Paper Abstract: Cultural heritage preservation calls for thinking beyond the limits that we usually take for granted when dealing with historical collections. While considering such activity as solely aimed at preserving the past, we tend to forget its multiple and wider meanings from a social point of view.
Activities aiming at preserving the physical integrity of collections and the permanence of texts, such as preventive conservation, conservation treatments, and digital preservation, are part of a wider challenge that engages actively with education and social development. The preservation of Arabic-script manuscripts in Africa, both in their library and archive value, has to be considered from a broader perspective: this speech will address the role of individuals in charge of collections care and transmission not only from the point of view of cultural heritage preservation, but also for their implications for communities – both local and international.
Preservation and conservation intertwine with digitization as part of a long-term safeguard strategy that does not look to the past, but to the future, and can actively contribute to sustainable development.
The speech will address multiple meanings and challenges linked to written cultural heritage preservation, both physical and digital, and how the role of individuals in charge of collections care has to be considered “beyond the library’s door”.
Paper Abstract: The effect of travails of insurgency on Arabic manuscripts heritage on state like Borno is particularly of great concern. This paper is timely due to the current Boko Haram insurgency the Borno faces as a theatre of conflict, religious destroyed the larger portion of our local, state and National heritage in Arabic manuscripts in particular, which if not safeguarded by first emergency action on preservation, conservation and digitization work on Arabic Manuscript Heritage will amount to the lost of history and heritage on a world scale. The paper will examine a number of Arabic manuscripts destroyed, will proffer solution on a way forward as to how to safeguard these manuscripts from future destruction. This paper attempts to critically examine the traditional methods of preservation and conservation of Arabic manuscripts collections of some Ulama in the four local Government areas of study. Some of the manuscripts are found to be preserved in some ‘Kindai’ (grass baskets) called Adudu and some in wooden boxes, leather bags which are facing degradation problems. The paper shall discuss how the climatic condition of the area of study significantly influences the system of storing the manuscripts, also draw attention to the danger of improper storage, difficulties of preserving, conserve in the collections in the traditional setting and the benefits of allowing centres and public institutions to take custody, preserve conserve and digitalized to make them accessible to researchers and the public.
Paper Abstract: The Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in Timbuktu (IHERI-AB) is the largest manuscript preservation centre in Sub-Saharan Africa. It hosts approximately forty thousand (40,000) manuscripts covering various fields of knowledge, notably in relation to Fiqh, Hadith, literature, history, etc.
This paper will address the meaning of cataloguing; that is to say, the standardised or normalised description of manuscripts. Cataloguing is also a scientific endeavour facilitating researchers’ and readers’ access to manuscripts.
We will note that, in order to be a good cataloguer, one must necessarily possess a very rich knowledge of Islamic culture allowing the cataloguer to authenticate manuscripts and authors, understand the types of writings – Maghrebi, Mashriqi and Sudanese – and apply any useful information that may improve the cataloguing of manuscripts.
Regarding the contents of the IHER-ABT, actual cataloguing began in the nineties (90’s), which allowed the publication of six (6) volumes by the Al-Furqan Foundation in London. Each volume contains 1500 titles. Other catalogues compiled with Ahmed Baba Institute materials were published locally under conditions set by donors. These works, however useful, are too limited for researchers to benefit from them.
Our presentation will also describe how we approached the critical editing of Institute materials; that is to say, the authentication of manuscript texts and their publishing for easier readability in comparison to handwritten texts. We will detail the challenges faced and difficulties overcome in composing the critical edition of certain manuscripts by local authors.
If the purported aim (the purpose) of the physical and electronic preservation of manuscripts is their scientific use – in other words, to edit them so as to popularise their content, because manuscripts are not museum pieces – this is one of the challenges we must overcome for the benefit of future generations.
Paper Abstract: The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) hosts the world’s largest collection of digital West African manuscripts. As of January 2020, the collection includes high-resolution images of over 200,000 manuscripts and fragments from Timbuktu and the surrounding regions. While projects such as this are rapidly pushing West African scholarship into the digital age, standardized metadata is critical in making this material accessible. Names, titles, and descriptive terminology must be not only uniform but also compatible with larger information networks, including the Library of Congress and the Virtual International Authority File. A significant part of HMML’s work is to develop a reference infrastructure and authorities for West African manuscript traditions (along with other traditions that are historically underrepresented in Western scholarship) in accordance with established best practices. These tools will soon become available through vHMML Data, a major database project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In this paper, we will describe the standardization practices developed by HMML, which may serve as a model for other projects on West African manuscript traditions. We will discuss three areas: (1) scripts specific to West Africa, (2) personal names, and (3) titles of works. We will illustrate our practices in these areas with examples from HMML’s database.
Paper Abstract: In the year 2001, Baba Yunus Muhammad, ably supported by the late renowned African historian, John Hunwick, produced a catalogue of Arabic manuscript collections that were available at the University of Ibadan Library, Nigeria. According to him, the production of the catalogue had become necessary because, among other reasons, most of the collections had not enjoyed the appropriate attention of researchers they deserved. But close to two decades since the publication of Fihris Makhtūţāt Maktabat Jāmiaʻh Ibādan, the collections, unarguably one of the largest and richest in the West African sub-region continues to suffer lack of adequate attention. This paper, therefore, highlights and discusses current threats to this and other rare manuscripts, written in Arabic or Ajami scripts, in sub-Sahara Africa as a whole. It provides insight into the rich collections in the University of Ibadan library by exploring the historical and Islamic themes in Manuscript number 62/83 with the title Sirāj al-Ikhwān by Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Fūdī. The paper concludes by calling for urgent collaborations among stakeholders on the preservation and digitization of these manuscripts as a strategy for the preservation of original sources of African and Islamic histories of the medieval and early modern periods.
Paper Abstract: In spite of strenuous efforts at digitisation of manuscript collections in Africa for preservation, the preservation of the unique materiality of Africa’s manuscript heritage remains an imperative. Tangible objects profoundly shape human society. Human beings not only create and use objects: they ascribe meaning and value to these objects – using them to define and maintain social relationships, enhance social and economic standing, represent and communicate facets of identity, amongst others. Manuscripts are part of that material world.
Manuscripts as objects of human material culture bear witness to the acts of their creation, a lifespan of usage, modifications and amendment though loss and addition, and an afterlife in a repository or collection of manuscripts. The idea of a recoverable social biography of an object as suggested by Kopytoff & Appadurai (1986) can frame the use of surviving physical evidence of a lifespan of creation, consumption, exchange, retention or discarding of Africa’s manuscripts.
This paper will examine the role of conservators in the preservation of tangible heritage, using the example of the South African -Malian Bilateral Timbuktu Manuscripts Project (2003 – 2009). Looking the research done to understand the challenging preservation conditions found in Timbuktu, and to understand the nature of the West African manuscripts in order to make appropriate conservation interventions. The paper will also examine the potential role of the conservator as partner in the study of manuscript culture in Africa, from their material aspects with the intention of recovering a social “life story” of African manuscripts and collections.