The Tombouctou Manuscript Project

A pioneering project centring a “history of the book” approach to African Arabic script manuscripts

For the academic year of 2023-2024 the CallFront project will be presenting a series of seminars and a workshop concentrated on the scripts practiced in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.  In building this regional pole, the pioneering work of the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project has provided an essential stepping stone to further our collaboration with calligraphers from the region as well as focus on the study of the scripts. In this blog, Susana Molins Lliteras, member of the CallFront consortium, introduces us to the main lines of work carried out by the Tombouctou manuscript project and the new perspectives which CallFront will continue to explore and develop in the wider context of calligraphies in Arabic script in other frontier regions.


The Tombouctou Manuscripts Project (TMP)[1] (University of Cape Town, UCT, South Africa), directed by Shamil Jeppie and active from 2013-2018, began with various aspects of the study of the manuscript tradition of Timbuktu, Mali. This city was a great centre of learning and was famous in West Africa and far beyond, from the 13th to the 20th centuries. Local scholars and their students recorded their scholarship – original works and copies – in manuscripts, many of which have survived to the present in different libraries and collections. Our project centred on the diverse content of the manuscripts, the circulation of scholars and ideas, the economy of the manuscript book, and other aspects of the “work of scholarship” in Timbuktu. We looked at various aspects of the manuscripts, including legal and social history; scholarly elites; history of the book and book collecting; history of reading in West Africa and African Arabic calligraphy.

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