Papers of Gerald Tibbetts

Scope and Content

Collection consists of publications that were written by the academic Gerald Tibbetts which are themed around his research interests of early Arab navigation in the Indian Ocean. There is also a section of material collected by Tibbetts which is related to his work on the Sindbad Voyage project (1980-1981) and his invitation to participate in the Heritage of Oman Festival. There are draft copies of a speech that Tibbetts carried out at the Royal Asiatic Society around the origins of navigation in the Indian Ocean.

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 Cops. 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 where he graduated in 1951.

Tibbetts also had an interest in library studies and took a Postgraduate qualification in Librarianship at London University. Whilst at University he became attached to the school of Oriental and African studies and completed a dissertation titled: '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 where he wrote a number of publications around this topic. 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 moved back to the UK where he was appointed Librarian at the newly founded Oriental Institute in Oxford. However, his work took him abroad again in 1964 and he took up the deputy Librarian post 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 took up the post of Administrative Secretary at the University of London Library in 1967 until his retirement in 1990. When working at the University he published two important monographs under the auspices of the Royal Asiatic Society. This included: '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.

An important piece of work he was involved in was 'The Sindbad Voyage project' (1980-1981) which was led by the explorer Tim Severin and involved recreating ancient voyages. Tibbetts gave his specialist advice to the project. He also 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: Gerald Tibbetts Publications

  • GT/2: Sindbad Voyage Project

  • GT/3: Talk delivered to the Royal Asiatic Society

Access Information

Open. Please contact the archivist . 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

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

There is also a small section of maps which were donated as part of this accession which will be catalogued as part of the society's map collection. Conservation work will need to be carried out before this is made accessible.

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.

Appraisal Information

A small number of the publication material was weeded out due to the existence of duplicates.

Related Material

Tim Severin wrote a book around his work on the Sindbad voyage titled: 'The Sindbad Voyage.'