Documents and Institutions in the Medieval Middle East (DIMME) was a collaborative project that incubated research on Geniza documents produced in the legal and administrative institutions of the eastern Mediterranean under Fatimid and Ayyubid rule (909–1250). The team examined legal documents from rabbinical courts and qāḍī courts, and letters, petitions and decrees from officials of the Jewish community and of the Fatimid and Ayyubid states.
The project aimed to build a framework for the systematic study of medieval Middle Eastern legal and administrative documents in order to make them legible as historical sources. It also extended the available corpus of those documents by working through clusters of documents grouped together by diplomatic structure.
The idea that the pre-modern Islamic world failed to develop stable institutions continues to shape debates about Middle Eastern societies, their development over time and their adaptation to modernity. But these debates have by and large failed to draw on some of the best evidence we possess of premodern Middle Eastern institutions: the documents they produced. Documents provide rich evidence for how institutions worked at an everyday level and how they structured social relations.
But using documentary sources is challenging, in part because of the technical and linguistic skills required. But they are also underused because they are technical texts composed of specific terms, formulae, structures and protocols. Although many of these technical features have yet to be systematically mapped, mapping them is a necessary first step to making the documents fully accessible as evidence for the workings of the society that produced them.
By developing methodologies that will permit systematic analysis of legal and administrative documents, DIMME laid the groundwork for an approach to the history of documents and institutions in the medieval Middle East that is based not on the theoretical accounts given by chroniclers and jurists, but on the tangible evidence left by medieval Middle Eastern courts and governments themselves.
The DIMME team produced more than a thousand new document descriptions and several hundred new document transcriptions and translations to the Princeton Geniza Project corpus.
DIMME was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (2014–2017) and the American Council of Learned Societies (2015–2017). It was hosted by Johns Hopkins University 2014–2015, and by Princeton University 2015–18.