Lecture at IFAN, Senegal

By Rodima-TaylorDecember 11th, 2021

Prof. Fallou Ngom delivered a virtual lecture on African Ajami on September 13, 2021 at URICA (Unité de Recherche en Ingénierie Culturelle et en Anthropologie) at the IFAN, Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar, Senegal.

Towards Comparative Global Humanities

By Rodima-TaylorNovember 30th, 2021

Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor presented on African Ajami at the conference Worlds Enough and Time: Towards a Comparative Global Humanities, organized by the MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, November 12-13, 2021. The conference explored novel approaches to an integrative transformation of the Humanities through a radical foregrounding of geographical scope and temporal depth. It aimed to develop new comparative methodologies based on the world’s archives and conceptual vocabularies, to address the social, political, and creative functions of cultural heritage in today’s world and to advocate more effectively for social justice, cultural understanding and reconciliation. Conference presentations and collaborative discussions explored the ways in which forms of knowledge production and humanistic inquiry from other times and places could inspire a productive transformation of today’s humanities, while taking inspiration from the historical experience and textual archive of non-Western and marginalized knowledge cultures and traditions.

New Federal Grant Award: Readers in Ajami

By Rodima-TaylorOctober 4th, 2020

The team of Ajami scholars at Boston University, led by Professor Fallou Ngom, has been awarded a three-year grant of $178,900 by the U.S. Department of Education to develop specialized Ajami readers in Hausa, Wolof, and Mandinka (three major African languages with rich written Ajami literatures) with a multimedia companion website. The Readers in Ajami (RIA) project will provide students, language teachers, scholars, and American professionals with the necessary linguistic, cultural and literacy skills to engage Ajami users of West Africa. The resources of the project will cover a range of fields, including business and economy, health and medicine, agriculture and the environment, and human rights, politics and diplomacy. The project will produce a methodology that can be replicated for other world languages with dual literacy systems (Ajami and Latin script orthographies). It will provide an optimal model of how to build and sustain specialized textual and digital educational resources that incorporate local voices and knowledge recorded in multiple African Ajami scripts – something many academics and professionals have overlooked for centuries. The project draws on the expertise at BU and overseas in Ajami, African linguistics, pedagogy, social anthropology, and digital technology. Our team, led by Professor Ngom, includes Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor, Dr.  Jennifer Yanco, Dr. Zoliswa Mali, Dr. Mustapha Kurfi, Mr. Ablaye Diakite, Mr. Mouhamadou L. Diallo, and the Geddes Language Center digital specialists led by Dr. Mark Lewis (Alison Parker, Shawn Provencal, and Frank Antonelli). Introductory team meeting of Project RIA took place on November 20, 2020.

Rodima-Taylor Published Work on Digital Infrastructures

By Rodima-TaylorAugust 29th, 2020

Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor, Project Manager of NEH Ajami, published several articles recently focusing on the role of digital technologies in mediating local and global distributions of power. The review article “Promise, Ethnography, and the Anthropocene: Investigating the Infrastructural Turn”  (in American Anthropologist) examines the role of contemporary infrastructures in in exacerbating the environmental and social challenges of the Anthropocene and explores their potential to distribute material and knowledge resources in novel, sustainable ways. The article “Interrogating Technology-led Experiments in Sustainability Governance” (with Bernards et al., in Global Policy) suggested novel pathways for exploring key ethical, social and political considerations involved in the increasingly technological solutions to global sustainability issues. Another collaborative article, “Global Regulations for a Digital Economy: Between New and Old Challenges” (with Beaumier et al., in Global Policy), examined the unique challenges posed by digital technologies to regulators and policy-makers on local, national and global levels. Daivi's forthcoming co-edited book, Land and the Mortgage: History, Culture, Belonging holds her chapter "Land, Finance, Technology: Perspectives on Mortgage Lending." Her recent work also explores the intersection of the local and global in digital remittance infrastructures, and the legitimacy of digital development in small states. The social study of algorithmic power was highlighted at a co-organized symposium “Law, Ethics, Culture: The Human Face of Artificial Intelligence” at the University of California, Irvine.

Digitizing Past and Present: Our Geddes Digital Humanities Team

By Rodima-TaylorJune 12th, 2020

By Mark Lewis and Daivi Rodima-Taylor

The Geddes Language Center of Boston University is one of the integral partners of our NEH-funded Research Project on Ajami Literature and the Expansion of Literacy and Islam: The Case of West Africa. The Geddes Language Center is a full-service language learning facility dedicated to providing an extensive humanities resource for the College of Arts and Sciences and the Boston University community. Founded in 1960, the mission of the Geddes Language Center is to support the teaching and learning of languages, literatures, cultures, and film as faculty introduce new learning modalities and resources, both in the classroom and online.

The staff of the BU Geddes Language Center


The collaboration with the Geddes Digital Humanities Team under the leadership of Mark Lewis provides a unique multi-media component to our archival and research project. Geddes web designer Alison Parker and director of programming Shawn Provencal provide the website design and coding elements to accommodate the digital repository and display of Ajami manuscripts, their transcriptions and French and English translations, in four West African languages – Wolof, Mandinka, Hausa and Fula. Video resources specialist Frank Antonelli processes and edits video and audio files that form an important part of the NEH Ajami project, and advises project scholars on the use of multi-media equipment.

Geddes has a long-standing collaboration with the BU African Studies Center. This includes the African Language Materials Archive (ALMA) that is a multi-partner project focusing on the promotion and documentation of literature and literacy in the languages of Africa. This archive holds a collection of cassette recordings from the 1980s, made during field research in a number of different Sahelian and desert countries. Many of the transcriptions accompanying these recordings were translated into Western languages, mostly French or English. This collection, known as At the Desert’s Edge, involved hundreds of interviews of every-day people in traditional societies. Researchers engaged them in discussions of the ecological conditions of their existence and the state of the environment in their countries.

The countries that are part of the ALMA project are Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and the Sudan. The project represents one of the largest digitization initiatives the Geddes Language Center has undertaken in more than a decade, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. All coordination and technical work is done by Frank Antonelli, Video Resources Specialist. The primary material of this collection was digitized during the years of 2016-2019.

Our Scholars at the African Studies Association Annual Meeting

By Rodima-TaylorNovember 27th, 2019

The African Studies Association 62nd Annual Meeting, “Being, Belonging and Becoming in Africa,” took place in Boston, MA, from November 21-23, 2019, in Boston Marriott Copley Place. The Annual Meeting featured presentations and contributions by several of our NEH Ajami Research Project scholars.

NEH Ajami project director Fallou Ngom was chosen to present this year’s African Studies Review Distinguished Lecture. The lecture series was established in 2011 featuring state of the art research in African Studies. Prof. Ngom’s lecture was titled “Beyond Orality: Non-Europhone Sources and African Studies in the 21st Century.” Dr. Ngom’s other engagements at the Annual Meeting included panels Between the Lines: African Languages in Ajami Manuscripts and Quranic Education, and Roundtable: Islamic Manuscripts, Muslim Intellectuals, and European Colonialisms in West Africa.

David Robinson was engaged in Roundtable: Joseph C. Miller Dialogues Part I: The Communal Ethos: Methods and Mentorship in African History, and served as discussant in panel Two Books on West African Islam - The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa.

David Glovsky presented in panel The Importance of a Regional Approach: The Case of Senegambian History, and chaired and presented in Roundtable: Frontiers in Digital History in Africa: Trends, Opportunities, and Futures.

Daivi Rodima-Taylor served in the ASA Annual Meeting Local Arrangements Committee, and chaired and presented in the ASA Local Arrangements Committee Panel Building Bridges through Migration: First Generation African Immigrants. She also co-chaired and presented in panel Crypto-politics: Digital Media, Sociality, and Power.

Former ASA Board member, Jennifer Yanco, has been active in organizing local field tours and other ASA Local Arrangements Committee activities.

David Robinson on Ethnohistorical Fieldwork in West Africa

By Rodima-TaylorOctober 21st, 2019

Our project member Dr. David Robinson describes his experience preparing and carrying out interviews in Senegal and Mali in the linked article “Interviewing, Intermediaries and Documents: Senegal and Mali,” published in Mande Studies (vol. 20, 2018). He emphasizes the importance of his assistants or intermediaries for the choice of informants and the conduct of the interviews, as well as the quality of translation of the sessions. In his fieldwork, he combined the interview material with documents, especially an Arabic ethnohistory written by Cheikh Moussa Kamara in the 1920s, to produce his publications on Futa Toro and al-hajj Umar. He also reflects on the transformation, i.e. Africanization, of the History Department at the University of Dakar.  READ MORE HERE

Boston University Libraries Uploaded the World’s Largest Digital Collection by Mande Scholars

By Rodima-TaylorOctober 9th, 2019

By Eleni Castro, Fallou Ngom, Daivi Rodima-Taylor

Boston University scholars and digital collections experts recently completed uploading the largest to date digital collection of Mande scholars' work in the world. The project EAP 1042, funded by the British Library/ARCADIA focused on the archives of Mandinka scholars of Casamance, Senegal. The BU team digitized over 18,000 pages of Arabic, Arabic-Ajami bilingual texts, and Mandinka Ajami manuscripts covering a variety of religious and non-religious subjects. These materials will help scholars and students of Africa for generations to come enhance their research and teaching on various aspects of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Africa.

The Ajami texts of the Mandinka people of Casamance in southern Senegal are not well known beyond local communities. Many of these sources are written in Mandinka Ajami, the enriched form of the Arabic script used to write the Mandinka language for centuries. Among the least documented, only a few Mande Ajami manuscripts (including languages such as Bamanankan, Eastern Maninka, Western Mandinka, Jakhanke, Jula, and Susu) are available to scholars. The recent EAP 1042 project funded by the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme has changed this, identifying and digitally preserving over 18,000 pages of Mandinka Ajami and Arabic texts from the Casamance region of Senegal. The Endangered Archives Programme provided digitization/curation guidance and funded this digital preservation project, which is supported by Arcadia, a charitable trust of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin and administered by the British Library.

The project involved an international research collaboration between Boston University, the West African Research Center, and local experts in Senegal. Several of the team members had extensive expertise in digital preservation of endangered manuscripts - for example, Professor Fallou Ngom led the initiative of digital preservation of Wolof Ajami manuscripts in Senegal in 2011, which resulted in the creation of the African Ajami Library at Boston University. Eleni Castro, OpenBU & ETD Program Librarian at Boston University Libraries, served as the Mandinka project’s technical lead and conducted training in best practices in digital preservation of manuscripts to the fieldwork team. Other participants in the project included scholars from Senegal, as well as local knowledge experts and distinguished elders.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the project was its significant fieldwork component of working with manuscript owners and language experts in the local communities of Southern Senegal. Following a three-day digital preservation workshop at the West African Research Center (WARC) in Dakar in January 2018, the team spent 15 months interviewing manuscript owners and digitizing rare manuscripts from Ziguinchor, Kolda, and Sédhiou, and curating and post-processing over 18,000 digital images. Three independent copies were deposited at WARC in Dakar, the British Library, and Boston University’s African Ajami Library on OpenBU.

Araabukaŋ Suuku Kotooriŋo: old Arabic poem with glosses by Alī ibn Ḥusayn (659-713). Different generations have commented on the document as reflected in the blue ink made with a modern pen. Ngom, F., Castro, E., & Diakité, A. (2018)

The manuscripts, often kept in trunks in the households of the local scholars or their descendants, covered a broad range of topics - including jurisprudence, divination and astrology, religious poetry and prose, secular records of commerce, local genealogies and biographies, folkloristic treatises of traditional medicine, customs and rites, accounts of social institutions and local cosmologies.  Containing a wealth of knowledge about local livelihoods, customs and mores, several texts constituted more than static repositories – functioning as ‘living documents’ with their marginalia of opinions and insights that were continuously added as the texts journeyed among the community members. A significant part of the manuscripts consisted of poetry designed to be performed and recited in the local communities – serving as an efficient tool of education and socialization. The themes dealt with issues of politics, morality and ethics, family and community relations and norms, shared history and experience of war and peace.

Working in remote areas of rural Africa with limited access to power and adequate lighting also created certain technical challenges, prompting the team to find innovative ad-hoc solutions. In order to not burden the local households of manuscript owners, the team had to work with available light and the help of a macro ring flash. They found that replacing a hot camera battery with a cooler one after a period of work helped to resume digitization much faster. Locally available channels of communication, such as WhatsApp, were used to coordinate activities between the geographically dispersed team members. Fieldwork data were regularly uploaded on Google Drive, speeding up internet access with the help of a mobile hotspot modem.

Digitization work at Abdou Khader Cisse's home. Ngom, F., Castro, E., & Diakité, A. (2018)

All of these materials are now publicly available in the African Ajami Library (AAL) on OpenBU and will soon be available on the British Library Endangered Archives Programme website. All of the digitization equipment and a copy of the digital archive will remain with the local partner, West African Research Center in Dakar, in order to support its digitization projects and make accessible the materials to researchers in the region. However, there is still more work to be done to help researchers more effectively discover, explore, and study these materials. The digital team will be looking into using an IIIF image viewer for scholars to more easily be able to view, compare, and annotate manuscripts. Since not all West African languages currently have their Ajami letters assigned Unicode characters, transcription is a long‐term goal to help make these materials more accessible. Another ongoing effort—from a social and cultural perspective—is sustaining and building enduring relationships with the manuscript owners and communities where the materials originated from.