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A Research Guide to Middle Eastern Studies: Visual Sources

An introduction to resources both at Penn Libraries and freely available elsewhere online.


While many visual sources can be found in the our tab on Digitized Manuscripts Collections, here are some curated collections with more thematic focuses. 

Mixed-Media Collections

"Archnet is an open access, intellectual resource focused on architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, visual culture, and conservation issues related to the Muslim world. Archnet’s mission is to provide ready access to unique visual and textual material to facilitate teaching, scholarship, and professional work of high quality."
Archnet includes a stellar collection of architectural photos, plans, and expanding visual sources relating to the Islamicate world.
ذاكرة مصر المعاصرة (Bibliotheca Alexandrina)
Digitalized recordings of interviews & speeches, photographs, books, advertisements, documents, maps, and much more.
DLME: Digital Library of the Middle East  
"The DLME is a worldwide effort to federate all types of cultural heritage material, including archives, manuscripts, museum objects, media, and archaeological and intangible heritage collections. The core principle of our collaboration is that of service to partners and peoples across the Middle East and North Africa—to help reveal, share, honor, and protect collections of cultural materials and the living and historical cultures they represent."
The Islamic Art Virtual Museum (part of the Museum with No Frontiers project) has a searchable database with full descriptive entries and digital images of more than 1500 Islamic art objects from museums in 17 countries in Europe and the Middle East.  
Qatar Digital Library
Travelers in the Middle East Archive
A digital archive that focuses on Western interactions with the Middle East, particularly travels to Egypt during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. TIMEA offers electronic texts such as travel guides, museum catalogs, travel narratives, photographic and hand-drawn images of Egypt, and historical maps of Egypt and Cyprus.
For best results, search by "Subject" in the panel on the right side of the webpage.
World Digital Library: Middle East & North Africa 
A collection of print and visual resources, which allows user to focus their search on specific geography, date range, topic or type of resource.
"...a project of the U.S. Library of Congress, carried out with the support of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and in cooperation with libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations from around the world."
Europeana Cultural Collections 
A database that provides digital access to over 23 million objects, from more than 2200 participating institutions in 34 countries. There more than 10,000 Islamic art objects and hundreds of Islamic manuscripts, some of them digitized in full.
Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran
Explore the lives of women during the Qajar era (1796-1925) through a wide array of materials from private family holdings and participating institutions. Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran provides bilingual access to thousands of personal papers, manuscripts, photographs, publications, everyday objects, works of art and audio materials, making it a unique online resource for social and cultural histories of the Qajar world. 
Manar al-Athar
The Manar al-Athar website, based at the University of Oxford, aims to provide high resolution, searchable images for teaching, research, and publication. These images of archaeological sites, with buildings and art, will cover the areas of the former Roman empire which later came under Islamic rule, such as Syro-Palestine/the Levant, Arabia, Egypt, North Africa and Spain. The chronological range is from Alexander the Great (i.e., from about 300 BC) through, the Islamic period to the present. It is the first website of its kind providing such material labeled jointly in both Arabic and English. It will also be publishing related material, both online and on paper, in English and Arabic.


Historical Maps of the Muslim World 
More than 50 historical maps from the 16th to the early 20th century, featuring various regions from the Maghreb to Central Asia and from the Balkans to India. Digitized as part of the Harvard Library's Islamic Heritage Project
The Afternoon Map
An "Ottoman/Turkish/Middle Eastern/Balkan cartography blog on the internet by bringing you a range of original, visually appealing and intellectually engaging maps harvested from archives and libraries around the world."
Perry-Castañeda Library, Map Collection, UT-Austin
A rich collection of maps depicting various areas of the Middle East produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, unless otherwise indicated.


Pierre de Gigord collection of photographs of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, 1850-1958 (Getty)
Over 6,000 19th- and early 20th-century Ottoman-era photographs, collected in the 1980s by French collector Pierre de Gigord during his travels through Turkey. The photos encompass various walks of Ottoman life, depicting “landmark architecture, urban and natural landscapes, archeological sites of millennia-old civilizations, and the bustling life of the diverse people who lived over 100 years ago in the last decades of the waning Ottoman Empire,” according to the Iris, the Getty Research Institute’s blog. The collection includes a 10-part panorama of Constantinople, which required stitching separate prints together to create a panoramic view of the Istanbul skyline in 1878. The shots can now be viewed in their entirety on a single screen. 82 glass plate negatives were digitized, along with 60 photographic albums documenting scenes of Ottoman life. Each individual image in the albums was photographed and digitized, allowing viewers to see up-close details alongside the calligraphic image captions. 
Saudi Aramco World Digital Image Archive 
More than 40,000 historic and recent images of the Middle East and the Islamic world freely available online
Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative  [MEPP] 
An online directory of photo collections led jointly by the Arab Image Foundation, the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Conservation Institute. The Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative (MEPPI) is a strategic multi-year program designed to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the region’s photographic heritage. Launched in 2009 with a pilot workshop, it has grown into a multi-faceted initiative with an ambitious program of complementary research and capacity-building objectives. Search by photo format, collection type, size, period, or text.
Middle East & Islamic Photographs, Harvard Fine Arts Library's Special Collections.
"The Fine Arts Library holds more than 150,000 original photographs of the Islamic world, most dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries; included are 38,000 images in the Harvard Semitic Museum Photographic Archives. These historic photographs are an unparalleled resource for research, study and publication. Finding aids and research assistance are available by appointment."
The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress 
A collection of over 75,000 early photographic images of the Middle East. Most are accessible for download in high resolution via the Prints and Photographs online catalog.
The American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) Photo Archive
The American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan. The complete collection, estimated to number more than 100,000 images, provides primary visual documentation of Jordan, including the major archaeological and cultural heritage projects the center has sponsored across the country over the decades. Given its broad range of content and subject matter, the ACOR Library photographic archive has the potential to be a crucial resource for American, international, and Jordanian scholars involved in cultural and natural heritage preservation and management. As a first step in making this extensive archival collection available to researchers, the ACOR Library has begun to process, digitize, and make fully accessible (and searchable) online a majority of ACOR’s major institutional and donated photographic holdings.

Paintings (but not whole mss)

This section is devoted to online databases of paintings, often, but not always from manuscripts. Also, see our page for Digitized Manuscript Collections for wholly digitized codices.
The Islamic Painted Page
"A huge free database of references for Persian paintings, Ottoman paintings, Arab paintings and Mughal paintings. This site enables you to locate printed reproductions, commentaries and weblinks for thousands of Islamic paintings, including illuminated "carpet" pages, decorated Quran pages, and book bindings from over 230 collections all over the world."
The Shahnama Project 
"An archive of book paintings--commonly known as Persian Miniatures--that were created to illustrate scenes from the Persian national epic, the Shahnama (the Book of Kings)." Originally started at Princeton University, it is now administrated by Cambridge University.
Chester Beatty Image Gallery (Dublin)
Illustrations from small selections of manuscript pages at the Chester Beatty Library with detailed commentaries.
Mandragore, base des manuscrits enluminés de la BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris)
Online cataloof illuminations and illustrations from manuscripts held at the BnF with descriptions and color images available for viewing and download.

Major Museums of Islamic and Mid East Collections

Many of the library-cum-museums are listed under  Digitized Manuscript Collections
The Aga Khan Museum (Toronto, Ont., Canada) - A new Islamic art museum based on the collection of the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan
The British Museum - collection database for over 1,531,662 objects in the museum's collections; 411,187 of these records include images.
The Cleveland Museum of Art  collection online website. See : Islamic art collection
The Harvard Art Museums  Islamic and Indian art 
The Museum of Fine Arts Boston  - a collection of Islamic art
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collections Online images database 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York  online collection database
The Morgan Library and Museum (New York, N.Y.)  - online exhibition Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan 
Musée du Louvre  -  Department of Islamic Art
The State Hermitage Museum (St Petersburg, Russia) -  collection gallery online
The Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, Md.) - virtual Islamic Manuscripts Gallery
Victoria and Albert Museum  - collections database online

Visual Resources @ Penn

Taken from Penn's History of Art Research Basics LibGuide (click to see more specifically related to Art History)
Below are resources via Penn Libraries. Images found through these sources may be under copyright.
· Finding Images - Penn's guide entirely devoted to images! Find lots more links here.
· ARTstor - The ARTstor collection includes approximately 500,000 images of works of art, architecture and archaeology along with the necessary software to view the images, create personal groups of images and create presentations.
· Library Image Search - Click on the "Images" tab to search several library collections: Fine Arts Image Collection, Furness Theatrical Images, University Archives, South Asia Collection, or Philadelphia General Hospital Collection.
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