Alois Musil and the beginnings of Oriental Studies in Czechoslovakia

The project is handled by the Masaryk Institute and the Archive of the Czech Academy of Sciences, by the Library of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and by the Museum of National Literature (NAKI II DG20P02OVV006).

The project is oriented towards the development of open source software HIKO intended to capture historical correspondence and correspondence networks for the purpose of processing and making available a unique cultural heritage from the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. The software developed will, as part of the project, be applied to the unique historical source material and the correspondence network of the outstanding figure in Oriental Studies in interwar Czechoslovakia, the arabist, orientalist and biblical scholar Alois Musil.

The mapping of this significant body of archival material provides us with new angles from which to look at the life of Alois Musil and at the social networks he created. These networks helped to determine cultural significance of and political and financial support for the development of Oriental Studies in Czechoslovakia, the establishment of oriental disciplines at the Czech university and the interaction of Czech and German orientalists, including research platforms such as the Oriental Institute. The database of Alois Musil’s correspondence will, with the use of new software, be made accessible to the public in the form of a web application which represents the correspondence network of interwar Oriental Studies. The monograph will include a critical introductory study and Alois Musil’s correspondence with political leaders of the First Republic. An exhibition and critical catalogue will present the building of Czechoslovak Oriental Studies against the background of cultural and economic interests of Czechoslovakia in the Orient. Another monograph publication will contain the inventory of Musil’s personal archive in the Museum of Czech Literature (which has been so far accessible only to a limited extent) with accompanying critical studies.

The digitization and publiccation of Alois Musil’s correspondence with orientalists and politicians of the First Republic contributes to the preservation of significant sources for the history of academic and cultural life in the early 20th century. The HIKO Software will be developed in accordance with standards for recording historical correspondence and will be used for other projects mapping the correspondence of historical figures.