hasdai is a project of Data Futures—an alliance of universities, museums and other institutions including Basel, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Heidelberg, Merve Verlag, Oxford, Princeton and Westminster—which has focused for more than a decade on saving legacy digital research data made vulnerable by obsolescent technology, and upon developing institutional guarantee infrastructures.
Hasdai ibn Shaprut was a Jewish intellectual born in 915 at Jaén in Spain, who served the Caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III and from 961 his successor Al-Hakam II in Córdoba. Hasdai studied medicine and was fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and unusually, Latin. Initially he was appointed physician to the Caliph and subsequently, for all intents and purposes vizier, with wide ranging influence over foreign affairs.
Hakam II continued the library construction of his father. Under Hakam the royal library grew to more than 400,000 books: its catalog extended to 44 volumes and it's said to have employed more than 500 scribes and translators. The Caliphate maintained 70 other libraries across Spain at major universities, plus numerous private libraries and those in mosques. Al-Hakam sent book-buyers all over the Muslim Empire and commenced a great program of duplication and translation into Arabic of huge numbers of Greek books—forming a joint committee of Arab Muslims and Iberian Mozarab Christians.
Hasdai facilitated and extended this vast project with acquisitions from European states—himself leading a team to translate a magnificent codex of Pedanius Dioscorides' work on botany, acquired through an alliance that he negotiated with the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII. These Arabic editions became a precious resource for later European scholars who made Latin translations—often after loss of the Greek originals.