ANCIENT TIMBUKTU MANUSCRIPTS DIGITISED FOR PUBLIC VIEWING

Last week, Google Arts and Culture launched a virtual gallery to showcase over 40,000 digitised pages of the Timbuktu manuscripts. These iconic manuscripts, some dating back to the 11th century, contain knowledge ranging from maths and geography to astrology and astronomy to music and biology. In 2012, Islamist militant groups took hold of the Northern Mali city, going after important artefacts like these manuscripts, which were, thankfully, smuggled to Bamako by several families who understood their cultural value.

For centuries, Timbuktu was a hub of knowledge, playing an integral role in the spread of Islam across the African continent and also furthering intellectual discuss on a range of subjects. The manuscripts are written on a range of materials, from Italian paper to goat, sheep and even fish skins. This process of digitising the manuscripts took about seven years, following an initial conversation between librarian (and manuscript smuggler) Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara and Google in 2014. The virtual gallery is part of a new Google Arts and Culture project titled Mali Magic, which also celebrates the West African country’s music, modern art and monuments.

The monuments section contains over 50 exhibits, including the first online, interactive tours of some of Mali’s most significant historic sites. The collection also contains videos and images dedicated to the country’s contemporary art scene, as well as profiles of some of the artists. For the music section, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara wrote and recorded Maliba, a 7-track album dedicated to Mali’s cultural heritage and spirit. With its multi-pronged approach, Mali Magic captures and helps preserve the legacy of a country with a significant and rich culture, despite currently being riddled with insurgency and political uncertainty.