The culture and preservation of manuscripts in West Africa has been repeatedly interrupted by moments of destruction. In 1591, Moroccan armies invaded the Songhai Empire and left the library of the famous Timbuktu scholar and jurist Ahmad Baba in ruins. Three hundred years later, after the conquest of Ségou, the French colonial authorities confiscated the library of al-Ḥājj ʻUmar Tal, renamed it Les Fonds Archinards and moved it permanently to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 1892. But in many cases, the creation of new archives can also be destructive. In the 1960s, as West African countries gained independence, nationalist leaders in Nigeria, Niger and elsewhere put private archive collections at the service of the state. Meanwhile, advances in digitisation, as well as a flood of international development funds, threaten to turn the preservation of African archives into a "numbers game" in which hundreds of family libraries are consolidated into a few large collections. The most ambitious digitisation project is again taking place in Timbuktu, where SAVAMA-DCI, a local non-governmental organisation, evacuated a total of 28 family libraries to the Malian capital Bamako after the Islamist occupation of northern Mali in 2013. The presentation will explore how the study of primary sources is closely intertwined with the history of the archives in which they are located. It will also discuss how the increasing transnationalisation of West Africa's archives will affect access and study.
Ali Diakite received his PhD from the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France, on West African intellectual life in the 19th century. He completed his studies in Arabic at the Université de Bamako, Mali. He has contributed to the West African Arabic Manuscripts Microfilm Project (MMAP) and currently works as a cataloguer of West African manuscripts at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
Paul Naylor holds a PhD in African Studies from the University of Birmingham (UK). His book, From Rebels to Rulers, deals with Arabic manuscript transmission in the Sokoto Caliphate and required extensive engagement with archives in Niger, Nigeria, the UK, France and the USA. Having catalogued the British Library's collection of manuscripts in Arabic script from Africa, he now works for the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library as a cataloguer of West African manuscripts.
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