The city of Djenné, Mali, shares the same glorious past as a centre of learning and commerce with its more famous ‘twin sister’ Timbuktu. Held in private collections in Djenné and its surrounding villages, the manuscript collection of this region is unexplored by researchers, and in dire need of preservation.
Since the first pilot survey project in 2009, the Djenné Manuscript Library has gradually become the custodian of over 100 family collections. Although Djenné cannot equal Timbuktu in the sheer quantity of its manuscripts, there is no doubt that there still remains an enormous number of manuscripts in an endangered situation both in Djenné and in the surrounding villages. A significant portion of Djenné’s collection consists of copies of canonical texts found throughout the Islamic world: it is clear that the Djenné Library is one of the richest written sources in Mali for the history of sub-Saharan Africa which still awaits scholarly exploration.
The political situation in Mali is far from stable. The destruction of many manuscripts in Timbuktu has illustrated vividly the menace of Islamic extremism which poses a real threat for the manuscripts of Mali. Digitisation offers the only certain way to preserve these documents.
Stemming from three previous projects in 2009, 2011 and 2013, the project digitised 2,616 manuscripts belonging to 61 families. The project dealt with many complications, due to an increasingly precarious political situation in central Mali, and suspicion about the projects from certain factions in the town.