Endangered Archives

EAP879: Continued digitisation and preservation of the Arabic manuscripts of Djenné and surrounding villages

Ms Sophie Sarin, Independent Researcher
2015 award - Major project
£50,852 for 24 months

Archival partner: La Bibliothèque de Manuscrits de Djenné

Project Overview

The previous two major EAP projects in Djenné (EAP488 and EAP690) unearthed a vast and hitherto unexplored wealth of Arabic manuscripts in this ancient city of Djenné which shares a glorious past as a centre of learning and commerce with its more famous ‘twin sister’ Timbuktu.

This third major project will continue in the same footsteps as its preceding projects, a model which has proved to work well. However the new project will provide a higher level of professionalism through the additional staff member Saad Traoré, with his relevant expertise in the academic field of Arabic manuscripts. The other staff members will all receive a thorough fine-tuning of their skills to ensure that the standard of work remains high. The visits to the outlying villages will be continued, since it has proved a fruitful venture and many manuscript owners have been persuaded to relocate their manuscripts to the Library.

The work carried out by these EAP projects is the first and only work that has been undertaken on the manuscripts of Djenné, except for two small family libraries set up by the Malian manuscript association SAVAMA. Although Djenné can perhaps not equal Timbuktu in the sheer quantity of its manuscripts, there is no doubt that there still remains an enormous amount of manuscripts in an endangered situation both here in Djenné and in the surrounding villages, and these documents are now being brought into the library in increasing numbers. Djenné’s wealth of manuscripts, many still housed in precarious circumstances in family homes, presents in a very real sense a new challenge and a vast new and unexplored research field.

Since the pilot project EAP269 in 2009, the Djenné Manuscript Library has gradually become the custodian of over 100 families’ collections and the library has truly become a cultural centre of the town. Some families who have already given some manuscripts from their collections are now bringing their more precious manuscripts for digitisation and safe keeping, mirroring the growing confidence the library now inspires in the population. The work undertaken here by EAP during the last six years has gathered momentum and, after initial difficulties, the benefit of several years of painstaking work of confidence building in the Djenné population is now being reaped.

The oldest dated manuscript currently in the Djenne Manuscript Library is from 1394, although there are supposedly older manuscripts in the town. The majority of the manuscripts date from between 1700 to 1900. The project will digitise approximately 200,000 pages and at the end of the project, digital copies will be deposited with the Archives Nationale in Bamako, Djenné Manuscript Library and the British Library.

This latest project now provides a unique opportunity to safeguard a very important part of West African history enshrined in these manuscripts.

Project Outcome