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Eastern Turki Documents in European Collections

By Michael Krautkraemer

            I am going to begin my portion this edition of the newsletter by talking about places that we at the IAUNRC do not generally give much thought. They are neither Inner Asian, nor Uralic by the broadest stretch of the imagination. Rather, they are European and Germanic-speaking and, outside of the rather large immigrant population, appear to have very little to do with anything we do here at the center. However, Berlin and Lund (Sweden) are the home to two very substantial collections of texts from early twentieth century Xinjiang. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to secure funding to take a two month trip to visit both collections and examine what must have been hundreds of manuscripts in Eastern Turki, the immediate predecessor to modern Uyghur and a variant of the common grapholect of Central Asia into the twentieth century, Chaghatay Turkic.

The Hartmann Collection in the Staatsbibliothek was surprisingly easy to access, especially given all of the bureaucracy I had expected. It was quite simple to buy a reader card (17 Euros for a month) and make my way to what is still called the Oriental Reading Room to settle in with documents. I will leave aside the logistics of doing research at the library to focus on the collection itself, but I feel like I should note that it took the better part of the first day just to get on the internet. But arcane wireless system aside, the experience working at the Staatsbibliothek was fantastic. The manuscripts in question were brought to Berlin from Xinjiang in the opening years of the twentieth century by the German orientalist Martin Hartmann, who acquired them during a trip to what was then generally called Chinese Turkestan in 1904-05. The collection is diverse and consists of everything from devotional manuals to hagiographies to prayer books, popular stories, and poetry.

I spent a total of six weeks working in the Staatsbibliothek and immersing myself in the texts. This was made even more the case due to the fact that I was not allowed to photograph or otherwise copy them. Rather, I had to sit there and read them one at a time. In addition to the texts that I had initially set out to examine at the library, I found entire other genres that provided a snapshot of devotional life in the region of which I had previously been unaware. I had not particularly expected the textual corpus to be so amazingly rich, despite having seen the catalog, but I was pleasantly surprised by the material that was available. Despite the relatively small absolute number of manuscripts available (slightly more than a hundred), the information about life in Xinjiang in the early twentieth century contained therein is invaluable.

After wrapping up work at the Staatsbibliothek, I hopped on a plane to Copenhagen and from there took a train to Lund, a small university town in Sweden that contains probably the largest easily-accessible collection of documents from and pertaining to early twentieth century Xinjiang in the world. I knew that the collection was vast, comprising 561 manuscripts, but even so, I was blown away by the shear amount of materials for the study of Xinjiang that were readily available. The librarians seemed genuinely pleased to have someone using the material, as I gather it is not frequently requested and, with their assistance, I was able to photograph over 70 manuscripts. Unfortunately, due to their age and fragility, I was unable to see a number of documents that might have been of interest.

That such a large collection is in such a seemingly-random place is surprising—Lund is a small university town that can be summed up adequately with the word “sleepy”—and the collection has an interesting story. The manuscripts in the Jarring Collection at the University of Lund were brought there by the Turkologist (and later ambassador) Gunnar Jarring after he made a trip to the Kashgar region in 1929-30. Jarring was a young assistant librarian at the University of Lund at the time and accompanied a group of missionaries to Kashgar. At the time, there was a relatively large number of Swedish missionaries active in the region affiliated with the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden (for a video from 1931, click here) and it was, in part, their need to learn the local language that drove much of the Turkological effort being expended in Lund, particularly that of Jarring’s teacher, Gustaf Raquette. In any case, Jarring brought back a huge amount of texts, to which more were added occasionally, eventually leading to probably the third largest collection of Eastern Turki texts in the world.

In addition to the manuscripts, the University of Lund has preserved what they call the Jarring Archive. This is a collection of his correspondence, photographs, files, and tapes. This includes items ranging from letters he exchanged with Edward Allworth to a recording of Isa Alptekin reading a letter. To the best of my knowledge, the archive has not been used, though I did encounter another researcher there who was using it and was particularly focused on Jarring’s correspondence with Raquette.

In sum, the two European collections I visited this summer are easily the two most accessible repositories of Eastern Turki texts in the world and are also substantial. In addition to material that I hope to use in my current project, they have given me ideas for potential future undertakings. The amount of information about the eastern part of the Turkic-speaking world readily available is nothing short of amazing. The last century, particularly the last 70 years or so, was rough on the traditions of manuscript transmission and use in Xinjiang, but much of it remains preserved and open for all to see in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the university library in the small, quiet Swedish town of Lund.