Cataloguing the Abraham Poliak Papers

We start this week’s blog post on a sombre note with tributes to the lives of Dr. David Washbrook and Dr. Filiz Çağman.

Dr. David Washbrook (1948-2021)

It is with great sadness that we report the death on the 24th January 2021​ of Dr. David Washbrook, Trinity College, Cambridge, a distinguished historian of South Asia and a long-standing member of the Society. He made significant contributions to our understanding of the social and economic history of India, examining inequality through the prism of caste and class and to the political history of South India. He was also greatly admired as a teacher and mentor by his students and colleagues. We offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and students.

For further tributes please visit:

Filiz Çağman (1940-2021)

It is also with great sadness that we learned of the death of Dr. Filiz Çağman, the distinguished Turkish art historian on the 11th January 2021 in Edirne. She had a long and successful career working in the Topkapı Palace Library for over forty years and was Director of the Museum between 1997-2005. She was a well-known figure to all those engaged in the study of the rare collections she curated. She published extensively, revealing many unknown treasures to an international audience. We send our sincere condolences to her family, friends and colleagues.

For further tributes please go to:

Collections Update:

For other news, we thought we would provide an update on the Society’s collections. Whilst the reading room is currently closed to researchers, myself and Edward Weech are continuing to work through a variety of tasks from home. This includes responding to enquiries about the collections and directing people to our Digital Library where possible.

One of the tasks I have been working on is the cataloguing of a small collection of papers of the Israeli historian, Professor Abraham Poliak, also known as Polak, (1910-1970). Little is known about his early life except that his family emigrated from Southern Ukraine to Palestine in 1923. Professor Poliak developed an interest in Islam and in 1934 completed his MA dissertation at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the ‘Culture of Islam’. He was awarded a PhD in 1936 with his thesis entitled, ‘The History of Land Relationships in Egypt, Syria and Israel during the Late Middle Ages and in Modern Times.’


      Abraham Poliak, Copyright Wikipedia


In 1937 he became a member of The Royal Asiatic Society. His research on feudalism in the Middle East captured the attention of the Society’s awards committee and his publication, ‘Feudalism in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and the Lebanon 1250-1900’ was published by the Society’s Prize Publication Fund in 1939. A copy is currently held in the Society’s collections.

From the papers I have been cataloguing, it is evident that this work was highly regarded as the collection contains a letter from the Librarie du Liban in Beirut to the Society in 1968, requesting authorisation for the reprint of 1000 copies of this publication.

                 Letter from the Librarie du Liban

However, the Society already had plans for a reprint and contacted Professor Poliak, asking whether he would like to make amendments to the original publication for the re-printed edition. It is clear from the correspondence that this suggestion was received enthusiastically as the collection contains three notebooks of the amendments that he made. It is clear that this task required a great deal of effort on his part as he copied the original text by hand before making amendments in pencil.

           One of Poliak’s notebooks of amendments.

Sadly, the plans to reprint this work never came to fruition. A letter written in 1971 from the Secretary of the Society, Diana Crawford, to Professor Poliak, stated that the Society’s Prize Publication Fund did not have the monetary resources for a complete reprint of the publication. This was never received by him as the Society was not aware that Professor Poliak had already died the previous year.

                          Letter to Professor Poliak about a lack of funds for a reprint.

Whilst I feel sad that Professor Poliak was unable to see his book republished, it reminds me of the importance of my role in making information associated with scholars and their work accessible to the public. These papers will be made available on the Society’s Archives Hub page in the next couple of weeks.

Virtual book launch by Professor Christopher Hancock:

Please join us at 6.30pm on Thursday February 25th for a Zoom book launch by Professor Christopher Hancock on ‘Christianity and Confucianism: Culture, Faith and Politics’, with respondent Graham Hutchings (Associate, Oxford University China Centre).

The publication sets a comparative textual analysis against the backcloth of 2000 years of cultural, political, and religious interaction between China and the West. As the world responds to China’s rise and China positions herself for global engagement, this major new study seeks to revise an ancient conversation.

If you would like to attend this launch, please email Matty Bradley at by the 24th February. We look forward to seeing many of you there!


We would like to wish our readers a Happy Chinese New Year. The year of the Ox is a symbol of strength and determination which we hope will bring you all happiness and health for the New Year.