New Research Grant for African Ajami Studies from the British Library

The Boston University Ajami Studies team received a new research grant from the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library (EAP 1430), for a project “Digital Preservation of Fuuta Jalon Scholars’ Arabic and Ajami Materials in Senegal and Guinea.” The project that will commence in Spring 2023 will digitally preserve 50,000 pages of endangered Arabic and Ajami manuscripts (texts written with the modified Arabic script) produced by Fuuta Jalon scholars who lived between the 18th and early 20th century in the Republic of Guinea. The 50,000 pages of the endangered Arabic and Ajami manuscripts to be preserved in this project will include surviving texts of important scholars and handwritten copies made by their students, followers, and family members who keep them in their private libraries in the Fuuta Jalon region in Guinea and Senegal where the second largest Fuuta Jalon community in Africa lives. The archives to be preserved in this project will be the largest digital records of such materials in the world.

The project aims to advance existing scholarly knowledge about the rich bilingual works of Fuuta Jalon scholars. That knowledge is still very scarce, partly due to their country’s isolation after its independence from France in 1958, and the lack of public repositories of manuscripts. The texts deal with diverse topics such as astrology, divination, talismanic devices, Sufism, theology, panegyrics of Prophet Muhammad, Quranic exegesis, didactic materials in prose and poetry, elegies, grammar, philology, jurisprudence, calendars, history, biographies, genealogies, legends, commercial records, records of important events, diplomatic correspondences, pastoral poems on nature and rural life, and French colonization and its legacies. These materials could lay a foundation for future works on the legacy of Fuuta Jalon in the New World, and enable scholars, students, and the public to understand better how some enslaved Africans were educated and acquired Arabic and Ajami literacy skills before their captivity in the Americas.

The long-term goals of the project include knowledge transfer and capacity building in African communities, as well as fostering teaching, research, and publications of peer-reviewed articles in academic journals such as Islamic AfricaJournal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and African Studies Review, book chapters, and monographs based on the primary sources preserved in this project.

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