Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu

Project name and URL
Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu

Organization Name
Center for Research Libraries and Cooperative Africana Microform Project

This is a collection of 206 19th century manuscripts from the Bibliothèque Commémorative Mama Haidara in Timbuktu, Mali. The materials deal with the issues of African slavery and manumission in Muslim societies. All of the manuscripts are in Arabic.

This collection is clearly meant for scholars of slavery and manumission in Muslim Africa. The search functionality is minimal with keyword and subject searching, or document number searching available. The home page for this project is minimal without any “featured” documents or explanations of how to use the collection.

Background information
John Hunwick, Professor of History and Religion at Northwestern University was loaned the manuscripts for this collection so they would receive conservation treatment and be digitized in order to make them accessible via the Web. Northwestern University’s African Studies Program also supported the digitization project.
How are digital assets presented?
The documents are presented as static images of document pages written in Arabic. The metadata gives a bare bones outline of the topic on the page, LC subject heading, author if known, document number and a physical description consisting of the document size. However, some documents have no metadata at all other than a document number, although they may be found by browsing by subject. There are thumbnail images and enlarged images, but you cannot search for specific words within the page. Searching by subject gives thumbnail images of each appropriate document with a document number. You must click on an image to get information about that particular page.

Technical specifications
The platform for this site is CONTENTdm®. Images are displayed in JPEG, JPEG2000 or GIF files.

Other thoughts
This seems like a project which really makes me think about “value for money.” Clearly these manuscripts are in great need of preservation, and their digitization insures that the information contained in them will not be lost. However, the site does not explain what the project has done to preserve the manuscripts themselves. The minimal presentation of metadata with the images makes it difficult for users to search for particular information. Further, the presentation insures that only dedicated scholars on this topic will be able to use the site. On the other hand, the likelihood that these manuscripts could be lost forever is very strong. Digitization projects like these at least insure that the information contained within the manuscripts will be available into the near future.


Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Your sixth blog post, I believe. Congrats.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

It would be good to use an alternate word for manumission sometimes, since it is not commonly used. (emancipation)