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Calderwood Professors' Book Park of NEH Cultural Initative

Calderwood Professors Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Jan. 31, 2013

An acclaimed book by Norma Jean Calderwood Professors of Islamic and Asian Art Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom will be part of an important new collection to provide the public with resources about Muslim beliefs and practices, and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations.

The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Blair and Bloom’s 1997 volume, Islamic Arts, for its nationwide project with the American Library Association. More than 800 libraries and state humanities councils in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands, will be awarded the “Muslim Journeys” Bookshelf, part of the NEH’s “Bridging Cultures” initiative.

The “Muslim Journeys” Bookshelf collection comprises 25 books, three documentary films, and a series of seven short videos, “Islamic Art Spots.”

According to the NEH, the “Bridging Cultures” initiative “engages the power of the humanities to promote understanding of and mutual respect for people with diverse histories, cultures and perspectives.”

Blair and Bloom said: “We are thrilled that our book has been selected for inclusion in ‘Bridging Cultures’ and will be sent to nearly a thousand libraries and other educational institutions around the country. We’ve been studying and writing about Islamic art for 40 years and we’ve always tried to communicate our knowledge and enthusiasm to broadest possible audience.

“Since we’ve been at BC we’ve seen the field of Islamic studies blossom. It’s gratifying to see that the central role of the arts has been recognized and that our approach in making Islamic art accessible has been validated.”

Islamic Arts captures the essence of Islamic culture, according to its publisher. The comprehensive survey covers 1,000 years and highlights characteristics that connect the various arts of the Islamic lands.

Blair and Bloom’s book was chosen by a team of scholars and librarians for its potential to offer readers new and diverse perspectives on the histories and cultures of Muslim societies.

In addition to the collection, recipient institutions have public performance rights to the films and free access for a year to Oxford Islamic Studies Online. A companion website will be launched to provide more ways for the public to access resources which enhance the Bookshelf offerings. 

Selected institutions — public libraries and public library systems, community college libraries and academic libraries — applied for the Bookshelf though a grant process. The NEH also will accept applications from libraries for grants to support public programming using the Bookshelf’s titles. The awards will enable libraries to purchase multiple copies of the books and host community reading and discussion programs on the history and culture of Muslim societies.

Blair and Bloom have been asked by the NEH to participate in programs related to the initiative.

Support for the project was provided by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York, with additional support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and contributions from the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University, American Library Association Public Programs Office, Oxford University Press, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and Twin Cities Public Television.

In another milestone for the Calderwood Professors, the first Arabic translation of one of Blair and Bloom’s books, The Art and Architecture of Islam: 1250-1800, has been published by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and will be distributed throughout the Arab world.