Qalamos – Connecting Manuscript Traditions

Qalamos is the portal for manuscripts and block prints from Asian and African script traditions. It contains approximately 175,000 datasets describing 120,000 physical objects written in 170 languages and 87 scripts (as of March 2023). Qalamos aims at providing metadata and digitised copies of all collections kept in German memory institutions. In addition, the portal will also include holdings of international cooperation partners.

Qalamos is currently being further developed as part of the DFG-project Qalamos (2023−2026). Detailed information on the project can be found on the website of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

Qalamos is a MyCoRe application of Rechenzentrum der Universität Leipzig. The overall responsibility lies with the Oriental Department of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

The three central modules of the database are manuscripts, persons and works. The manuscript datasets contain information on the title, author and content of a text, as well as on the materiality of the object. In addition, they provide information about the provenance of the manuscript. The persons module comprises authority records of authors, copyists, previous owners and other individuals connected to a manuscript. Via the title datasets available in the works module, users can search Qalamos for available copies of a work in addition to commentaries, translations and other expressions.


The DFG project "Orient-Digital" (2020–2023)

The DFG-funded project "Orient-Digital" developed the portal in collaboration with Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Rechenzentrum der Universität Leipzig. In addition the project co-operated with more than 20 other institutions.

The project’s objective was to centrally gather data on Oriental manuscripts that were and are currently scattered over German collections and to develop a uniform data model. This was achieved through retrospective conversion of older print catalogues and data transfer from existing applications. The focus was on Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish language manuscripts.

One of the major objectives of the project was to create a uniform data structure in accordance with library standards. This included review, improvement and creation of authority records within the application as well as in the integrated authority file (GND) of Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB). Further information on the project can be found at the website of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

Advisory Board

Project team

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

  • Head of project: Christoph Rauch
  • Karin Druxes
  • Dr. Yoones Dehghani Farsani
  • Dr. Thoralf Hanstein
  • Dr. Michaela Hoffmann-Ruf
  • Dr. Anett Krause
  • Larissa Schmid
  • Beate Wiesmüller

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München

  • Ralf Kramer
  • Wolfgang Schmitt-Garibian
  • Dr. Gleb Sharygin
  • Dr. Thomas Tabery
  • Dr. Felix Wiedemann

Universitätsrechenzentrum Leipzig

  • Dr. Michael Becker
  • Moritz Engelmann
  • Andreas Kluge
  • Jens Kupferschmidt

Former members

Wael Abbas (FB Gotha), Maysa Albert (BSB München), Dr. Ghazwan Kanbar (SBB Berlin), Dr. Feras Krimsti (FB Gotha), Colinda Lindermann (SBB Berlin), PD Dr. Monika Müller (FB Gotha), Julia Singer (BSB München), Dr. Torsten Wollina (SBB Berlin), Mirja Wachter (BSB München)


About the name Qalamos

The ancient Greek word kalamos (κάλαμος) means reed pen. In Arabic and Persian, possibly via the Ethiopian qalam (ቀለም), it developed into qalam (قلم), a word also mentioned in the Qurʾān. In Swahili, qalam changed into kalamu. The Greek kalamos was adopted as calamus in Latin and as kulmus (קולמוס) in Hebrew; in that language it can also mean quill. The Sanskrit kalama (कलम) also derives from it.

The portal’s name combines these variants into a new coinage, complemented by the logo’s symbolism. The stroke of the Q represents the reed pen in the process of writing the diacritical marks of the Arabic letter Qāf (ق) in red ink. In many manuscript traditions, red ink is used to highlight certain parts of the text (rubrication, from Latin ruber, red), such as headings or quotations.

In creating the name and the logo, we wanted to emphasise the historical connection of the manuscript traditions that will become visible and accessible through the portal.