Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Libraries of Timbuktu

Many in the west are unaware that the fabled city of Timbuktu actually is a real place, in the country of Mali, and that it exists in the present day. One of the great treasures of world civilization are the libraries of Timbuktu, which house thousands of priceless manuscripts, dating mostly from the 14th to 16th centuries when Timbuktu was an African equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge, being a center of the book trade in northern Africa as well as the site of an Islamic University, Sankore Madrasah. In recent months Tuareg and Islamist extremist groups with Al-Qaeda ties have been waging a fierce campaign in the region, and for some time held the city of Timbuktu. Because the rebel's fundamentalist outlook led them to destroy other cultural sites, such as Sufi temples in the city, many were concerned that the libraries might be attacked as well. In fact, just before French and Mali troops retook the city in the last few days, rebels burned the main library building. According to current reports however the majority of the manuscripts had been spirited away and hidden, and are safe.

The page pictured here is from a history of the Songhai Empire of West Africa, and is from an online exhibit from the Library of Congress. This exhibit would be a good starting point to learn more about the fascinating libraries of Timbuktu. Our newspaper article database of Lexis would be an excellent source for current information about events in Timbuktu and Mali. Other sources we have, such as Historical Abstracts and JSTOR, would be good for journal articles about the region.

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