The New York Times today reports a very exciting development: the great Arabic texts from the medieval Golden Age of Timbuktu are being digitized and made available online by aluka.org, in a joint project with Northwestern University. At least 300 of these texts are expected to be online by the end of this year.
According to Aluka.org’s news page,
The manuscripts and their covers demonstrate a sophisticated visual and technical artistry and reflect a rich intellectual and scholarly tradition. They cover a diverse range of topics and genres, including the natural and physical sciences (astronomy, mathematics, botany, and medicine); the literary arts (poetic verse, panegyrics, grammar); the Islamic religious sciences such as theology (kalãm), jurisprudence (fiqh), legal opinions (fatawa); and historical accounts (tarikh). Many of the manuscripts are written in local vernaculars (some of which are archaic forms of the present-day languages of Songhay, Tamasheq, and Fulfulde, among others) with Arabic script. Charts, diagrams, commentaries, and marginalia are plentiful; some recount complex genealogies and scientific theories, others record intellectual disagreements among scholars, teachers, and commentators.
The scanned documents so far collected can be browsed here, although you will need to register at the site. To see where they come from, join us on The Road to Timbuktu and the Rivers of West Africa.