THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

54 posts categorized "Africa"

24 September 2018

Call for applications now open

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Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting preliminary applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 12 noon 19 November 2018 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.

DCL 0003Digitising in Cuba

The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. The Programme awards grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise it, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The Programme has funded over 350 projects in 90 countries world-wide and has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals.

There three main types of grant:

  • Pilot projects investigate the potential for and/or feasibility of a major grant. A pilot can also be a small digitisation project. They should last for no more than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.
  • Major projects gather and copy material. This type of grant may also relocate the material to a more secure location/institution within the country. These projects usually last 12 months, or up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £60,000.
  • Area grants will be awarded for larger scale projects. They are similar to a major grant, but larger in scale and ambition. Applicants must demonstrate an outstanding track record of archival preservation work and be associated with an institution that has the capacity to facilitate a large-scale project. The EAP will only award a maximum of two area grants in each funding round. They can last for up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £150,000.

A further type of grant will be introduced in 2019:

  • Rapid-response grants can be used to safeguard an archive which is in immediate and severe danger. These grants are intended for the most urgent situations where a delay in the decision process could result in extensive damage to the material. These grants are not subject to the time restrictions of the yearly EAP funding cycle and can be applied for at any time. They must last for less than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.

If you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at endangeredarchives@bl.uk

13 August 2018

Football in the Endangered Archives

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As the English football season has just begun, I thought I would have a look to see what we have in the collections that was football related. When you have a collection of over 6.5 million images it's hard to keep track of what's actually in the archive. With the old EAP online platform, it would have been quite a frustrating experience. You would have had to search the Library’s Archives and Manuscripts catalogue first and then try to find the relevant image on our website, sometimes having to scroll through hundreds of other images first before finding the desired one. With the ability to now search directly from our website, you can easily find related images, however it does highlight the need for good quality metadata. These images are only discoverable if someone has been able to describe them properly, adding keywords and other relevant information that researchers may look for.

With this in mind, I searched for football, soccer, futbol etc., and was pleasantly surprised to find many great photographs I thought were worth sharing. Most of the images come from the Haynes Publishing Company Archive in Argentina, with others from Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guatemala, India, and Mali, truly showing the global appeal of the sport. The Argentinian ones in particular are quite spectacular and give an idea of the popularity of the game in the country! There are images of spectators crammed into stadiums, and others show fans being dangerously hoisted up the outer wall of the stadium in a desperate attempt to watch the game. As always, follow the links to see the full size versions and discover what else is in the archive.

CrowdsEAP375 - Crowds watching games in Argentina

  Crowds2

  EAP375_1_1_110-375_F00007_0110_0124_L

EAP375 - Supporters trying to get a better view

Sneaking inEAP375/1/1/110 - Sneaking in to watch Argentina play Uruguay. Argentina won 3-0. 15 August 1935

  EAP054_1_89-dvd132_069_LEAP054/1/89 - Mid-action shot. Jacques Touselle photographs. Cameroon

EAP054_1_138-dvd109_074_LEAP054/1/138. Jacques Touselle photographs. Cameroon

EAP165_1_9-165_YASNORIE_P09_027_LEAP165/1/9. Guatemala

  EAP165_1_9-165_YASNORIE_P09_002_LEAP165/1/9. Guatemala

EAP166_2_1_11-EAP166_MPP_1921-22_346_LEAP166/2/1/11 - HMS Renown football team, 1921-1922. Visit to India, Nepal and the far east of HRH the Prince of Wales

EAP449_2_22_Pt_1-EAP449_Jan-60_16129_LEAP449/2/22 - Photographic Archives of Abdourahmane Sakaly. Mali.

EAP737_4_3_1-EAP_737_Coll4_E_GP_B01_281_LEAP737/4/3/1 - Alagappa College of Physical Education football team, 1958. Karaikudi

EAP675-4-1-108EAP675/4/1 - Football team from Vlach (Romanian speaking) community in the town of Belene, North Bulgaria

UltraEAP375/1/1/110 - No description provided. Possibly an Argentinian ultra leader rallying the crowds

Posted by Rob Miles

14 June 2018

A Football Team from Lesotho

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I cannot say that I am much of a football fan. When the World Cup takes place I find my favourite television programmes postponed. Also, my local London pub, which is usually a haven for a quiet evening out with family and friends, is taken over by crowds of supporters watching a match in the corner of the bar and shouting words of encouragement to their much-loved teams.

So, with an initial heavy heart, I started searching the EAP website for material connected to soccer that would be appropriate for a blog post. As always, I got swept away with the archives and for the first time, I feel I may have found my own team to support. I came across a file of correspondence concerning Mabeoana Football Club that was digitised as part of the Matsieng Royal Archives in Lesotho (EAP279). Some of the letters are written in Sotho and so I am unable to read them, but others are in English and they have given me a wonderful impression.

Lesotho_South_Africa_Locator 

Map indicating locations of Lesotho and South Africa (Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0)

The Club was founded in 1932 but the letters that have been digitised date from 1952-1954. I am assuming the Mabeoana team were made up of talented non-professionals, as indicated by this wonderful letter from the Club Secretary asking for Mr S.C. Pholo to be released from his driving duties so that he could take part in the Sir Sturuk Cup Finals.

EAP279_1_2_37_5

It looks as if the Daamboos Choir had been booked to entertain the spectators during this important match but were unable to perform and had to return their fee. What I desperately wanted to know was whether Mabeoana won the Finals but sadly there is nothing within the archive to indicate whether they became the champions.

EAP279_1_2_37_4

There seem to be a mixture of official matches and friendly games. I love this letter to an unknown team again from the Secretary, saying they wish to have a ‘Hot’ Match – I do hope the challenge was taken up and that it was a close and exciting game, certainly the results for 1954 imply that Mabeoana were a talented group of players and at the top of their game.

EAP279_1_2_37

1954 results

1954 match results

Sadly, having warmed to this team, a quick search on the internet told me that in 2011 they were relegated from the Lesotho Premier League, and I have been unable to find out anything further about them. So, if there is anyone reading this blog who can tell me more about Mabeoana F.C. – I would love to hear from you. 

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Update: 24 Jul 2018

Thanks to one of our blog readers and the power of Twitter we were provided with some further information about this team. The team still play in Matsieng and are currently in the second division in Lesotho. Mabeoana is the name given to the people from Matsieng. The custodian of the team is the Principle Chief of Matsieng, who is currently Seeiso Bereng Seeiso. 

We wish them luck for the next season and hope to get news of their promotion in the not too distant future!

07 June 2018

EAP and International Archives Day

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9 June is International Archives Day –  This year's theme comes from the ICA conference “Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage” to be held in Yaoundé in November. How could EAP miss the opportunity to highlight some of the earlier projects it has funded around the world, starting in the host country for this year’s conference - Cameroon.

EAP051 was awarded in EAP’s very first round of grants and was based at the Bamum Palace Archives digitising documents written in the indigenous writing system – Bamum. The results of the project have helped the community to rekindle their interest in cultural patrimony. There has been a resurgence in learning the script, which had been previously on the decline.

EAP051_Pub007

For the next round of funding, I have chosen the project based at Tuvalu National Archives (EAP110). Climate change in this cyclone-prone area has made these documents vulnerable to complete destruction.

EAP110_Pub003

In 2008, we funded the initial phase of a major project digitising the Buddhist archive of photography based at Luang Prabang in Laos (EAP177). The images cover 120 years of photography and it is thanks to the highly venerated monk, Phra Khamchanh Virachittathera, who collected these photographs for more than 70 years, that this archive is now available.  

EAP177_Pub002

The following year, we supported our only project in Lesotho (EAP279), where the project team digitised the Matsieng Royal Archives. The ceiling to the archive had collapsed, leaving the material exposed to rain. This, of course, meant it was an ideal candidate for EAP support.

EAP279 Lesotho

I must not ignore the sound projects that have been funded. In 2010, ‘Vanishing voices from the Uralic world’ (EAP347) was awarded; sound recordings for archives in Russia (in particular Udmurtia), Estonia, Finland and Hungary. There are 39 languages from the region and the 6,000 sound recordings are available online containing endangered languages and dialects.

EAP347

My quick tour finishes in Columbia (EAP650), with a project based at Caloto Viejo (Old Caloto), the administrative capital of a wide region including Native American groups, European settlers, their enslaved Africans, and maroon communities formed by escaped slaves. These documents are critical for the understanding of Afro-Colombian history. It seems appropriate to end this blog with a photograph of archivists ensuring the safekeeping of material for the future.

EAP650_Pub004

17 April 2018

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations

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Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations is a practical guide for those about to embark on a digitisation project and it has just become available online. It is aimed at those who are planning to apply to EAP for future funding, but hopefully the advice will have wider appeal for anyone about to start a similar project.

It has been a joy working on this publication and I hope that people will find the information within its pages helpful. The uniqueness of the book lies in the advice given by those who have taken part in EAP projects and I am extremely grateful for their contributions. But of course, since submitting the draft manuscript to Open Book Publishers, I have received more images of projects being carried out in the field. Although it was too late to include them in the publication, I thought I would share just some in this blog to show that  projects continue to work successfully throughout the world, often in very unique circumstances.  

EAP935_Pub004

EAP935: digitising archival material in northern Ghana

Tristan

EAP951: working on Tristan da Cunha

EAP1005

EAP1005: a portable set-up for Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

Cisse_Community_EAP1042

EAP1042: working with the Cisse community in Senegal

16 March 2018

The Manuscripts of Mali

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The fabled city of Timbuktu has attracted frequent media attention over the last few years. During the occupation of northern Mali by Al Qaida linked extremists in 2012 the destruction of mausoleums to local Islamic saints in Timbuktu caused an international outcry and resulted in a UNESCO funded rebuilding project after the recapture of the city in 2013. The extremists also burned around 4500 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba Institute as their last act of defiance before the French and Malian forces re-conquered Timbuktu. Already during the Jihadist occupation many thousands of manuscripts had been transported in secret to Bamako in the now famous rescue operation organised by the Timbuktu librarian Abdel Kader Haidara. This swashbuckling tale has been the subject of two international best-selling novels, The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (2016) by Joshua Hammer and The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu (2017) by Charlie English, as well as countless articles and documentary films. Timbuktu, ante bellum, was a thriving city of tourism and the centre of over fifty private family libraries which have now been moved to Bamako where the manuscripts are receiving conservation treatment and are being digitised by SAVAMA, an association of Timbuktu libraries led by Abdel Kader Haidara, which has received international funding from the German, Dutch, Luxemburg, Swiss and Norwegian governments as well as the Ford Foundation and many other sources.

Timbuktu-139086

Certain important libraries in Timbuktu declined taking part in the rescue mission to relocate to Bamako. Instead they chose to hide their precious manuscripts in secret desert hiding places in and around Timbuktu: these include the Imam Essayouti, Al Aquib and Al Wangara manuscript libraries, attached in turn to the three ancient mosques of Timbuktu: the Djinguereber (built 1327), the Sankore (built soon after) and Sidi Yahya (1440). Together they compose what was known as the University of Timbuktu. The British Library, through the Endangered Archives Programme and in partnership with the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota, USA, is now undertaking the digitisation of these libraries in situ in Timbuktu, where work is underway in the Imam Essayouti library since October 2017, and will begin in the Al Wangara in April 2018.

  Imam Ben Essayouti and Sophie resize
Imam Ben Essayouti with Sophie Sarin

Al AquibThe Imam of Sankore at the Al Aquib Library, Timbuktu

Al WangaraThe Al Wangara Library

Although the main concentration of Arabic manuscripts in Mali was undoubtedly in Timbuktu due to its position as the most important trading city of the Trans-Saharan trade route since the early Middle Ages, other Malian cities also boast large deposits of ancient Arabic manuscripts: Djenné in particular. It is situated some 500 km south of Timbuktu in the Niger Inland Delta of Central Mali and was also an important city of trade and scholarship and one of the gateways where Islam first penetrated Mali in the 13th century. Djenné is a repository for thousands of manuscripts which have been kept by families for centuries. In 2009, the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme ran a Pilot Project, which concluded that Djenné’s manuscripts provided a suitable source of material for the mounting of a major two year digitisation project. This was the first in a series of three consecutive major projects, which finally came to an end in October 2017, when in the region of 400,000 images had been achieved from the 8,500 manuscripts which are currently stored in the Djenné Manuscript Library.

Library front Djenné Manuscript Library

Malian manuscripts deal in the main with traditional Islamic subject matter such as Hadiths (traditional sayings and stories attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), Islamic Jurisprudence of the Malikite School, religious poetry and sermons etc. There are also frequent philosophical expositions, mainly on ethics and logic as well as many manuscripts dealing with the Arabic language and grammar. There is history, correspondence, and astronomy which is normally treated as inseparable from astrology. A large proportion of the manuscripts, particularly in Djenné, fall under the label ‘esoteric’; incantations and magic formulas which purport to tell the future or influence the course of events by the use of phrases from the Qur’an in combination with the manipulation of vegetable matter or animal sacrifices. These sorts of practises are frowned upon by certain factions within Islam and some believe that this may possibly have caused the destruction of the manuscripts in Timbuktu by the fundamentalists who derive their Islamic creed from the Wahhabist school of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The involvement of the British Library through the EAP in these projects in Mali continues to be instrumental in safeguarding these manuscripts. In the case of Djenné not only in digital form but also in providing a physically safe environment for the storage of the documents, which had previously been kept in very precarious situations in the family homes, susceptible to the vagaries of the climate where during the rainy season violent rainstorms often cause destruction to the fragile mud buildings, and insects are a continuous hazard.

Fig 9 MaliDigitising in Djenné

However, the menace for the manuscript collections in both Djenné and Timbuktu lies not only in the threat of physical deterioration; the political situation is very unstable. There exists an uneasy truce in Timbuktu, but Islamic extremists are encamped in the surrounding desert and attacks on the city are frequent despite a very large UN peace keeping force.  Similarly, the escalating security crisis in central Mali is making the future uncertain for the Djenné Manuscript Library. State presence is withdrawing from the area as frequent attacks from local Islamic fundamentalists target state employees at institutions such as gendarme guard posts and schools. The Mission Culturelle, as the representative of the Ministry of Culture is a potential target and by extension the Djenné Manuscript Library. So far neither has been targeted, but the situation is volatile. The fact that the Djenné collection of documents has now been digitised and that copies exists at the British Library and also at the National Archives in Bamako means that although the original copies continue to be kept in troubled central Mali, at least the vast majority of manuscripts have now been saved for scholars in digital form, and the Timbuktu manuscripts from the three famous Timbuktu University Libraries are now also on their way to being digitally preserved for posterity.

Written by Sophie Sarin, grant holder of five EAP projects based in Mali: EAP269, EAP488 (Over 2000 manuscripts newly online), EAP690, EAP879 and EAP1094

 

From September 2018, the British Library will be showcasing the projects carried out in Djenné in the form of an exhibition to be held along the Second Floor Gallery. There will also be accompanying events related to Mali during the autumn, so do check the Library's What's on page later in the year. 

16 January 2018

Doctoral Research into the Migration and Settlement of Liberated Africans

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Each year, the British Library organises Doctoral Open Days, with the aim of helping students explore the Library’s collections. Two years ago, I met Jake Richards at an Asia and Africa focused Open Day. I am absolutely thrilled to share this blog post, the first to be written by a PhD student using EAP material as part of their research.

In April 1839, J. B. Hazely, an official in the Liberated African Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, requested that his colleague, S. Thorpe, ‘with all possible speed, send up to this Department six able Boys, capable of speaking English, & fitting to be placed on board Her Majesty’s Brig of War Harlequin’. The Harlequin was one of several Royal Navy ships that patrolled the Atlantic to suppress the slave trade. Naval ships intercepted hundreds of slave ships in the nineteenth century, and transferred the embarked slaves to particular ports where they would be declared free from slavery, and then apprenticed for up to fourteen years – a process which labelled them ‘liberated Africans’. The Liberated African Department Letter Books, digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme, contain correspondence between departmental officials, Royal Navy officers, and missionaries who were involved in different stages of this process of ‘liberation’. As Hazely’s letter reveals, the six boys would work to suppress the slave trade from which they or their relatives had recently been rescued.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1837_1842_216EAP443/1/18/6 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [22 Aug 1837-15 Feb 1843]

Sierra Leone handled around half of the approximately 200,000 slaves rescued after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 – more than any other location in the nineteenth century. Britain’s colony in Sierra Leone had begun twenty years previously as a site not much larger than Freetown, established as a home for black soldiers and sailors who had fought for Britain during the American War of Independence, plus Maroons from Jamaica and freed slaves from Nova Scotia. After 1807, colonial governors and the Church Missionary Society founded a series of villages outside Freetown to manage the influx of liberated Africans, and appointed managers, such as Thorpe, to run them as part of the Liberated African Department. Many of these villages still bear their English-sounding names: Hastings, Kent, and York.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1842_1847_050EAP443/1/18/7 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [1842-1847]

The Letter Books suggest that the managers combined jobs as administrative heads, magistrates, and experimenters in labour patterns – a local social engineer before ‘decentralisation’ became a buzzword. One of the most noticeable patterns of experimentation was a division of work and opportunities according to whether the Department identified a liberated African as male or female. Managers distributed male apprentices to naval ships, to the West India Regiments, and to settle Tombo (or Tumbu) on the southern fringe of the colony. Although girls went to school, some women were married off soon after arrival, including several ‘Eboe’ women who were presented with husbands soon after disembarking from their slave ship at Freetown’s Liberated African Yard in 1838. Sometimes women worked for ‘respectable married women’ to learn domestic skills until they were eligible for marriage, as a letter from April 1842 attests. The Letter Books give only glimpses of the other work women did beyond the oversight of village managers, such as food hawking or market selling. The lack of choice in deciding labour and domestic relationships may seem surprising, but many contemporary workers in Britain had similar constraints on their choices. The Letter Books continually remind their reader that there were many gradations between enslavement and free labour, and that the processes of moving between them were unpredictable and halting.

The EAP is a cherished window into documentation at the frontier of historical research, and I am grateful to the archivists and researchers whose EAP grants made these sources accessible, to Jody Butterworth for telling me about them at the BL’s Doctoral Open Day for the Africa and Asia collections in 2016, and to the staff who ran a wonderfully helpful open day.

Jake Christopher Richards (University of Cambridge) is conducting doctoral research into the migration and settlement of liberated Africans around the South Atlantic, c. 1839 – 1871.

If you are interested in attending this year's Open Day, it is on Monday 22 January 2018.

22 May 2017

A new chapter in the story of Timbuktu’s manuscripts: Sample digitisation of materials from the Infa Yattara Family Library

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Thursday, January 26th, it’s my last day of exploration in the Infa Yattara Family Library (IYFL) and of enduring the now familiar route to its location in the newly built-up eastern outskirts of Bamako. The Yirmadjio district has become home to many Malians from Timbuktu who have sought refuge in the capital during the recent violence and instability that have disrupted the northern regions of the country.  My taxi awaits. I brace myself to inhale once more with the searing ambrosia of the Malian capital’s thoroughfares, a suffocating mix of dust, diesel exhaust and other particulates that rake the bronchial passages. The more pleasing concoction of minute inhalants still await at the library: a thin haze composed of nearly microscopic flecks of manuscript paper that are unavoidably created when folios are handled and the dry mold one brushes off a tooled leather binding. I find that it goes well with cola, others prefer the bottled water or a shot of sweet Malian tea.

EAP913Blogpost_001Example of a manuscript from the IFYL collection. Note the powdery dry mold on the leather binding wrap

Madame Fati greets me at the door when I arrive, and Daniel, my apprentice who is learning the art of manuscript photography among other aspects of basic preservation, descends, two steps at a time, wearing his habitual wide grin and embraces me with his slender frame. We make our way back up from the residence’s courtyard, to the library proper, secured by not one, but two, steel gates, a reminder of the precious materials which this unassuming house conceals and the desire to protect them adequately.  Having gained access to the room in which steel cabinets house the roughly 4000 manuscripts, my entrance disturbs the dove nesting in the window facing the street below. That too, offers a certain symbolism, though I refrain from interpreting the omen presented by the tiny egg that went missing at one point during our month-long pilot project.
EAP913Blogpost_003Dove's nest, egg still present

The libraries of Timbuktu, and the abundance of centuries-old manuscripts they contain, have consistently attracted the attention of international media during the past five years. That coverage, however, has not been devoted solely to stories of scholarly discoveries regarding one of West Africa’s most productive scholarly centers of the pre-colonial period.  Instead, accounts have largely focused on the threat to these troves of knowledge during the town’s occupation by the al-Qaeda linked militants of Ansar Dine which began in 2012. To be fair, much ink has also been devoted to the optimistic story of local Malian efforts, often with support from outside donors and experts, to secret away a large percentage of these endangered manuscripts to the safety of Bamako, where they remain today.

Like the manuscripts, the Yattara family was forced to flee their home in Timbuktu shortly after the militant occupation. Yet, despite open death threats – Pastor Yattara was specifically target because of his role as a prominent leader in the small, but vibrant, Christian community of the city – they managed to arrange the removal of much of their private manuscript library before their property was ransacked.  Like dozens of other families, whose collections can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of works, their holdings received sanctuary in the Malian capital under the auspices SAVAMA, a local NGO dedicated to the protection, preservation and study of these material. Founded by a scholar-librarian of Timbuktu, Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, and with the support of various private foundations and other international partners, the SAVAMA team has assumed responsibility as temporary caretakers of this fragile class of movable heritage.

EAP913Blogpost_002Inside the Infa Yattara Family Library

In the case of the IYFL collection much of the material was rehoused in archival boxes and folders and a preliminary listing of the library’s holdings was created. At the family’s request, having themselves resigned to resettle indefinitely in Bamako, the collection was returned and relocated in their newly constructed residence that could both accommodate the library and facilitate further study of its contents. To my knowledge, they are the first of such family whose library to has gone through this complete cycle of relocation. Most continue to remain in SAVAMA’s care with their continuing efforts to stabilize and document those collections. Enter the EAP and its support for our pilot project whose goals have been to evaluate the continuing preservation needs of the collection, to provide training in the use of archival materials and photographic equipment which we supplied, to assess the strengths of the holdings for future scholarship, and to digitise a representative sample of the manuscripts for open access.

EAP913Blogpost_004 Dr. Straughn reviewing a manuscript with Pastor Yattara

An additional aim of the project has been to document the history of the collection in order to better contextualize how this new chapter in its biography marks both a continuation of its relationship to furthering knowledge, and the establishment of new forms of engagement with publics that could never have been imagined by those individuals who had initially put pen to paper.  The library has formed over the life of Pastor Yattara to include items inherited from his father, the namesake for the institution, and other family members. He, like many other library caretakers, has also acquired materials from outside the family, significantly broadening the scope of its holdings, particularly in the areas of the esoteric sciences. Indeed, this practice continues a long tradition for the circulation of texts amongst scholars and bibliophiles in the communities of northern Mali and even beyond. Such networks of acquisition have extended into Andalusia in the north, Egypt in the East, and Nigeria to the south. It is not uncommon to see a manuscript where a string of former owners’ names have been crossed out and another added. In our work we came across several examples of this reinscription scattered throughout the library’s holdings.

EAP913Blogpost_005Pastor Yattara consulting with a colleague on the items to be digitised

In our daily work, the team inspected each of the manuscripts in the collection in order to document, and in many cases rectify, any issues with their current housing. We would also verify, and update where necessary, the initial data about their contents for the library’s local catalog (number of folios, condition, general subject matter). Through this survey of the holdings allowed we identified roughly a hundred manuscripts for consideration as potential items for digitisation. At this point the library director, in consultation with a local scholar, worked with us to select the fifty we would photograph in order to best represent the collection. This was not an effort to chose the fifty best or seemingly most important of the holdings, rather, our aim has been to demonstrate the range of the materials in terms of subject, condition, style, genre, date, as well as other vectors of their production. Our rationale for such an approach has been to showcase where the collection has its strengths – particularly in materials from the 19th century – such that scholars might see the potential in conducting future work with the collection as a whole or in part.

EAP913Blogpost_006   The digitisation process

On a personal note, my work with these venerable manuscripts, and the relationship that I came to have with them, reflected, in many ways, how I would experience and engage with the modern city that had become their new residence. It was a mix of the familiar and the strange, the exciting and monotonous. On any given day you might come across a series of folios filled with seemingly indecipherable magic squares with unimaginable powers. Such wonders might be followed on the return drive to the hotel with a glimpse of a man riding a motorbike with a kid (and here I mean a real baby goat) on his shoulders or a live chicken hanging on the handlebars of a mopped, wings flapping, as the driver weaves through the cars. The following day would be filled with page after page of texts on jurisprudence, often in a hand that was less than legible, even if it had not been extensively smudged by water staining and the dirt that could result from several decades of safekeeping as part of a cache of buried manuscripts. Such days might be similarly filled with endless traffic jams to rival Los Angeles or Cairo, motorists occupied with their ubiquitous mobile phones as they endeavor to inch forward. It is all valuable knowledge, whether ethnographic or epigraphic, regardless of its potential to be paradigm shifting or to supply another data point that confirms a well-established trend. My colleagues and I have been humbled by the opportunity to collect that knowledge and to have been entrusted by the Yattara family and the EAP as a conduit for its sharing. 

This blog has been written by Dr. Ian Straughn, Brown University. Dr. Straughn is the grant holder for the EAP913 pilot project.