ISITA brings African curators and the Herskovits Library together for workshop on African Arabic manuscripts

September 19, 2017

by Rebecca Shereikis 

ISITA's workshop attendees in front of PASIn August, the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA) and its partners hosted “Working with African Arabic Script Manuscripts,” a weeklong training workshop with the dual goals of increasing Americans’ understanding of sub-Saharan Africa’s rich manuscript culture, while also supporting African curators’ efforts to preserve and make African collections accessible.

Thirty-five participants, including instructors, curators, and American university students, faculty, and librarians took part in lectures, hands-on sessions with Arabic and ajami manuscripts from the Herskovits Library of African Studies’ rich collection, and site visits to Chicago area libraries.

Thanks to support from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, seven curators from African manuscript libraries in Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zanzibar were invited to help in the instruction and share information about their collections. Other instructors were drawn from Northwestern, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Yale, Berkeley, Wesleyan, University of Cape Town, University of Hamburg, and Paris. 

ISITA workshop

The workshop was organized jointly by ISITA and UIUC’s Center for African Studies as part of the US Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant in African Studies shared by UIUC and Northwestern; and the Centre for the Study of Manuscripts Cultures, University of Hamburg. Collaborating units at Northwestern included the Program of African Studies, the Buffett Institute, the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, and the Center for Scientific Study in the Arts (NU-ACCESS). External collaborators included the American Islamic College of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Newberry Library, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Museum, and the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.

ISITA workshop certification

“The lectures and exercises really were outstanding,” said Matthew Steele, a PhD student at Harvard Divinity School. “From the regional focus to the breadth of topics, I can’t think of another workshop that covers as much ground or focuses as deeply on Islamic Africa. I learned an enormous amount from participating.” 

The workshop was “a lifetime opportunity well seized,” said M.M. Jimba Moshood, Professor of Arabic at Kwara State University, Nigeria, and Director of the Centre for Ilorin Manuscripts and Culture. He urged his fellow participants to “pass the knowledge we gained at the workshop to the youths around us and also think of how to organize our own workshops and conferences within the African continent.”

Plans to repeat similar workshops, possibly in Africa, were discussed as a way to continue and expand a network of African curators in the coming years.

Africa, Religion