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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

West African Arabic Manuscripts: Electronic Resources

This guide was created to aid in the finding of manuscripts from West Africa that are written in Arabic or in Arabic-script.

Portion of a digitized manuscript from the Oriental Manuscript Resource (OMAR) and the University of Freiburg. This image is licensed under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 Germany license. 

Digitized Manuscripts Collections

Here is provided a list of sites housing electronic versions of West African Arabic and Ajami archival texts. It does not claim to be an exhaustive list, however it may serve as a starting point for research. 

African Ajami Library

The AAL is an initiative between Boston University and the West African Research Center (WARC) to ensure that Ajami texts from sub-Saharan Africa are preserved and are treated as major sources of knowledge on Islamized Africa. Current digitized collections include the Fuuta Jalon Pular Ajami Manuscripts of Senegal; Hausa Ajami manuscripts from Nigeria; as well as Wolofal manuscripts from Senegal. 


Bavarian State Library, Munich

The Bavarian State Library of Munich is currently undertaking a large digitization project of their microfilm Arabic Manuscripts collection, dating to between the 9th and 20th centuries, CE. The digitized collection currently contains 163 accessible manuscripts, compete with relevant cataloging information. 


Endangered Archives Programme

The Endangered Archives Programme, created by the British Library, aims to assist in the preservation of archival materials worldwide that are in danger of destruction or deterioration. Through the provision of grants, archives are located, cataloged, and ultimately digitized and deposited with local institutions and the British Library. Projects related specifically to Arabic manuscripts in West Africa have to date been undertaken in  Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal. Upon project completion, the finished products are provided online as an addendum to the projects' descriptions. 


Gallica - Bibliotheque Nationale de France

The French National Library has a large digital collection of Arabic-language resources, many of which have been made available in the public domain. It contains some works originating from West Africa.


Hathi Trust Digital Library

The Hathi Trust Digital Library contains a large collection of digitized Arab manuscripts, which are held in the public domain. The holdings include more than 1,000 volumes from the University of Michigan's Islamic manuscripts collection. A recommended search to locate these resources specifically is "manuscripts Arabic Michigan Ann Arbor." 


Hill Museum and Manuscript Library

The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) is an initiative out of Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, which claims to hold the world's largest archive of manuscript photographs in microfilm and digital formats. The archives now contain more than 200,000 complete manuscripts, many of which come from Western Africa. HMML has partnered with SAVAMA-DCI in Bamako, Mali to digitize many of the manuscripts that were evacuated from Timbuktu in 2012 - including the holdings of the Abdelbakr Bin Said Library, the Abdullah Abdrahamane Library, the Attaher Muaz Library, and the Mamma Haidara Library; totaling nearly 100,000 items. Ongoing work continues in Timbuktu with the Imam Ben Essayuti Library.  Manuscripts may be viewed online with registration. 


JSTOR - Aluka

The result of a project began by Aluka, in partnership with SAVAMA-DCI, more than 320 Timbuktu manuscript have now been made available through JSTOR.


Leipzig University Library 

The Leipzig University Library has a large collection of digitized Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts - a small number of which are from West Africa. All entries are complete with digital images, as part of the culmination of ongoing digitization efforts. 


Princeton University Islamic Manuscripts Collection - Robert Garrett Collection

Through support from the Virginia and Richard Steward Memorial fund, and the Princeton University Council of the Humanities, the Princeton University Library has digitized 1,400 Islamic Manuscripts from their existing black-and-white microfilm collection, representing approximately 1/6 of the total collection. The manuscripts contained within the digitized collection include texts on Shia law and theology; texts related to other non-Sunni sects such as the Druze and Kharijities; and more than 750 manuscripts on other subjects. 


Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts Online

The Wellcome collection contains approximately 1,000 manuscripts relating to the history of medicine, the a substantial portion of which may be viewed online. The collection comes as the result of a partnership between the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Wellcome Library, and King's College London. The collection's holdings include Arabic and Persian language texts, stretching from Southern Spain to South and South-East Asia. 

Digitized Resources by Country

Center for Research Libraries: Timbuktu Manuscript Digitization Project

The Center for Research Libraries and the Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP) have provided access to a collection of 206 manuscripts from the Bibliotheque Commemorative Mama Haidara in Timbuktu, which were loaned to John Hunwick, Professor of History and Religion at Northwestern University. The materials, in Arabic, provide documentation on Africans in slavery in Muslim societies. 


Djenne Manuscript Library 

In 2011, the Djenne Manuscript Library received a grant from the Endangered Archives Program to begin digitizing and preserving the roughly 3,000 manuscripts found in 13 familial collections in Djenne.  At the end of the project, approximately 150,000 pages had been digitized. A copy of the digital collection has been deposited at the National Archives in Bamako, and another with the British Library. 


Library of Congress - Islamic Manuscripts from Mali

The Library of Congress has provided digitized access to 32 manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha, located in Timbuktu. The manuscripts are written in various styles of the Arabic script, developed in and around Timbuktu and West Africa.


Timbouctou Manuscripts Project

Since 2003, a large-scale digitization effort has been underway in Timbuktu aimed at studying manuscript tradition in Africa. To date, hundreds of manuscripts from Timbuktu have been digitized and are available online researchers to access, upon application for registration


Oriental Manuscript Resource (OMAR)

OMAR is a database of more than 2,500 digitized Arabic Manuscripts (134,000 pages) from Mauritania, which has been produced in conjunction with the University of Freiburg and the University of Tubingen, both of Germany. The documents were scanned from microfilm copies held by the University of Freiburg, the originals of which are stored at the IMRS (Institut Mauritanien de Recherche Scientifique). 

Muhammad Bashir Abubakar Collection of Fulfulde Jihad Poetry

With a grant from the Endangered Archive Programme, a digitization project was undertaken to preserve 93 manuscripts of Fulfulde jihad poetry, owned by a private collector in 'Yola, Nigeria. According to the project description, the poetry in these manuscripts is based on Arabic poetry styles that developed in the wake of the jihad of Usman dan Fodio in the early 19th century. The bulk of the poems are written in Fulfulde or Ajami -Arabic alphabet adapted for African languages. Approximately 1500 manuscript pages have been digitized, a copy of which can be viewed from the Endangered Archives Programme. 


Northern Nigeria: Precolonial Documents Preservation Scheme (EAP087)

A project funded by the Endangered Archives Programme, this digitization effort targeted resources held in the Kano State History and Culture Bureau, the private libraries of the emir of Kano and the merchant Alhaji Alhassan Dantata, and materials held at Arewa House that relate to Kano. Manuscripts in Arabic, English, and Hausa have been preserved from these archives and are available through the Endangered Archives Programme. 

Ajami in the Senegambia

This resource provides a digitized document of Wolofal Ajami text, in the form of a poem written in honor of Serigne Mouhammadou Moustapha Mbacke, the Caliph of the Mourides. 


Digital Preservation of Wolof Ajami Manuscripts of Senegal (EAP334)

A project funded by the Endangered Archives Programme, this digitization effort was aimed at creating a digital repository of Ajami (modified arabic script) texts written in Wolof by members of the Muridiyya Sufi order founded in Senegal in 1883 by Ahmadu Bamba. The project successfully digitized 5,494 pages - amounting to 29 manuscripts from 15 collections. A copy of the digitized archives is available through the Endangered Archives Programme. 



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