The American University of Beirut (AUB) is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Toubia and Letitia Hachem rare books and manuscripts collection to be housed in the University Archives and Special Collections Department of Jafet Library. The gift represents years of meticulous collecting by a bibliophile and art and book connoisseur. Toubia Hachem was born in Beirut, graduated from Bonaventure University in New York, did his graduate work in history at the University of Chicago and taught at AUB and then Loyola University, Chicago. He established a successful travel agency in Chicago and became a global airline executive. He never lost his passion for history; particularly theological history. Letitia Hachem studied art and is an artist. She encouraged Toubia’s collecting passion and taught him about the art world resulting in a huge collection.
Mr. Hachem’s three daughters describe their parents’ passion for books and reading. They particularly remember their father’s excitement with each new acquisition of a rare book, “He was a history professor with a special interest in French and Russian history and philosophy, but most of his knowledge was directly attributable to his life as an avid reader. He also had a deep understanding of Middle Eastern affairs, grounded in his love of history.” The Hachem collection will live on at AUB to further feed the passions of scholars for generations to come, and will advance and strengthen the mission of AUB as a distinguished center of research, dialogue, and humanism in the region.
The Hachem Collection consists of approximately 3,000 pieces dating from the 16th century to the mid-20th century. Collection highlights include stunning examples of religious manuscripts in various formats and sizes. A wide array of geographic provenance, printing houses, disciplines, historical periods, languages, and topics are covered by the collection, as well as a broad range of formats, e.g. manuscript codices and rolls, miniature and big Qurans, folios, “pocket” books, Qurans inscribed on palm leaves, and early imprints of the Bible with ornate covers. In general, the Collection illuminates the practices of manuscript production in workshops located throughout the Russian, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Balkan regions, and early (16th-century onwards) European printing and publishing practices.
Several exceptional pieces await review by Jafet Library staff, notably a Syriac Bible from the 16th or 17th century, and a number of ornate one-by-one meter Qurans. Examples of early European imprints include a translation into Latin of Ibn Hayyan’s Alchemy, which is a testimony to the transfer of knowledge from the Arab world to the European Renaissance. Texts from Nubia, Abyssinia, Egypt, Palestine and the Ottoman Empire are represented, as are first editions and rare books by authors such as Cicero, Plutarch, Dante, Jean Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Alfred de Musset, and Victor Hugo. Universal Histories, and scientific and philosophical treatises are also well represented. Additionally the Collection includes finely illustrated atlases, dictionaries with concordances, art books, and a few early Arabic serials including al Hilal and early Arabic imprints by the influential author of the late 1800s, Jurji Zaidan.
It is rare to find manuscripts, books and maps in the Levant with the scope, depth and fine quality of the Hachem Collection. It corrects a gap in the collection of Qurans from the Soviet and Balkan states, and in early, largely utilitarian Bibles, but also in early 16th- and 17th-century European imprints in the region.
According to Nadia El-Cheikh, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, “Both of these—Qurans and Bibles—serve as invaluable resources for a rising interest in religious and translation studies, in interfaith scholarly dialogue, in language and cultural studies, and in art history.” The rare early European imprints in the collection, e.g. 16th-century imprints by famous printers such as Christopher Plantin, and the early editions of neo-Latin humanist writings and liturgical texts, the Enlightenment philosophical writings and the Universal histories, as well as the first editions of French literary writings by famous authors, and the late 19th-century Arabic imprints, all constitute concrete evidence of the power of the printed word in transferring knowledge through centuries, disciplines, cultures and regions, and embody the ability of the book to act as a medium by which humanism thrives and feeds into a multiplicity of cultures and perspectives. It is befitting that this rare book and manuscript collection be housed at AUB, as it strives to continue to fulfill its humanist mission in the region and beyond.
The Hachem Collection will provide foundational support for AUB’s liberal arts mission, and advance the University’s standing as an institution that fosters dialogue and true intercultural humanistic understanding in the region and internationally.