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Raphael of Arabia

Student collection highlighting the diversity of Arabic publishing wins David Laing Book Collecting Prize.

Collection prize
(L-R) Leisa Thomas, Development Officer, Jeremy Upton, Director of Library and University Collections, Bill Zachs, Founder, David Laing Student Book Collecting Prize, Derek Walker, Rare Books Dealer, Raphael Cormack, PhD Student, Joseph Marshall, Head of Special Collections.

Named in honour of the distinguished antiquarian, collector and librarian, the David Laing Book Collecting Prize is an annual competition for student collectors that rewards thoughtfulness, creativity and perseverance.

Inspiring students

Current students are invited to enter their personal collections of books or other materials for the chance to win £500, and a £250 allowance to acquire a book for the University's Special Collections. The entries of 10 or more thematically linked items are judged by a panel of specialists from the University Library and the Centre for Research Collections.

The Prize was the brainchild of alumnus Dr William Zachs, Honorary Fellow in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, who was keen to share his love of books and inspire future generations of collectors, curators, and donors to the University’s collections.

A quest for knowledge

This year’s Prize was won by Raphael Cormack, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies PhD candidate, whose research on Arabic adaptations of Oedipus in the 20th century has required books that are not always available in the UK.

Studying Arabic means that it has been hard to find many of the books that are necessary for my PhD in the UK. This means that every time I can I try to buy Arabic books either in Britain or on trips to Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan.

Raphael Cormack

Diversity in publishing

Raphael also has a more frivolous interest in books as objects of fascination in themselves. It is this love of the unusual, the desirable and the interesting that laid the foundations of his prize-winning collection.

Whilst browsing for relevant research materials in the bookshops of Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan, Raphael was drawn to other Arabic texts. From novels to grammar books and from plays to eulogies of departed Ottoman notables, he slowly started to accrue a collection that said something about the Arabic Renaissance (Nahda) of the 19th and 20th century.

The collection that Raphael submitted to the judging panel provides a snap-shot of the Arabic Renaissance in print form and challenges received wisdoms about the Arab world during this period.

I want the collection to show how varied and creative Arabic writing was at the time, despite accusations from some people that the Arab world has an insular and uncurious literary culture that is not interested in the outside. This collection shows this to be false.

Raphael Cormack

Worthy winner

The panel decided to award the 2016 prize to Raphael Cormack because it was felt that this was a collection which has the potential to become a major research resource and to fill a gap in an important area of world cultures.

His approach is both thoughtful and creative and should allow him to grow a most interesting collection over the years. We are now working with Raphael to identify further additions to Edinburgh University Library collections in this area and this has potential to become a long-lasting conversation.

Joseph MarshallHead of Special Collections, Library and University Collections