Qalamos – Connecting Manuscript Traditions

Qalamos is the portal for manuscripts and block prints from Asian and African script traditions. It contains approximately 150,000 datasets describing 110,000 physical objects written in 162 languages and 81 scripts (as of June 2022). 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 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.

Qalamos will create a research infrastructure that provides the international community with direct access to metadata and digital copies of all relevant Oriental manuscript collections in Germany.


The DFG project "Orient-Digital"

The DFG-funded project Orient-Digital (project duration 2020-2023) develops the portal in collaboration with Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Rechenzentrum der Universität Leipzig. More than 20 other institutions have agreed to cooperate.

The project’s objective is to centrally gather data on Oriental manuscripts that are currently scattered over German collections and to develop a uniform data model. This will be achieved through retrospective conversion of older print catalogues and data transfer from existing applications. Currently, the focus is on Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish language manuscripts. In a future second project phase, South Asian languages will be the central topic.

One of the major objectives is to create a uniform data structure in accordance with library standards. This includes review, improvement and creation of authority records within the application as well as in the integrated authority file (GND) of Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB).

Advisory Board

Project team

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München

Forschungsbibliothek Gotha

Universitätsrechenzentrum Leipzig


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.