ISITA Receives Gerda Henkel Foundation Grant

January 25, 2017

The German-based Gerda Henkel Foundation has awarded nearly $45,000 to the Institute for the Study of Islamic thought in Africa (ISITA) to support the participation of 10 manuscript curators and calligraphers from Africa in an interdisciplinary manuscript-training workshop.

“Working with African Arabic Script Manuscripts” will be held at Northwestern’s Program of African Studies and the Herskovits Library of African Studies from August 14 to 19. ISITA, the University of Illinois Center for African Studies, and the University of Hamburg Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures are organizing the event.

The intensive six-day workshop is the first of its kind to focus uniquely on the rich Arabic manuscript traditions of sub-Saharan Africa, including the practice of writing African languages in Arabic script (ajami). The workshop aims to train participants in a holistic approach to Africa’s manuscript tradition that combines attention to the materiality of Arabic manuscripts with exploration of their contents and the intellectual contexts in which they were produced.

Ten curators and calligraphers will serve as instructors and resource persons for the first three days of the workshop, in which US-based scholars, researchers, and librarians will receive training on the basic issues involved in working with Arabic manuscripts from Africa. Hands-on sessions will allow participants to use the unique collection of more than 4,000 manuscripts from northern Nigeria held by the Herskovits Library and the University of Illinois’s microfilm collection. The workshop’s final three days will be dedicated to the specific needs of the African curators, including cataloging, preservation, and digitization adapted to local needs, and the development of a training guide so that the curators can conduct similar trainings at home. Evening cultural programs offered throughout the week will be open to the public and showcase the craft of calligraphy and the manuscript arts.

An organizing committee has selected a cohort of seven curators, who represent private, university, regional, and national collections in West Africa, the Horn, and East, and Southeastern Africa, in addition to three master calligraphers.

“ISITA is thrilled to be able to include these 10 experts in what promises to be a groundbreaking workshop, unique in the synergy it will create between those who use manuscripts and those who are charged with preserving and making them accessible,” says Rebecca Shereikis, ISITA associate director within the Program of African Studies. “We intend to use this pilot experience to devise, in collaboration with our international partners, a longer-term plan for a sustainable and replicable training program. We are grateful to the Gerda Henkel Foundation for its generous support.”