Swahili Manuscripts Project

25 April 2016

The library of the School of Oriental and African Studies holds the largest public collection of Swahili manuscripts in Britain. The collection includes more than 250 manuscripts dating from the 1790s to the 1970s, contained in the papers of William Taylor, Alice Werner, William Hichens, Wilfred Whiteley, Jan Knappert and Yahya Ali Omar. The library also holds microfilms of the manuscripts that were deposited by JWT Allen at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The SOAS manuscripts are an invaluable resource for the study of cultural and literary history. Many were scribed in Arabic script, and many contain poetry composed in northern Swahili dialects. Letters, stories, notes, essays on history and culture and drafts of published and unpublished books number among the collection’s offerings.

The Swahili Manuscripts Project aims to create a comprehensive catalogue of the SOAS manuscripts, thus enabling researchers and more general readers to make focused and, it is hoped, greater use of an illuminating collection. The project, a collaboration between the Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa and the SOAS Library, is funded by a research project grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

Entries for the British Library’s holdings of Swahili manuscripts have also been added to the catalogue. The British Library’s collection consists of eleven manuscripts, dating from the 1890s to the 1970s, mainly religious works.

To find out more about the project and its collections, click here.

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