Digitising and conserving Ethiopian manuscripts at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (EAP286)

Aims and objectives

The collection of priceless manuscripts in Ethiopia's premiere research institute is in danger. This project will help preserve the collection and make images available for research by: 1) digitising the 3,391 un-digitised items in the collection; 2) producing a database of metadata on the items; 3) generating backups of the digital images (in RAW, JPG and TIFF formats) to be kept in various locations; 4) and generating a PDF set of images of each item for access for readers in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES) reading room and elsewhere. In addition, 1,500 of the most fragile codices will be placed into conservation boxes.

The IES is the major custodian of Ethiopian cultural and historical antiquities in Ethiopia. Manuscripts in the collection have come from government offices, monasteries, churches, mosques, public libraries, and private collections from all over the country and represent the entire scope of Ethiopia's extant manuscript history (ca. 600 years). Located at the University of Addis Ababa, the materials in the IES collection facilitate primary research on Ethiopian subjects such as history, language, anthropology, traditional art, religion, diplomatic relations.

One of the largest parts of the collection is made up of Ge'ez manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Numbering more than 1,500 items, these manuscripts cover the wide range of genres (bible, liturgy, history, theology, grammar, so-called magic scrolls, etc.) produced by the church.

Another substantial part of the collection is the Arabic manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Muslim community in Ethiopia and the set of Amharic manuscripts representing the last 150 years of Ethiopia's emergence into the international community.

With very few exceptions the materials in the manuscripts and archive department have had no conservation work performed on them. They are exposed to general humidity and temperatures. Even worse, the materials are stored in an environment at extreme threat from electrical fire and water damage.

A master and backup set of the digital images will be kept at different locations in Addis Ababa; a master set of TIFFs will be deposited at the British Library; and a deep backup set will be deposited at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, USA.