UA Little Rock receives donation of Urdu book collection

Dr. Andrew Amstutz is shown with a collection of 87 volumes of Urdu books donated to Ottenheimer Library. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

When Dr. Andrew Amstutz was a child, he was fascinated by tales of the adventures of family members who once lived on the other side of the world. 

“Some of my family members served as teachers and missionaries in India and Pakistan,” said Amstutz, assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “My grandfather went to boarding school in India, and my great-grandfather was a bishop. There are tidbits of family history that got me very interested in the area. Some of my relatives studied Urdu, and I wanted to learn more as well.”

Urdu is the official national language of Pakistan and is one of 22 officially recognized languages of India. As a graduate student at Cornell University, Amstutz spent two years studying the language at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Lucknow, India before conducting research on the history of Urdu as a Fulbright scholar.

Before coming to UA Little Rock, he served as a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied a collection of 87 volumes of Urdu books that previously belonged to Dr. Muhammad Umar Memon, an American-based Pakistani scholar of literature and religion and late professor of Urdu language and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Dr. Memon is significant because he donated his books to the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” Amstutz said. “The university already had many of the books in their library, and they wanted to find a good home for the collection. When I came to UA Little Rock, I suggested the university donate the collection to Ottenheimer Library. I want to thank the Center for South Asia and the University Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for making this possible.”

The collection consists of novels, short stories, books of poetry, Urdu dictionaries, and literary journals and criticism from the 1930s to early 2000s. The collection represents a unique reflection of vernacular publishing in India and Pakistan in the 20th century. As the editor of the only literary journal in the United States about Urdu that was published in English, Memon collected an impressive Urdu library.

“Dr. Memon was a key figure in the translation of literature from Urdu to English,” Amstutz said. “Something that shows the books’ connection to Dr. Memon is that many are inscribed to him with a note from the author. I feel that since Dr. Memon was such an influential translator,  some Urdu authors might have sent him their books in the hope that he would decide to translate or promote their books, which would have largely increased the audience by making it available to English readers.”

Once processed, the books will be available to the public on the fourth floor of Ottenheimer Library.

“The Ottenheimer library is pleased to have the opportunity to add this unique collection of Urdu materials to its resources,” said J.B. Hill, director of Ottenheimer Library. “We welcome the interest of those in the community who read Urdu and those whose research centers on Urdu literature and criticism. We especially thank Andrew Amstutz for his help and work in bringing this collection to the university.”

Amstutz hopes that the collection will help connect the growing Pakistani and South Asian communities with the university.

“I am working on reaching out to the local Indian and Pakistani communities to let them know that the collection is here,” he said. “I also hope it will encourage others to donate their Urdu books to UA Little Rock, so the collection will continue to grow. In the years to come, I hope many people come to UA Little Rock to learn about the Urdu language, literature, culture.”

Over the next year, Amstutz plans to work with the library to acquire English translations that have been published of some of the books.

“That will enable these texts to be taught in the classroom and be more widely available to the people of Little Rock,” he said.

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