We are happy to issue our first newsletter for 2015. We hope to appear quarterly and have more frequent updates between the newsletters. This issue carries articles by researchers at the project as well as news relating to the project and relevant to researchers and those interested in the fields of manuscript studies, book history, and cognate areas. Our concern with “the manuscript” can be as narrow and esoteric as one wishes; or as broad and global as one might want to make it. Although our main focus has always been the manuscript collections in and around Timbuktu, we have also always had a wider interest in all the fields connected to the handwritten book, and the book as such.
The struggle over the production, management and consumption of historical knowledge is not confined to history departments and history books. They are also embedded in concrete institutions of history such as archives and museums where evidence is created, codified, stored and imbued with “legitimacy” and “authority”. Who are the most regular consumers of archival records? My initial idea of archives, as a primary sanctuary of historians, was jolted when I ventured into studying archives as a cultural institution and epistemological organisation, rather than a simple database of docile and dusty files waiting to be excavated by expert historians. This led to my discovery of an interesting circuit of archival consumption at the National Archives Kaduna (NAK), located in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. I found that the preponderance of users of the Kaduna archives were legal practitioners.
Boasting and pun are some of the features found in the verses of many Arabic poets. In this short piece, I attempt to draw attention to the ways in which poets communicate with their verses by highlighting creative thought and wordplay.
Ethiopia is an African country known for its literary heritage which is represented by a substantial number of works. Christian, Muslim and Jewish writers have developed manuscript traditions in Ethiopia in various fields and in various languages (especially Ge’ez, Arabic, Amharic and, to a lesser degree, other local language scripts in ajami). A great number of the histories of Islamic principalities and states in Ethiopia come directly from these local historical sources written in Arabic. The challenge is that Islamic history and culture in Ethiopia is a forgotten and understudied topic within Ethiopian studies—this is an aspect that needs to be recaptured.
Dr. Eugeniusz Rzewuski stands out as an inspiration to those of us who are deeply concerned with unravelling the roots and routes of Arabic writing culture in Africa. In particular, his seminal work focussing on the ajami writing tradition in Mozambique opened up novel avenues of enquiry and formed the catalyst for extensive research in an under-researched field.