Winning titles 2018
A History of Algeria by James McDougall
Cambridge University Press
Covering a period of five hundred years, from the arrival of the Ottomans to the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, James McDougall presents an expansive new account of the modern history of Africa’s largest country. Drawing on substantial new scholarship and over a decade of research, McDougall places Algerian society at the centre of the story, tracing the continuities and the resilience of Algeria’s people and their cultures through the dramatic changes and crises that have marked the country.
Algeria is widely seen through the prism of brutal French settler colonialism, then the savage war of Independence and more recently the rise of Islamism. This study is grounded in the social and economic context of the Ottoman period, giving a deeper understanding of a major Arab nation relatively little known in the UK. This book is the first of this type of volume to look at Ottoman penetration and rule of this part of North Africa. The reviewer commented particularly on the fact that the author offers ‘a new take on the well-established format’ which enables him to have produced a book which is ‘a unique and necessary addition to the existing literature’..
Letters of Light: Arabic Script in Calligraphy, Print, and Digital Design by J.R. Osborn
Harvard University Press
Arabic script remains one of the most widely employed writing systems in the world, for Arabic and non-Arabic languages alike. Focusing on naskh—the style most commonly used across the Middle East—Letters of Light traces the evolution of Arabic script from its earliest inscriptions to digital fonts, from calligraphy to print and beyond. J. R. Osborn narrates this storied past for historians of the Islamic and Arab worlds, for students of communication and technology, and for contemporary practitioners.
The partnership of reed pen and paper during the tenth century inaugurated a golden age of Arabic writing. The shape and proportions of classical calligraphy known as al-khatt al-mansub were formalized, and variations emerged to suit different types of content. The rise of movable type quickly led to European experiments in printing Arabic texts. Ottoman Turkish printers, more sensitive than their European counterparts to the script’s nuances, adopted movable type more cautiously. Debates about “reforming” Arabic script for print technology persisted into the twentieth century.
Arabic script continues to evolve in the digital age. Programmers have adapted it to the international Unicode standard, greatly facilitating Arabic presence online and in word processing. Technology companies are investing considerable resources to facilitate support of Arabic in their products. Professional designers around the world are bringing about a renaissance in the Arabic script community as they reinterpret classical aesthetics and push new boundaries in digital form.
This book, as the author himself admits, was 20 years in the making and this is reflected throughout the book. Our reviewer suggested that ‘This is the kind of book that great scholars sometimes write at the end of their lives: a book that sums up, in an astonishingly accessible way, decades of profound thought and dedicated research’. It is not least for that astonishingly accessibility – the great pleasure that this book is to read that it has been selected for this award.