the University of Edinburgh Library, such as Qur’anic fragments in Kufic script on vellum, dating to around the 10th century (Or Ms 175), Rashīd al-Dīn’s Jāmiʿ al-tawārīkh (Or Ms 20) and al-Bīrūnī's al-Āthār al-bāqiya (Or Ms 161), both richly illuminated examples of Islamic historiography dating to the 14th century C.E., and an 18th century Sanskrit scroll of the Hindu Mahābhārata featuring miniature illuminations and measuring over 70 metres (Or Ms 510).
The grouping together of these items as one collection is the legacy of the route by which they reached the Library. It includes the vast majority of items formerly known as the "Oriental Collection"; the large donations that formed its basis were from the collections assembled by employees of the East India Company. This resulted in the collection incorporating material relevant to the Islamicate, largely gathered in South Asia, intertwined with items relevant to the Hindu and Sikh faiths, and the culture and history of South Asia more generally. The Turkish component of the collection includes manuscripts acquired in Astrakhan, with several early Ottoman texts. The items retain their "Or Ms" shelf mark to avoid creating a gap in the memory of their history. All catalogue records include the available provenance data. Research in this area is ongoing and such information will be expanded to include all details attesting the route of these items into the University of Edinburgh’s collections.


  • 10th-19th centuries C.E. (bulk: post-1500 C.E.)

Language of Materials

Mainly in Persian and Arabic, but also Turkish, Sanskrit, Urdu, Bengali, Malay, Panjabi, Prakrit, and Syriac.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Please contact the repository in advance.


30 linear metres (approx)

Other Finding Aids

See Mohammed Hukk, A descriptive catalogue of the Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library (Edinburgh, 1925) [external link, accessed 29 August 2022]; R. B. Serjeant, A handlist of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani MSS. of New College, Edinburgh (London, 1942); Walsh, John R. "The Turkish Manuscripts in New College, Edinburgh." Oriens 12.1/2 (1959): 171– 189; and handlist H8.2.

Custodial History

The large donations that formed the basis of the "Oriental Collection", to which the majority of items in the current collection belonged, were from collections assembled in South Asia by employees of the East India Company. Lieutenant-Colonel John Baillie of Leys (1772-1833), collector of 165 donated manuscripts, was a Professor of Arabic, Persian and Islamic Law at Fort William College in Calcutta from 1801-1807, and political agent at Lucknow from 1807 to 1815. David Anderson (1750-1828), donor of 113 items, was a clerk with the East India Company, and became a political diplomat working with Warren Hastings, the first British Governor-General of Bengal. James Anderson (1758-1833), collector of 54 donated items was an East India Company official and Persian interpreter for Hastings. Robert Blair Munro Binning, (1814-1891) donor of around 40 items, was an official in the Madras Civil Service of the EIC. Thirteen items were donated by a Dr George Bell M.D, whose brother [Andrew] Ross Bell (1809-1841), the likely collector of these items, was assistant to the British Commissioner of Delhi. At least 12 items came from the library of Carberry Tower (Musselburgh), belonging to the Elphinstone family. These items were owned by Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779-1859), Governor of Bombay (Mumbai), and historian of India, and John, 13th Lord Elphinstone (1813-1860), Governor of Madras and then of Bombay. The remainder of the items among the collection were part of smaller donations, from one to ten items. The vast majority of donors of these items having a connection to colonial activities in South Asia during the 18th or 19th centuries. The Turkish component of the collection (20 items) was acquired in Astrakhan (present-day Russia) by the missionary Reverend John Dickson between 1819-1825 C.E.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In many cases, items belonging to the collections of the individuals named above were donated to the University Library by their family members after their deaths. The material gathered by Lieutenant-Colonel John Baillie of Leys was presented to the Library in 1876 by his grandson, Mr. John B. Baillie. The items belonging to James Anderson were donated to the Library by his nephew Adam Anderson in 1844. The manuscripts belonging to Reverend John Dickson were presented to the library of New College in 1889 by J. Dickson Dodds of Dundee. Both David Anderson and Robert Munro Binning bequeathed their items directly to the University Library. The collection also includes ten items pertaining to the bequest of David Laing, a renowned antiquarian, bookseller and librarian, with no identified personal connection to colonial activities.
In recent years, the collection has also been augmented through purchase. For instance, at E2011.22 there is a group of 40 manuscripts from the Ottoman Provinces and Iran, mostly 18th and 19th centuries. At E2011.23 there is an illuminated prayer-book, Northern Nigeria, of 29 folios, each with lines of black stylized 'maghribi', with various illuminated panels and medallions.

Related Materials

- Coll-1970: Palm-leaf manuscript collection of Nigel Seeley.

- Coll-1860: The Sir Walter Elliot Archive.

- Coll-2068: Ethiopic Manuscripts Collection.

- Coll-2069: Tibetan Manuscripts Collection.

- Coll-2070: Palm-leaf and folding-paper (parabaik) manuscripts from South and Southeast Asia.

- P.Oxy: Oxyrhynchus Papyri Collection.


Hukk, Mohammed, A descriptive catalogue of the Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library (Hertford: Stephen Austin, 1925).
Serjeant, Robert B., A handlist of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani MSS. of New College, Edinburgh (London: Luzac & Co, 1942).
Walsh, John R., "The Turkish Manuscripts in New College, Edinburgh." Oriens 12.1/2 (1959).
See also handlist H8.2.

Processing Information

Top-level description originally compiled by Aline Brodin in April 2018. Description revised and expanded by Dr Eleanor Lucy Deacon in September 2022.
Only the manuscripts descriped in the Hukk catalogue, and a few others, are currently catalogued online.
Item-level descriptions for manuscripts Or Ms 1 to Or Ms 429 were created by Dr Eleanor Lucy Deacon, Aline Brodin, and Sarah O. Abou-Zied from August 2022 to August 2023, using legacy data from Mohammed Hukk et al. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Arabic and Persian Manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library.

Archivist's note

To better represent its contents and move past the use of outdated terminology, the collection’s title was changed from "Oriental Manuscripts Collection" to "Manuscripts of the Islamicate World and South Asia" in September 2022. The Ethiopic/Amharic items formerly pertaining to the Oriental Collection can now be found under the "Ethiopic Manuscripts Collection".
Manuscripts of the Islamicate World and South Asia
Language of description
Multiple languages
Script of description

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
+44(0)131 650 8379