The Arcadian Library, from its very inception, has always been more than a private collection. Its acquisition policy has always been secondary to its ethical mission—to facilitate peaceful dialogue between East and West. In a tense age in which the values of the West and the Islamic world seem more opposed than ever, the Arcadian Library demonstrates the interdependence of these cultures, which are not so very different after all.
We at the Arcadian Library have long believed that without the great contributions of scientists from the Levant, Mesopotamia and Persia the world would not be where it is today. The progress these neglected geniuses made is rarely remarked upon anymore; people never fail to praise the ideas of the ancient Greek sages or the geniuses of the European Renaissance, so why do they neglect the polymaths of the Middle East? The Levant, and the area its rulers once conquered, stretching deep into Central Asia in the east and Portugal and Morocco in the west, exerted a profound and undeniable influence on the development of science and technology. The Levant truly did change the world.
We set out to prove this long ago through the assembly of a special library that would document the influence of the East upon the West, and vice versa, with many other stories of influence in between. This endeavour began in the late 1960s, and some 10,000 acquisitions later, the library has grown to become one of the world’s most significant private libraries recording the historical interface between East and West, renowned in academic circles for its excellent scholarship and unique holdings.
The library covers numerous subjects, including travel, exploration, Turcica (material relating to the Ottoman Empire and its relationship with Europe), costume, history, archaeology, religion, calligraphy, Al-Andalus, language, literature and Oriental scholarship. One of the most important subjects illuminated by the library, however, is Middle Eastern science and medicine. The aim, in building the library, was to bring together under one roof one of the world’s most important and unique collections of books and manuscripts relating to this topic in order to reveal the invaluable legacy of the Arab and Islamic worlds to the West. Modern science and medicine as we know them owe a great deal to theorems, inventions and remedies developed in the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia and Muslim Spain, but in the West this is not a widely acknowledged fact.
The Arcadian Library has staged exhibitions all around the world over the course of the past 25 years, in Paris, London, Antwerp, Zurich and Geneva; the library has sponsored several academic fellowships and university chairs, and commissioned a ten-volume series of beautifully produced and immaculately researched monographs, which have met with widespread critical acclaim. In order to bring the library to an even broader audience, the Arcadian Library is now working with Bloomsbury Publishing to digitize the entire contents of the library—equivalent to almost four million pages—and upload them to a specially designed and expertly curated digital platform.
The purpose of the institution of the Arcadian Library is to promote peaceful dialogue between the Middle East and the Western world. We must continue to appeal to mankind’s better nature, to engage people in reasoned, enlightened dialogue. Only by this process can ignorance, fear, prejudice and conflict be quashed, and peace and understanding finally achieved. After all, if Medieval Jews, Christians and Muslims were able to work together in the Islamic empires for the betterment of humanity, why can we not now do the same thing?
Even if, ultimately, we find ourselves unable to achieve this peaceful goal, we know that with the digitization of this first collection within the library we will have at least accomplished one thing. We will have proven that scientists from the Levant, and those from the region it so heavily influenced throughout history, truly did change the world through their scientific accomplishments. Without Rhazes we would not know the difference between smallpox and measles; without Albucasis surgical practices would be centuries behind; without Al-Kindi’s work on cryptanalysis the code-breakers at Bletchley Park would not have broken the Nazi enigmas; without Al-Khwarizmi we would not have the internet, computers, smart phones, simulation models, stereo systems, televisions—indeed, any of the mod-cons we now rely on. The entire region changed the world in so many ways that so many people do not know, and we are delighted, finally, using our world-class library, to be able to prove it, one step at a time.