Professor Mohammed Arkoun (1928-2010) was one of the most prominent and influential figures in modern Islamic Studies and a member of the Institute’s Board of Governors. He was renowned for being an outstanding research scholar, a searching critic of the theoretical tensions embedded in the field of Islamic Studies, and a courageous public intellectual, carrying the banner of an often embattled Islamic modernism and humanism. Professor Arkoun also served as a member of the Board of Governors at the IIS. To continue his legacy, the IIS-ISMC Library is creating an archive of Professor Arkoun’s papers that have been donated to the IIS by his wife Mrs Touria Yacubi-Arkoun.
This is one of the first major archives that is being housed in the IIS-ISMC Library, and includes a large repository of published and unpublished documents that will enable researchers in the field of Islamic Studies to explore the available materials and conduct further studies in the field. The archive comprises a variety of documents such as personal and professional correspondence, notes, personal documents, conference papers, interviews, speeches, documents related to his teaching activity, documents related to his institutional activities, such as those related to Arabica, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The documents are in French, English, Arabic and Dutch.
Speaking about the vision of this project, Dr Walid Ghali, Head of the IIS-ISMC Library said:
“The aim is to preserve and digitise the intellectual legacy of Mohammed Arkoun by organising his papers, documents, and other materials in one place. We are currently working on the second phase of the project where a specialised archivist is cataloguing the papers in the archive. As soon as this phase is completed, particular attention will be given to the unpublished papers and documents that could help to further explore Professor Arkoun’s thoughts. We hope that this will encourage other scholars to donate their collections to the Library so that we can build a portal of archival materials in fields related to Islamic Studies.”
To spearhead the project, the Library has appointed Ms Ginevra Avalle as an Archivist who will be responsible for cataloguing and arranging Professor Arkoun’s archive. Ms Avalle’s primary expertise is in the area of private archives and she has a rich experience of working in a variety of prestigious institutions in Italy, such as Accademia della Crusca, Fondazione Ezio Franceschini and Fondazione Filippo Turati.
Whilst at the Fondazione Ezio Franceschini (Medieval Research Institute) in Florence, Ms Avalle worked on a similar project, where she was responsible for arranging and cataloguing the documents of the Italian scholar, Vittore Branca (1913-2004). In addition, she has also published three books, a catalogue of a collection of papers referring to an Italian scholar, Flaminio Pellegrini (1868-1928), a historical study on the correspondence during the Second World War (1937-1946) of an Italian senator, Giovanni Pieraccini, and the edition of a lecture given in the nineties by an important antiquarian bookseller, Carlo Alberto Chiesa (1926-1998), at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan as a tribute to the director and editor in chief of the Riccardo Ricciardi publisher, on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday.
Commenting on her role, Ms Avalle said:
“At the IIS, I will be analysing, describing, arranging, cataloguing and digitising the documents of Professor Mohammed Arkoun - one of the most original scholars in the field of Islamic Studies. My objective is to provide potential researchers ready access to his personal archive in order to facilitate study of his life and work. I would not only like to awaken the interest of researchers in Islamic Studies through the personal papers of such a leading scholar as Professor Arkoun, but also raise awareness of the significance of preserving and describing personal archives for the future of our society. A better knowledge, understanding and consciousness of the past is the key to build a new and better future.”
The archiving endeavour is part of a wider digitisation project that aims to make many unseen materials accessible for a wider audience. The project will also include the digitisation of some rare publications and special collection items housed by the IIS-ISMC Library.