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: Cataloguing: this includes cataloguing Berber manuscripts in Morocco, analysing outputs and methods of completed catalogues, and commenting on them. Covered catalogues include the Arabic and Berber Manuscripts Catalogue of King Abdulaziz Al Saud Foundation, Casablanca (2005), the Berber Manuscripts Catalogue of the National Library in Rabat (2015), the Guidebook to Berber Manuscripts and Documents, Royal Institute of Berber Culture (2015), and the Catalogue of the Berber Manuscripts in the Library of Leiden by Nico van den BOOGERT, Leiden, (2002).
Publication: due to academic and cultural reasons, the recent years saw a surge in the publication of Berber manuscripts in Morocco. Many books were edited, using contemporary methods of editing, and published in the fields of theology (Quran interpretation, Hadiths, faith, jurisprudence, Sufism, etc.), literature (poetry, travel journals, stories, proverbs, etc.), languages (dictionaries), and history (news bulletins and periodicals). The paper will shed light on these Berber publications both quantitatively, by counting and evaluating them, and qualitatively, by analysing the methods in which they were edited and studied. These manuscripts can be divided into two categories: 1) original Berber works, and 2) translated works from Arabic to Berber. The second category includes many works, and is referred to by Sous scholars in southern Morocco as “Mushallahat”, meaning works written in Sous Berber.
It is to be noted that a lot needs to be done in terms of cataloguing Arabic-script Berber manuscripts in Morocco, as the catalogues mentioned above cover only a small part of Berber works, and the larger part of those works are unknown, lost or hidden in private libraries (individuals, scholar families, schools, zawiyas, etc.). In addition, in terms of editing, no guidebook or manual is available yet to guide editors on how to edit and publish these works or study their codicology. These are issues that need to be considered to come up with suitable solutions.
Paper Abstract: The paper examines the history of the sixteenth-century intellectual and professional network that originated around the activities of the Medici Oriental Press in Rome. Starting in 1584, the Press financed expeditions to collect prestigious manuscript editions in North Africa, Ethiopia, and the Middle East (including al-Idrīsī’s Descriptive Geography, Ibn Sīnā’s Canon, and a series of Arabic grammars) based on their perceived aesthetic qualities and the benefits of their content. Additionally, it recruited experts from the region who would collaborate with orientalists and printers in Rome to produce books visually similar to manuscripts that were then to be sold across the Ottoman provinces. My paper reconstructs the journey of such texts and individuals, from the selection and collection of the manuscripts, through the production of Arabic type-fonts and printed editions, to the Press’ attempts to sell the final products.
On an empirical level, my paper sheds light on the history of a largely unexplored transregional network of material circulation and knowledge production, uncovering a space of multilingual and multi-sited collaboration and exchange. Moreover, from a methodological perspective, I problematize the power structures involved in the Medici project. The paper thus retraces how specific notions of aesthetic and pedagogical value attached to the manuscripts affected their printed renditions, and what preconceptions there existed with regards to the taste of these works’ imagined consumers from North Africa and the Middle East, as well as of manuscript readers more generally, when confronted with such early and virtually unprecedented instances of Arabic printing.