ESARBICA Journal: Journal of the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives

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Timbuktu Rare Manuscripts Project: Promoting African partnerships in the preservation of Africa's heritage

Mary Minicka


This article describes the Timbuktu Rare Manuscripts Project. The project is concerned with providing assistance to Mali in the conservation and preservation of the rich trove of manuscripts to be found in and around the immediate environs of Timbuktu. The project is a result of a bilateral agreement concluded between the governments of Mali and South Africa, following a visit by President Thabo Mbeki to Mali in 2001. The article begins by briefly examining the history of Timbuktu and how it became a highly regarded centre for Islamic scholarship, by way of contextualizing the presence of manuscripts in Timbuktu. As a centre for scholarship, Timbuktu saw the founding of many libraries around individual scholar's schools and mosque's libraries. It is the remains of these libraries which now present a challenge to preserve. The article then looks at the challenges of preserving manuscripts in a very harsh environment where temperatures can reach the upper-50s in summer; where dust and insects are an ever-present reality and threat to the manuscript heritage of Timbuktu. While the article focuses on the Timbuktu Rare Manuscripts Project, it links conservation to the African context by describing the basic conservation orientated institutional practises which can be implemented by institutions of any size faced with the preservation of their paper-based documentary patrimony.

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