Today I received my subscriber’s copy of the Encyclopaedia of Islam supplement. That’s volume 12 of the project, which brings it to a conclusion after nearly fifty years. It’s completely irrational to own a hard copy of the encyclopaedia, since today you can buy a CD version or subscribe to it online. The supplement alone arrived with a bill for 634 Euros.
But I admit to being irrational when it comes to EI2. I derive expensive satisfaction from seeing those dark green volumes lined up on my shelf, each bearing this shocking confession on the title page: “Prepared by a number of leading orientalists.” As a student, I always had to seek out the encyclopaedia on the library reference shelf, and scour the nearby desks if a volume was missing, so I associate ownership of a personal set with luxury and standing. I wish I had more spare time to leaf idly through the double-columned pages, acquiring knowledge both relevant and arcane. (Would that I had an hour to read through the eleven columns in the supplement devoted to the subject of ghanam, which “designates the class of small livestock with a predominance, according to the countries, of either sheep or goats.” At a glance, it really does look fascinating.) One could browse like this endlessly.
I’m the author of exactly one entry (“Mu’tamar,” on Islamic congresses, in volume 7), so I’ve added one small brick to this monument, a contribution that’s quite likely to outlast anything on this website. Dare I say it, perhaps this confers upon me the status of a “leading orientalist.” So I will grimace, write my check, and settle down to enjoy my purchase. I presume my heirs will recoup some of the expense, and some acquisitive younger scholar will derive the same pleasure from ownership of this set as I have. About which, consult the entry dawr (a period of cyclical time, a turn), supplement, pp. 206-7.