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Subject guide

Middle Eastern Studies

Overview of databases, reference works and websites for research in Middle Eastern Studies

The Middle East collection includes the Middle East and North Africa in the broadest sense of the word. The collection is limited to the period after the advent of Islam. The collection also includes Hebrew and Aramaic language and culture for the period before Islam.

The Middle East collection of UBL is located in the University Library. Books from the closed stacks can be borrowed throught the Catalogue.

The library of the Netherlands Intitute for the Near East (NINO) also hosts a large amount of books and journals in Middle Eastern Studies. However, this collection has not been expanded since 2000.


Reference collection in the reading room 

The largest share of the collection is located in the closed stacks of the University Library and can be borrowed. The study area furthermore contains reference works and text editions, which cannot be borrowed. The reference collection is sorted using the Library of Congress Classification. Middle Eastern studies can be found in the following categories:

BP Islam
BM Judaism (Jewish texts)
BS Bible (Hebrew Bible / Old Testament)
DR History of the Balkans (Turkey)
DS History of Asia (Middle East)
DT History of Africa (North Africa)
PJ Eastern Languages and Literature (Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac)
PK Indo-Iranian Languages and Literature (Persian, Kurdish)
PL Language and Literature of East Asia, Africa, and Oceania (Turkic languages, Mongolian)


The University Library does not contain many titles in the field of the ancient Near East. Titles in this area, which includes Egyptology and Assyriology, can be found in the NINO Library.

Find our databases on Middle Eastern Studies in the catalogue.

To the catalogue

The Middle East is an important research and education area at Leiden University. UBL owns one of the most important Middle East collection in The Netherlands. The core of the collection concerns classical Middle Eastern literature and linguistics, but other subjects are also well represented. Collection development is oriented but not limited towards regions and languages that are taught and studied in Leiden (the Arab world, Turkey, the Persian-speaking countries, and Israel, with Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Hebrew).

UBL has a large collection of books in modern Middle Eastern languages. These books are in particular in Arabic (over 40,000), Persian (10,000), Turkish (10,000) and Hebrew (8000). Other languages, which are not taught in Leiden, are available on a limited scale (including Kurdish, Amharic and Neo-Aramaic). UBL works in cooperation with the Netherlands Institute in Morocco on a collection of literature in Berber languages (Tamazight). It is imporant to employ the correct transcription methods for searching in these languages.

UBL tries to be as comprehensive as possible for resources in and about classical languages of the Middle East. The core is formed by Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, Biblical and Rabbinical Hebrew, and ancient forms of Aramaic. Apart from that, all Afroasiatic (including Semitic), Indo-Iranian and Turkic languages are part of this collection. Assyriology and Egyptology are part of the NINO collection, which is one of the most comprehensive in the world.

When using classical texts, such as classical Arab history, Persian poetry, the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, or other premodern texts, you should always be conscious about the text edition that you are using. You may use a manuscript, but in most cases people use a printed or digital edition. In many cases, multiple editions circulate, which are not always all of the same quality. UBL aims at placing the best edition of every text in the study area as much as possible, but it cannot be guaranteed that the editions that are put on the open stacks are the best.

Usually, a critical edition of a text is preferred. In these editions, the editor accounts for the way they have created this edition. It is explained which manuscript has been used and why. It is also indicated if the original text is difficult to read because of illegibility or damage. In many cases, a critical edition is assembled from multiple manuscripts, and in that case the differences between the different manuscripts are indicated in a critical apparatus. We can distinguish between a diplomatic edition, in which a single reliable manuscript is used as the basis of the edition, and an eclectic edition, in which the editor themselves choose the most reliable text.

If a critical edition cannot be found, a non-critical edition may be used. In any case, you should always account for your decision to choose the edition that you are using by mentioning its editor and the publisher.


Digital editions

A very large share of – especially Islamic Arab – texts is available online nowadays and can easily be found. A popular systematic collection of Islamic texts is al-Maktabah al-shāmilah. This is a website with a corresponding computer application containing all prevalent Islamic Arabic texts. In addition, there are numerous websites providing other classical texts.

Unfortunately, for texts found online it is not always clearly indicated what the origins of the texts are. In many cases, the text is provided without information about the creator of the edition, their methods or the manuscripts that were used. These editions should therefore only be used to search for texts. After that, you should still consult the same text in a better edition to check it and to refer to it. However, in this cases you should also account for the way you found the texts.

In a few cases, an academic digital edition is available. This may be a digitised (scanned) version of a print edition, but in some cases it may be an interactive edition that was created for use on the internet. Online editions can often be found by using a general search engine with the title of the work, both in various possible transcriptions and in the original script. Editions of which the copyright has been expired (70 years after the death of the author or editor) can often be found on the website Internet Archive.


Print editions

UBL aims at acquiring at least one editions of all classical texts in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, and other Middle Eastern languages. Multi-volume editions of important classical texts are put as much as possible in the study area of the University Library.

For all other editions, you will have to use the catalogue. Take note of the following:

  • Use the right transcription method for Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Ottoman Turkish (see the manual).
  • Note that a text may be known by multiple variants of the title or name of the author. For example, تفسير الطبري is also known as جامع البيان عن تأويل القرآن.
  • Contact the subject librarian if you cannot find an edition. Sometimes it is possible to locating an edition by searching in a different way, and if the edition is not there it may be acquired in many cases.


The Hans Wehr Arabic-English dictionary (originally Arabic-German) has been the most popular academic dictionary of Arabic to a European language for decades. While the dictionary was meant for modern Arabic, in practice it is used for classical Arabic as well. The dictionary is characterized by the inclusion of a very large amount of headwords and definitions. The large amount of definitions is an advantage, because also rare meanings are included. However, it is also a disadvantage, because the definitions are not sorted by frequency (more information). This is especially an issue for very frequent words. For that reason, the dictionary is less useful for beginners. Multiple copies of the Hans Wehr dictionary are available in the study area of the University Library. An online version is available online.

Apart from Hans Wehr, the most renowned set of dictionaries was published by Oxford University Press. These dictionaries provide fewer headwords and definitions, but correspond better to the actual use of the language. The Arabic-English part was based on the Arabic-Dutch part of Jan Hoogland’s dictionary. These dictionaries are available in the study area, but can also be accessed online.

For classical Arabic, and in some cases also for modern texts, Hans Wehr’s dictionary is not sufficient in all cases. In this case, the famous multi-volume dictionary by Edward William Lane can be used, just like the classical Arabic-Arabic dictionary Lisān al-‘Arab. These dictionaries are available in the study area, but also online.

Reference works for Persian, Turkish, Hebrew and Aramaic to be added.

Academic journals from the Middle East

Contrary to most European and American academic journals, most Middle Eastern journals are nowadays available online for free. Usually, these journals are published by universities themselves. This is especially the case in Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia, Syria, and Turkey. Keep in mind that in some cases articles may be altered or removed afterwards because of censorship.

For finding an open access journal, it is usually enough to search for the name of the journal in the original script in a search engine.

General portal for Arabic open access journals – DFAJ (دليل الدوريات العربية المجانية – Directory of Free Arab Journals)

Iraq – Iraqi Academic Scientific Journals (completely open access)

Turkey – DergiPark

Newspapers and journals from the Middle East provide a wealth of information for research. It may however be challenging to access these resources. In this section, various sources and search strategies are explained.

Searching for news sources

To find news sources from and about the Middle East it is necessary to employ various strategies. First, it is important to know which newspapers and journals may be useful for a particular research subject. Second, you should know where the resource can be found. Ideally, the UBL has a subscription on a certain newspaper. The other extreme is a source that can only be accessed physically in a certain library somewhere else in the world. The Leiden catalogue is an important tool, but cannot provide the decisive answer whether a source is available or not.

In the summer of 2018, a project has been executed in cooperation with the Faculty of Humanities to find out which news resources from the Middle East are accessible in Leiden. The result of this project is an extensive list summarising the most important newspapers and journals by country, and (if available) supplemented information on publisher, active period, political alignment and language.

Guide to Middle East News Databases



Factiva (back to 2008) – database comprising fulltext articles from thousands of international newspapers. Usually, Factiva does not go back further than 2008. See the subject guide Newspaper articles (international) for more information about Factiva.

BBC Monitoring (back to 1996) – BBC Monitoring is a longstanding service of the British BBC, monitoring news sources across the world and publishing English-language reports about this. The digital archive goes back until 1996. On paper, the archive even goes back until 1939, but this archive is only available on request from BBC Monitoring. Originally, BBC Monitoring focused on radio and later television, but newspapers have been included since the mid-1990s. In Leiden, the printed archive of the Middle Eastern and North African region is available for the period 1977–1981. 

Foreign Broadcast Information Service (1974–1996) – FBIS was a service of the American CIA, which used to monitor the news on radio and television in all countries of the world and to create daily summaries of this. UBL has licensed the material from the Middle East and North Africa for the period 1974–1996.  

Digitised old newspapers and journals

Less recent newspapers and journals may be extremely useful for historical research. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to identify and find this material. More and more often, however, newspapers and journals are digitised and put on the internet for free. Important freely available collections include:

World Digital Library – contains fully digitised periodicals from Iraq

Jrayed (جرايد) – collection of digitised Arabic-language periodicals from the National Library of Israel from the Ottoman period and mandatory Palestine

Waqfeya (الوقفية) – large collection of digitised Arabic journals and books

HathiTrust – contains digitised material from collections from many American universities, of which the copyright has expired, including Arabic academic journals from the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Nashriyah – a project of the University of Manchester to digitise Iranian newspapers and journals

Historical Jewish Press – digital collection of Jewish and Hebrew periodicals, which can be searched by keywords. Contains 52 titles, including titles in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Ladino, Judaeo-Arabic, Russian and Hungarian

Endangered Archives Program – contains digitised Arabic-language periodicals from the Al Aqsa mosque library from the period 1900–1950. Can be searched by keyword, both in transcription and in Arabic script.

In many cases, these periodicals may also be found by searching for the titles in the original scripts.


Print collections in Leiden

The UBL has a considerable collection of journals and newspapers from the Middle East. This includes full sets of مجلة الأزهر (sinec 1354/1935) and المشرق (since 1898). Apart from these, various volumes of the Egyptian newspaper الأهرام and various Iranian newspapers are available. A notable advantage of print collections is that these cannot be censored after coming in. Keep in mind to use the correct transcription methods.


Print collections outside Leiden

If a newspaper or journal is not available in Leiden and if no digitised version is available either, it is necessary to head to another library or archive, possibly outside The Netherlands. WorldCat allows you to search library holdings worldwide. Keep in mind that WorldCat does not convert the various transcription methods for titles in non-Latin libraries use. Therefore, try various transcriptions in addition to the original script. If searching in WorldCat gives no fruit, it does not necessarily mean a newspaper isn't available at all: not all libraries take part in WorldCat and not all libraries have catalogued all of their items. In that case, it can be useful to place your request on a mailing list, such as Adabiyat.

Accessible through Leiden University Libraries

Encyclopaedia of Islam II and III – the most complete encyclopedia in the area of Middle East and Islam (not suitable for contemporary subjects).

Bibliography of Arabic Books Online – bibliography for books published in Arabic before 1960.

Brill E-books: Middle East and Islamic Studies – access to all ebooks from Brill in this area since 2008. The books may also be accessed through the Leiden catalogue, but the portal also provides access to the most recent books.

Encyclopaedia of Arabic language and linguistics – articles about all aspects of the study of Arabic.

Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic world – online version of the most comprehensive encyclopedia about Jews in the Islamic world.

Shahnamah Editions – early lithographed editions of Shāhnāmah.

Oxford Biographies Online – a starting point for research about various subjects, including Islamic studies and Middle Eastern studies.


Links to other sources and portals

AMIR: a blog containing information and links to historical (news) sources from 1799.

University Library Sachsen-Anhalt: digital collection of the Universität- und Landesbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt, containing over 3000 Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Persian books from the 16th until the early 20th cenutury.

Hebrew Books: collection of about 52,000 Hebrew books. Searchable by keywords.

Qatar Digital Library: digitisation project funded by the government of Qatar, including over 300,000 documents, especially from the British India Office, concerning the Gulf. The documents are from the period 1700–1999 and can be searched using the original language and in transcription.

Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran: collection of manuscripts, legal documents, letters, photos, financial documents, etc. Can be searched in Persian script and in transcription. Contains many personal written sources, portraits and photos.

Open Access TBMM: contains 1200 digitised documents in (Ottoman) Turkish about the late Ottoman period and the Turkish Republic. Can be searched by using keywords.

Overview of Digital Sources for the study of the Ottoman Empire and Republic of Turkey (Nicole van Os, Leiden University Turkish Studies)

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