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THE CRESWELL PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVE

AT THE ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM

James Allan
Keppel Archibald Cameron Creswell may justly be designated the founder of the study of early Islamic architecture. Born in 1879, he applied in 1914 to join the Archaeological Survey of India, but with the outbreak of the First World War was posted to Egypt, where he was to spend most of his life. Appointed in 1919 as Inspector of Monuments in Palestine, he was able to travel from the Euphrates to the Egyptian frontier, surveying and photographing Islamic monuments in unprecedented detail. Returning to Egypt, first under the patronage of King Fuad I, and then as Professor of Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of Cairo (1934-51), he set about the immense project of writing and publishing Early Muslim Architecture, combining it with an equally thorough survey of the early Islamic buildings of Egypt, which became The Muslim Architecture of Egypt. The first project was completed in two volumes, published in 1932 and 1940, the second in two volumes published in 1952 and 1959, and a new two-part edition of the first volume of Early Muslim Architecture was produced in 1969. All were published by Oxford University Press. In addition, Creswell compiled A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, which was produced in a paperback edition by Penguin in 1958. A new edition of the latter work, revised and supplemented by J.W.Allan, was produced by Scolar Press in 1989.

On his death in 1974 Creswell bequeathed his library, his collection of prints and his photographic equipment to the American University in Cairo, and to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, his collection of negatives. This latter archive consisted of some 2,400 unboxed negatives, about 1,000 of which were glass. In addition to these loose negatives, the archive included 55 cloth-bound books, each with a theoretical capacity of 100 half-plate negatives in numbered sleeves. Some sleeves were empty, some contained as many as 4 negatives, and the lists of contents did not always coincide precisely with the negatives. In addition, on receipt, the archive was already missing many negatives, especially from among those used for the 1969 edition of Early Muslim Architecture.

As a result, there are important lacunae in the archive, and there are a number of negatives which remain unidentified. The former problem is sadly insoluble: one must simply be grateful that they were produced on such a monumental scale by OUP. The latter problem can be solved, but only through the observations of those who use this website. We therefore earnestly ask that if you know the identity of an unattributed image, you contact the Archive at the Ashmolean Museum with the relevant information, so that a future edition will be that much more complete and useful.

Following the luxurious size of Creswell's published volumes and the publication of the Archive on CD-ROM in 1999, the intention is now to broaden accessibility to the photographs still further. The website provides a record of all Creswell's negatives in the Ashmolean Museum's possession. Not all the images are of prime quality, but a substantial number are unpublished and valuable for research. Knowledge should not be the property of any individual or institution, least of all one which has inherited it from a great scholar. Hence, unfettered access, without the need for a visit to Oxford, is the aim.

The images on the CD-ROM are reproduced at 75 dots per inch. This means that they are not sufficiently good for use in a printed book. However, prints from the original negatives, all of which are black and white, can be supplied by the Archive on request. Since the Archive needs to be self-financing, and its only resource is its images, fees are charged for prints and reproduction rights in order to sustain it.

The Ashmolean Museum is deeply grateful to the Barakat Trust, the British Academy, the University of Oxford and the Oxford University Computing Services for their financial support, and to the various individuals listed in the acknowledgements, who have in their different ways helped to produce this research resource.

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