Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

19 June 2024

Webinars for Applicants — Round 20

We are pleased to announce that we will be holding webinars on Tuesday 16 July. If you are considering applying for a grant in the next EAP round, you are welcome to join so that you can start planning early, ready for when the call opens in September.

We will be holding two identical webinars, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon to accommodate different time zones. You can register for the webinars using the links below:


Tuesday, 16 July 2024

11.00 to 12.00 (London time) - Morning: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_dBOJ_kmnRmG9M-043O4jPg

15.00 to 16.00 (London time) - Afternoon: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_RkAEbs0lTqK6pWJObmw9Iw


17 June 2024

A Horizon Europe MSCA Secondment at the British Library Endangered Archives Programme: Accessing the Textual Literary Heritage of Bhutan

by Dr. Dagmar Schwerk, Leipzig University, Institute for the Study of Religion

From October to December 2023, I had the great opportunity to work with the British Library Endangered Archives Programme as part of my Marie Skłodowska Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship and Horizon Europe research project BhutIdBuddh: Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Travel: Identity- and Nation-Building in Bhutan.

The main objective of my secondment at the British Library was to gain further training in digital and physical archival work at this important and large library, learn more about Tibetan palaeography and codicology, and, in return, to provide helpful information about the open-access digitised Bhutanese collections of the EAP for researchers and interested readers of the British Library.

In my article “Butter Lamps, Natural Disaster, and Climate Change in the Himalayas: Preserving and Accessing the Textual Literary Heritage of Bhutan Through the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library,” I, therefore, provide an introduction to the five Bhutanese collections: (1) EAP310 “The digital documentation of manuscripts in Thadrak, Tshamdrak and Nyephug Temples;” (2) EAP105 “The digital documentation of manuscripts at Drametse and Ogyen Choling;” (3) EAP039 “Archival records from digital documentation of manuscript collection in Gangtey;” (4) EAP570 “Digital documentation of Dongkala, Chizing, Dodedra and Phajoding temple archives;” and (5) EAP1494 “Digitisation of 20 remote Bhutanese archives.” The latter and fifth project is a major area grant and still ongoing. It will not only include libraries of monasteries and temples but also fortresses as traditional seats of religious and political power and covers a much wider geographical area, including Western, Central and Eastern Bhutan.

Besides introducing the content, structure and research value of these collections, I also briefly address the role of preservation of these endangered textual collections in relation to natural disasters and the climate crisis. The digitised EAP projects indeed enable long-lasting access, engagement and inclusion of everyone, as intended by the Knowledge Matters Strategy of the British Library.

Please find the article, which is published as a project deliverable (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) on the Zenodo repository, here



Dagmar Schwerk in front of the King’s Library Tower in the British Library.


During my secondment at the British Library, I also conducted archival research about the very early entangled histories between Bhutan, Tibet, the East India Company and the British Raj in the India Office Records and Private Papers of the British Library. Moreover, being already conveniently located at the British Library enabled me to add some archival research days at the Bodleian Library and the Victoria & Albert Museum Art, Architecture, Photography and Design Department to work on additional Bhutanese materials.

In sum, my secondment and collaboration with the British Library were very fruitful for my current research project but also for further in-depth archival training, due to the great Endangered Archives Programme team, especially my supervisor Dr. Sam van Schaik, and the very knowledgeable and helpful curators and library staff of the British Library who generously supported me during my research and archival work (despite the limitations due to the cyber-attack on the British Library).

A big thanks to everyone at the British Library!

For more information about my ongoing research project (BhutIdBuddh: Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Travel: Identity- and Nation-Building in Bhutan), please see here


Dagmar 2


19 March 2024

Digitising The Histories of Islamic West Africa

       Our project, Digital Preservation of Fuuta Jalon Scholars’ Arabic and Ajami Materials in Senegal and Guinea, is funded by a grant from the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP1430). It seeks to digitally preserve 50,000 pages of endangered Arabic and Ajami manuscripts (texts written with modified Arabic script) produced by Fuuta Jalon scholars who lived between the 18th and early 20th centuries in what is now the Republic of Guinea. The 50,000 pages of the endangered Arabic and Ajami manuscripts to be preserved and digitised include the surviving texts of important scholars and the handwritten copies made by their students, followers and family members who have kept them in their private libraries in the Fuuta Jalon region in Guinea and Senegal where the second largest Fuuta Jalon community in Africa lives. These archives will be the largest digital records of this material in the world.

        The project aims to advance existing scholarly knowledge about the rich bilingual works of Fuuta Jalon scholars. This knowledge is still very scarce, partly due to Guinea’s isolation after its independence from France in 1958 and the lack of public repositories for manuscripts. The texts deal with diverse topics including astrology, divination, Sufism, theology and jurisprudence and comment on talismanic devices, panegyrics of the Prophet Muhammad, Quranic exegesis, didactic materials in prose and poetry, elegies, jurisprudence, calendars, history, biographies, genealogies, legends, commercial records and records of important events, among others. These materials could lay a foundation for future research on the legacy of Fuuta Jalon in the New World  and enable scholars, students and the public to better understand how and where some African slaves such as Abdu Rahman (1762-1829) of Fuuta Jalon acquired literacy skills before being enslaved in the Americas.

        While African Ajami literatures are largely unknown to the broader public, they hold a wealth of knowledge on the history and intellectual traditions of many African communities. Ajami has played an important role in literacy and education in many West African communities. Its history helps offset many colonial stereotypes, countering assumptions that sub-Saharan Africa lacks written traditions. The downplaying of the importance of African Ajami traditions has been perpetuated by Arab-centric and Eurocentric scholars and administrators, and its legacies persist to this day.

        Fula communities have been central to the composition, instruction and dissemination of Ajami in West Africa. Fula is the language of the Fulɓe people and it developed in several communities that spread from west to east, from Senegal to Nigeria and Cameroon, over the last millennium. The Muslims of the region played a leading role as critics and reformers of Islamic practice in the Sahel and created several Islamic states in that area during the 18th and 19th centuries. These Islamic states (especially in Fuuta Jalon and Sokoto) spurred the development of rich Arabic and Ajami literatures and literacies.


Three manuscript pages digitised by the project team in Senegal

Image 1. Manuscript pages digitised by the project team in Senegal.


        Our project focuses on preserving manuscripts central to these important legacies. The materials are endangered because they include the old and poorly preserved surviving works and handwritten copies of Fuuta Jalon scholars. Most of the manuscripts show signs of deterioration and are kept in old trunks, suitcases and boxes. Some are wrapped in animal hides. They are continuously exposed to water and fire damage and termite and vermin attacks in the homes of their owners in Senegal and Guinea.

        Our project aims to preserve these primary sources and make them available to researchers, educators, students and the public worldwide. We use digital photography for copying the materials, which are digitised on-site. Our field teams involve local scholars and facilitators whose linguistic experience and familiarity with local communities are crucial to the project’s success. When identifying manuscripts for digitisation, our teams work closely with local communities. Our local facilitators are often esteemed elders and experts who are knowledgeable about local Ajami texts and their authors and collectors and are respected in their communities. The team members locate the texts within the communities, consulting with the manuscript owners and local experts about the history, meaning and use of each manuscript. This provides the team with contextual knowledge and relevant historical and cultural information for a proper interpretation of the manuscripts and their importance and aids in the development of the manuscripts’ metadata.

        Our African Ajami projects highlight the role of local experts, scholars, community members and facilitators in knowledge-making processes. Through field interviews, our research teams seek insights into the daily practices of Ajami users, their educational and professional background and their history of learning and using Ajami. This provided us with significant information about the present-day role of Ajami in West African communities, casting light on the meaning and purpose of the Ajami texts that we study and the voices of the people who have written, collected or used them.

        The long-term goals of the project include knowledge transfer and capacity building in African communities, as well as fostering teaching, research and publications of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and scholarly monographs. Besides the current project, we have been engaged in several other African Ajami-related research initiatives recently. Our project, Ajami Literacy and the Expansion of Literacy and Islam: The Case of West Africa, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, undertook a comparative study of Ajami manuscripts in four major West African languages: Hausa, Mandinka, Fula and Wolof. Our international team of scholars digitised the manuscripts, transcribed and translated the texts into English and French, prepared commentaries and created related multimedia resources. This project marks the first time that such varied African Ajami documents have been translated into two major European languages and made accessible to communities globally. Another ongoing project we are working on, Readers in Ajami, funded by a grant from the United States Department of Education, is developing specialised Ajami readers in Hausa, Wolof and Mandinka with a multimedia companion website. It aims to provide students, language teachers, scholars and professionals with the necessary linguistic and cultural skills to engage Ajami users of West Africa. Synthesising the knowledge gathered, our new double special issue in Islamic Africa examines Ajami literatures and literacies in West Africa and situates African Ajami studies in participatory multimedia and digital archiving approaches (volumes 14, issue 2, 2023 and 15, issue 1, 2024).

        Our current project on Fuuta Jalon Arabic and Ajami archives is not the first project funded by the British Library. Project EAP334, which digitised over 5,000 pages of endangered Wolof Ajami manuscripts, and Project EAP1042, which preserved over 18,000 pages of Arabic and Mandinka Ajami texts, were both funded by the Endangered Archives Programme. Our team is grateful to EAP for supporting our work in the preservation and dissemination of these important but lesser-known written African sources of knowledge.

        The core team members of our project are Professor Fallou Ngom (PI), Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor (Project Manager), Mr. Ablaye Diakite (Local Team Leader), Mr. Mouhamadou Diallo (General Coordinator), Mr. Oumar Diallo (Regional Facilitator), Mr. Ibrahima Ngom (Cameraman) and Mr. Mamadou Billo Sall aka Bappa Sall (Senior Facilitator). We are deeply grateful to all our collaborators and the communities we work with in West Africa.


Two men, Ibrahima Ngom (standing) and Ablaye Diakite (sitting), digitising a manuscript in Ziguinchor, Senegal.      Mouhamadou L. Diallo, seated on a chair, prepares a manuscript collection for digitisation

Image 2. Ibrahima Ngom (standing) and Ablaye Diakite (sitting) digitising a manuscript in Ziguinchor, Senegal.

Image 3. Mouhamadou L. Diallo preparing a manuscript collection for digitisation in Ziguinchor, Senegal.

Three men, Fallou Ngom (on the right) and Ablaye Diakite (in the middle) having a discussion with Mamadou Seydou Diallo (the manuscript owner) in Ziguinchor, Senegal.

Image 4. Fallou Ngom (on the right) and Ablaye Diakite (in the middle) discussing with Mamadou Seydou Diallo  (manuscript owner) in Ziguinchor, Senegal.


  The Senegalese and Guinean field team members

 Image 5. Senegalese and Guinean field team members at our Digitisation Workshop, Dakar, Senegal, May 2023. 


Fallou Ngom is a professor of anthropology at Boston University. His research interests include the interactions between African languages and non-African languages, the adaptations of Islam in Africa and Ajami literatures— records of African languages written in Arabic script. His work has appeared in numerous scholarly journals, including African Studies Review, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Language Variation and Change and International Journal of the Sociology of Language. His book, Muslims beyond the Arab World: The Odyssey of Ajami and the Muridyya (Oxford University Press, 2016), won the 2017 Melville J. Herskovits Prize.

Daivi Rodima-Taylor is a social anthropologist and researcher at the African Studies Center of the Pardee School of Global Studies of Boston University. Her work focuses on informal economies, financial technology and social media, migration and diaspora and land and agrarian relations. Her longitudinal field research in East Africa studied local associations of mutual security. She has co-edited several book volumes and published in journals such as Africa, African Studies Review, Social Analysis, Journal of Cultural Economy, Geoforum, and Review of International Political Economy. Find Daivi on Twitter: @DaiviRTaylor