Papers of Gerald Tibbetts

Scope and Content

The Papers include publications written orcollected by the academic Gerald Tibbetts connected to his research interests in early Arab navigation in the Indian Ocean. Related to this are draft copies of a lecture given by Tibbetts at the Royal Asiatic Society concerning the origins of navigation in the Indian Ocean.

There is also material collected by Tibbetts relating to his work on the Sindbad Voyage project (1980-1981) and his invitation to participate in the Heritage of Oman Festival.

Administrative / Biographical History

Gerald Tibbetts was born on the 22nd January 1926, in Brackley, Northants. He was called into the army just before the end of the Second World War when he was 18 and was posted to Malay and India in the Royal Army Education Corps. Through this experiences he developed an interest in languages with unique scripts and taught himself Arabic, Hebrew and Assyrian. In addition to this, he decided to study Arabic and Hebrew at Magdalen College in Oxford graduating in 1951.

Tibbetts also had an interest in library studies and took a Postgraduate qualification in Librarianship at London University. Whilst studying he was also associated with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, and completed a dissertation entitled: 'Arabia in early maps.' Whilst he was undertaking this course he met his future wife (Hazel). After completing the course he took up a post in the Library at the University of Singapore (1953) where he was responsible for the classification of works in oriental languages. Through this work he developed a specialist interest in medieval Arab navigation on which he wrote a number of publications. In 1956 he became the Deputy Librarian at the University of Khartoum where he had special responsibility for the collection of Arab books and manuscripts.

In 1960 he returned to the UK when he was appointed Librarian at the newly founded Oriental Institute in Oxford. However, in 1964, he became Deputy Librarian at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and then Librarian of the newly founded Abdullahi Bayero University College in Kano. In this post he received considerable support from the Ford foundation to assist in the gathering of Arabic and Islamic texts for the Library.

In 1967 he became Administrative Secretary at the University of London Library where he remained until his retirement in 1990. While working at the University he published two monographs under the auspices of the Royal Asiatic Society: 'Arab navigation in the Indian Ocean before the coming of the Portuguese' (1971) and 'A study of the Arabic texts containing material on South-east Asia' (1979). His work on these publications led to him being awarded a D.Litt at Oxford University in 1982. He also served on the RAS council between 1985-1988.

Tibbets was involved in 'The Sindbad Voyage project' (1980-1981) which was led by the explorer, Tim Severin, and involved recreating ancient voyages. Tibbetts gave specialist advice to the project. He served as an Associate Editor for The History of Cartography Series published by the University of Chicago Press.


The collection has been organised as follows:

  • GT/1: Publications

  • GT/2: Sindbad Voyage Project

  • GT/3: Lecture to the Royal Asiatic Society

Access Information

Open. Please contact the archivist. Details can be found here. The archive is open on Tuesdays and Fridays 10-5, and Thursdays 2-5. Access is to any researcher without appointment but it will help if an appointment is made via phone or email. Please bring photo ID.

Acquisition Information

The material was donated to the Society by the family of Gerald Tibbetts in October 2020.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Emma Jones in November 2020.

Separated Material

Some maps were also donated which are part of the Society's map collection. Copies of both of his books published by the Royal Asiatic Society are available to researchers. Details can be found here.

Conditions Governing Use

Digital photography (without flash) for research purposes may be permitted upon completion of a copyright declaration form, and with respect to current UK copyright law.

Custodial History

The Papers belonged to Gerald Tibbets and his family before their donation to the Society.

Related Material

Some maps were also donated which will become part of the Society's map collection. Copies of both of his books published by the Royal Asiatic Society are available to researchers. Details can be found here.

Several books by Tim Severin connected to the Sindbad project are also available.

Geographical Names