Secret Archives and Sacred Texts in Gujarat

Episode 394

hosted by Nir Shafir

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How do you conduct research on an archive you can’t talk about? This was the problem faced by our guest Olly Akkerman on her research trip to Gujarat when she went to work on the manuscript library of the Alawi Bohra community of Baroda. The sacred library was only accessible to the leaders of the Bohra community and its contents can’t be revealed publicly. In this podcast, Akkerman tells us the story of how she turned an initial obstacle into an opportunity to conduct a type of anthropological research on the social lives of manuscripts, a method she calls social codicology.

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Contributor Bios
Olly Akkerman is a specialist on Arabic manuscripts and Shi’i Islam. She is a lecturer and research associate at the Institute of Islamic Studies, Freie Universitaet Berlin. Her research focusses on the social life of manuscript archives among the Alawi Bohras in South Asia and the larger Western Indian Ocean. She is currently working on her forthcoming monograph entitled An Ethnography of Manuscripts and their Social Lives.
Nir Shafir is a historian researching the intellectual and religious history of the early modern Middle East, with a focus on material culture and the history of science and technology. He is currently the editor of the Ottoman History Podcast and curates it series on history of science. He is an assistant professor of history at UCSD.


Episode No. 394
Release Date: 23 December 2018
Recording Location: Jena
Audio editing by Nir Shafir
Music: Thanks to Bandista (Antikapitalista) and Overseas Ensemble for use of their music.
Images and bibliography courtesy of Olly Akkerman


Bird eye’s view of the Alawi Bohra mosque in Baroda. Copyright Olly Akkerman.
The manuscript archive in Baroda, Gujarat. Photo and copyright courtesy of Olly Akkerman.

Select Bibliography

Social Codicological readings:
Olly Akkerman, “Towards A Social Codicology of Islamic Manuscripts”. In Philological Encounters, 2019 (forthcoming issue).

Léon Buskens, “From Trash to Treasure”. In Legal Documents as Sources for the History of Muslim Societies. Ed. M. van Berkel, L. Buskens and P. Sijpesteijn, Leiden: Brill, 2017, pp. 180-207.

Brinkley Messick, Sharia Scripts. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.

On the Bohras:
Tahera Qutbuddin, “Bohras”. In Enyclopedia of Islam III. pp. 56–66.

Jonah Blank, Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Dawoodi Bohras. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001.

Denis Gay, Les Bohra de Madagascar. Religion, commerce et échanges transnationaux dans la construction de l’identité ethnique, Berlin, Münster, Wien, Zürich: Lit.Verlag, 2009.


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