On August 17, 1841, the Yale Corporation voted to appoint Edward Elbridge Salisbury (1814-1901) as Professor of Arabic and Sanskrit Languages and Literature. This was the first such appointment in the United States. The Near East Collection at Yale grew from the "Salisbury Oriental Library," the collection of some 4,500 books and Islamic manuscripts donated by Salisbury to Yale College beginning in 1870. This made Yale's one of the largest such collections in North America at the time, and one of the oldest in the country to date.
Arabic-script printing was still in its infancy during Salisbury's time at Yale, and printing presses were not widespread in Middle Eastern countries. Nevertheless, Salisbury selected titles from important auctions of European collections, and received gifts from his contacts among scholars worldwide and American missionaries in the Middle East. His "Oriental Library" laid the foundation of a collection that has evolved to become one of the most comprehensive for Arabic and Islamic studies in the United States.
According to Leon Nemoy (1901-1997), formerly curator of Hebrew and Arabic Literature at Sterling Memorial Library, the Arabic collection consisted of:
The librarian for Middle East studies selects materials published in the Middle East and North Africa in Middle Eastern and Western languages: books, serials, microfilms, manuscripts, archival and audiovisual materials, and electronic resources to support the teaching and research needs of Yale faculty and students working on topics related to the Middle East and Islamic studies.
The Near East Collection at Sterling Memorial Library has amassed a considerable amount of materials in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Western languages related to Near East studies. Today, the Sterling Memorial Library houses more then 400,000 items relating to Near East studies in Western languages and spread over numerous libraries and collections.
There are over 250,000 Arabic and Persian volumes covering a wide variety of subject areas. In addition, there are ca. 1900 periodicals, 1500 documentaries and classical motion pictures, and ca. 1300 Arabic film posters housed in the Department of Manuscripts and Archives. The collection is particularly strong in classical texts, Islamic law, history, philosophy, and Arabic literature. The majority of the materials are in Arabic. The Arabic and Persian collections are housed mainly on the 6th floor of Sterling Memorial Library and are classified according to the Library of Congress Classification System. The older collection, containing materials classified under the old Yale classification system, is housed on the 7th floor of Sterling.
The manuscripts--some 4,000 codices in Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish--are housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Some of the manuscripts are very old, including a 7th century Quran leaf and a partial 8th century Quran in 134 leaves.