The Libraries of Timbuktu

A manuscript from Timbuktu


Image by ازرق, used under the Creative Commons license.

Not many outside central Africa are familiar with them, but the libraries of Timbuktu are an extensive wealth of knowledge and culture. From today's Der Spiegel:

Fabled Timbuktu, once the site of the world's southernmost Islamic university, harbors thousands upon thousands of long-forgotten manuscripts. A dozen academic instutions from around the world are now working frantically to save and evaluate the crumbling documents...

Albrecht Hofheinz, an Arabist from Oslo, estimates that there are up to 300,000 forgotten manuscripts in Mali. Insect bites have discolored the pages, he says. "The paper disintegrates, is destroyed by mold or eaten by termites." Time is of the essence. Some of the volumes are being photographed using a digital photo studio provided by the University of Chicago. The first of the documents are expected to be available on the Internet by the end of the year.

This will be an excellent resource for scholars of Islam and of central Africa! I look forward to watching this work unfold and progress, especially since it is the result of years of effort.

Contributed by Aaron Bowen

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