Workshop Report: “West African Manuscripts: Encyclopaedic Dimension of Study”

19 June 2012

By Mauro Nobili & Dmitry Bondarev

On 22 March 2012, the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CMSC) of the University of Hamburg hosted an international workshop entitled, “West African Manuscripts: Encyclopaedic Dimension of Study”.

CSMC is funded by the German Research Foundation (Sonderforschungsbereich 950). It brings together twenty collaborative projects, working on manuscript cultures in Asia, Africa and Europe. CSMC is engaged in fundamental research based on material artefacts, and it investigates the empirical diversity of manuscript cultures from both historical and comparative perspectives. It will establish a new paradigm that is distinct from research on manuscripts that has been undertaken up to now, which has been limited in its approach of region and discipline. On the one hand, CSMC aims at questioning cultural stereotypes associated with given manuscript traditions, and on the other, it will delineate the universal categories and characteristics of manuscript cultures. Long-term goals include the establishment of an interdisciplinary research field dealing with general manuscript studies, and the development of sustainable and functional analytical tools.

The workshop was organised by Dmitry Bondarev (Head of the sub-project A05 “Writing and Reading Paratexts: Cognitive Layers in West African Islamic Manuscripts”, CSMC) and Mauro Nobili (at that time, Petra Kappert Fellow at CSMC). The aim of the workshop was to bring together a team of specialists working on different aspects of West African manuscript studies in order to discuss and present issues as diverse as methodology, decoration, paper, non-literary functions, and uncharted collections of manuscripts.

The first contribution, by Graziano Krätli (Yale University), addressed a methodological problem in the study of manuscripts (in West African manuscripts particularly), i.e. the physical/intellectual divide. Krätli proposed a holistic and trans-disciplinary approach to the study of the manuscripts in which all the constituents and constituencies of a manuscript (the materials, technologies, practices and communities involved in its production, circulation, preservation and study) are taken into account by the researcher in order to fully appreciate “the Handwritten Book as Information Aggregate”. 

The second presentation, by Nikolay Dobronravin (St. Petersburg State University), focused on the West African manuscripts housed in the Trinity College Collection, Dublin. This famous library hosts a number of manuscripts from West Africa that still remain uncatalogued and unknown. The speaker presented preliminary results of his research on these manuscripts, started in January 2012, introducing the audience to both the content and material features of these manuscripts. Dobronravin also pointed to the presence of documents belonging to different traditions, as well as a rich documentation of old ajami Mande glosses, a completely unexplored field of research to date.

The third speaker was Constant Hamès (French National Centre for Scientific Research – CNRS, Paris) with his contribution “Textes talismaniques d’Afrique occidentale”. As suggested by the title, the presentation focused on the magical functions of manuscripts in West Africa and was mainly based on the materials included in the collection of West African talismans gathered by Alain Epelboin and stored at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

The fourth speaker, Natalia Viola (CNRS, Paris), presented a contribution devoted to the fascinating topic of decorated manuscripts from West Africa. The presentation was based on Viola’s research on the Fonds Archinard, better known as Bibliothèque Umarienne de Ségou, housed at the Bibliothèque National de France in Paris.

The workshop closed with a public lecture by Terence Walz (Washington, DC) entitled, “Watermarks in West African Archival Collections and their Significance”. The speaker presented the results of his research on watermarks in the manuscripts deposited in several collections in Nigeria. This research was carried out almost two decades ago and since then Walz has been working on manuscript collections in North Africa, mainly in Cairo. Importantly, however, his research in North Africa allowed Walz to put together relevant comparative material for better understanding of water-marked paper used in West Africa, as the bulk of the paper used there in former times, came from north African markets.

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Comments

  1. Amidu’s avatar
    Amidu 11/07/2012 #

    I would like to get in touch with the contact person at the University of Hamburg Centre for the Study of Manuscripts Culture

  2. Anthony’s avatar
    Anthony 01/08/2012 #

    Hi Amy, I totally unresdtand your skepticism. I’ve been a writer for over 20 years and know how hard it is to get attention for your work. I also have been lucky enough to be repped by ICM, Paradigm and Gersh. Yes, the book publishing and film business is really tough. I created the Writers Pitch Book in 2009 to feature pitches only for writers attending the 2009 University of North Florida Writers Conference because the conference did not have a travel budget to bring agents to Florida. So I thought why not bring the pitches to the agents. Soon afterward, I expanded the Pitch Book to include everyone. I have been happy with the response from reps and buyers. I list them on this website. So it’s great that they’re requesting the Pitch Book and then requesting work from writers, but what I really want is to have agents, editors and producers who love our writers work so much, they want to sign them or offer an option or purchase. I’m still working on that part of it. If you have any suggestions or ideas about how I can serve our writers better, please let me know. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and give input. Sharon

  3. Amidu’s avatar
    Amidu 01/08/2012 #

    It would not be a bad idea to to have a more explicit idea of the range of services offered by Sharon if such services are directly related to manuscript or archival traditions, especially in light of current difficulties in Mali and elsewhere. Thanks

  4. Mina’s avatar
    Mina 01/08/2012 #

    Dear Ms. Cobb:I recently self plhuisbed a book that I know will one day be a movie ( how’s that for confidence) !  What are your thoughts on attending a pitchfest in California where I would be able to pitch my book directly to a number of movie producers, for a fee.  I do not have a screenplay but feel confident after thirty five years in sales/marketing that I could present a winning pitch/logline.  They give you five minutes to pitch your material, however I understand that most of the producers prefer screenplays.  Now that you have thrown me an interesting and cost saving curve on your website, I would appreciate your thoughts.  Also, if you are located in north Florida, would it be possible to meet with you personally if that can be arranged.  We live in South Carolina.  Check out my website and I’ll look forward to hearing back from you.Sincerely,Henry HixsonAuthor:  The Adventures of Thomas Pilgrim and Barney High Tail

  5. ALSOFT’s avatar
    ALSOFT 10/12/2015 #

    It is a colorful report for me.After read the passage I have taken idea “West African Manuscripts: Encyclopaedic Dimension of Study” will a interesting report for my english to arabicdictionary. The workshop was organised by Dmitry Bondarev and Mauro Nobili. The aim of the workshop was to bring together a team of specialists working on different aspects of West African manuscript studies in order to discuss and present issues as diverse as methodology, decoration, paper, non-literary functions, and uncharted collections of manuscripts.The workshop closed with a public lecture by Terence Walz entitled, “Watermarks in West African Archival Collections and their Significance”.

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    cosmetica groothandel 30/12/2015 #

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    thank you for sharing this information. I want to get in touch with the contact person at the University of Hamburg Centre for the Study of Manuscripts Culture.

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