Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Libraries of Timbuktu

We are in danger of losing one of the world's great storehouses of knowledge, as the medieval libraries in and around Timbuktu suffer from encroaching desertification, termite infestations, and high humidity during the short but intense Malian rainy season. UNESCO designated the libraries of Timbuktu the first site within its Memory of the World Program.

Some one million manuscripts--up to five hundred pages each--are threatened. The manuscripts, most stemming from the 12th to 16th centuries (Western reckoning), include copies of the Koran, sermons, explications of Islamic law, other Muslim religious texts, treatises on mathematics, medicine, optics, geography and astronomy-- many of the latter predating Galileo and Kepler.

An international preservation and cataloging effort is underway, led by universities in Norway and the Ford Foundation, working closely with Malian organizations and scholars. Click here for the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project and here for a report from the Ford Foundation. Both sites include a great deal of documentation plus several videos.

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