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University Library

History of the Collections

From the University’s foundation in 1832 the study of the languages and literature of the Middle East had formed part of the study of theology. The University Library was fortunate in inheriting much of the book collections established by the Bishops of Durham and other early benefactors of the University, many of which related to the theology of Islam and early Middle Eastern travels writings. Some of these rare books date back to as early as the fifteenth century.

These rare books today form part of the Archives and Special Collections department at Palace Green Library. The development of the Modern Collections dates back to 1948 when the Scarbrough Committee, influenced by Durham’s long-standing interests, recommended the expansion and recasting of Oriental Studies in British universities and selected Durham as one of only five universities in which special facilities were to be made available. As a result of this initiative, the Library had benefited greatly in terms of funding for books as well as specialist library personnel. Books were collected on the classical literatures of Arabic, Persian and Turkish.

The establishment in 1970 of the Middle East Documentation Unit (MEDU) marked a major advance in the Institute's activities. MEDU now contains over 200,000 publications, most of which cannot be purchased through normal channels, and it provides a unique collection of enormous value to social science researchers.