The collection of 41 treatises in 26 Oriental manuscripts now at St John's College, Oxford, reflect the varying ways in which Europeans have sought to make themselves familiar with the cultures of the East. Acquired between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, most are Arabic or Persian, but there are also Syriac, Hebrew, Turkish, Ethiopic, and Gujarati items. No mere catalogue, it includes an essay by Geert Jan van Gelder, the present Laudian Professor of Arabic, University of Oxford on the Arabic poetry that owners over the years jotted down on the margins, and is lavishly illustrated with 37 examples of calligraphy, diagrams, and illuminations.The catalogue provides a detailed description of every item within each manuscript. Most of the manuscript volumes were acquired through the donation of Archbishop William Laud (d. 1645), founder of the Chair of Arabic which bears his name. Several of his volumes were acquired from the traveller and adventurer Sir Kenelm Digby (d.1665), who bought them in Amsterdam, possibly on Laud's behalf.
They are an interestingly varied collection, including Qur'ans and Arabic and Persian treatises on astronomical, mathematical, and military subjects. A bi-lingual Hebrew-Latin manuscript, as well as Arabic astronomical tables, came through the donation of Edward Bernard, Savilian Professor of Astronomy from 1673 to 1691. Six more manuscripts were given to the College in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including an Ottoman Turkish letter, a Gujarati merchant's map, and two Hebrew thirteenth-century deeds of conveyance collected by the antiquary John Pointer (d. 1754), one-time chaplain of Merton College, Oxford.