By John Noble Wilford
May 20, 2008
From Timbuktu to here, to reverse the expression, the written words of the legendary African oasis are being delivered by electronic caravan. A lode of books and manuscripts, some only recently rescued from decay, is being digitized for the Internet and distributed to scholars worldwide.
A legal opinion on the rules for buying and selling goods.
These are works of law and history, science and medicine, poetry and theology, relics of Timbuktu’s golden age as a crossroads in Mali for trade in gold, salt and slaves along the southern edge of the Sahara. If the name is now a synonym for mysterious remoteness, the literature attests to Timbuktu’s earlier role as a vibrant intellectual center.
In recent years, thousands of these leather-bound books and fragile manuscripts have been recovered from family archives, private libraries and storerooms. The South African government is financing construction of a library in Timbuktu to house more than 30,000 of the books. Other gifts support renovations of family libraries and projects for preserving, translating and interpreting the documents.
Now, the first five of the rare manuscripts from private libraries have been digitized and made available online (www.aluka.org) to scholars and students. At least 300 are expected to be available online by the end of the year.
The project to collect the digital manuscripts is being organized by Aluka, an international nonprofit company devoted to bringing knowledge from and about Africa to the scholarly world.
“The manuscripts of Timbuktu add great depth to our understanding of Africa’s diverse history and civilizations,” said Rahim S. Rajan, the collection development manager at Aluka.
Rahim S. Rajan, an alumnus of The Institute of Ismaili Studies’ Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities, gave a detailed overview and demonstration of the Aluka initiative on 6th June to IIS faculty, staff and students.