Verification: Here and Here and Here

In 2012, under threat from fundamentalist rebels, a team of archivists, librarians, and couriers evacuated an irreplaceable trove of manuscripts from Timbuktu at great personal risk.

The manuscripts have been saved from immediate destruction, but the danger is not over. A massive archival effort is needed to protect this immense global heritage from loss.

The evacuation of the manuscripts and the Timbuktu Libraries in Exile campaign has been featured on CNN and the New Republic.

We are currently raising $100k to preserve the manuscripts. Please help out and read more on Indiegogo:

Comments: 83 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

StephanieDiakite12 karma

There are two really big dangers that we are trying to address with this fundraising campaign:

  1. The manuscripts are jam-packed in metal footlockers. This means that they are being subjected to risks of damage for lack of padding or protection from one another. Everytime a footlocker is moved, the manuscripts rub against each other causing damage. Individually boxing the manuscripts and inserting humidity traps in the boxes then repacking the boxed manuscripts in footlockers will resolve this issue.

  2. The manuscripts have lived for centuries in the dry desert of the Sahara. They are not used to being exposed to humidity and the things that come with it like mold, mildew and fungus. They are in southern Mali which is much more humid, even when it isn't raining. We have begun to see the effects of the humidity change in the footlockers - manifestations pointing to mold, mildew and fungus on paper and also on leather bindings. The rainy season will begin in earnest next month - it literally rains buckets and everything gets kind of wet and steamy. This means that there is a very, very significant risk that one of these manifestations will take hold - that kind of thing would spread like wildfire in the footlockers, destroying the manuscripts as it goes.

aThousandArabs7 karma

What do you think is the most important or historically significant manuscript kept at the libraries of Timbuktu that is at risk?

StephanieDiakite9 karma

We feel very strongly that every manuscript in the corpus is important to someone. During the evacuation we did not prioritize, we will not do so during the individual boxing work we are trying to finance now eiither. The corpus is extremely diverse - from cookbooks to holy corans with everything in between.

Jffteach6 karma

Have you contacted Daniel C Peterson at BYU? He heads METI. The Middle Eastern Text Initiative there. They have done great work imaging and preserving Texts of this nature.

kaysea1123 karma

She's a preservation expert herself and their one and only corporate sponsor specializes in digitizing books. They may already have that covered. They just need money.

Jffteach3 karma

I just know Dr. Peterson is also an expert and might be able to provide University Backing or assistance. Worth a shot don't you think? BYU assisted with the Dead Sea Scroll project and the Herculaneum (Vesuvius papyri) imaging.

StephanieDiakite3 karma

You are a stakeholder in this Jiffteach - reach out to Dr. Peterson. Every single lead is worth a shot - survival mode, guys. SURVIVAL MODE!!

PichinchaV5 karma

Do you think the average Malian appreciates the cultural heritage of Timbuktu? Is it a source of pride to people?

StephanieDiakite8 karma

During the evacuation it became clear to us that the manuscripts are considered national heritage by malians of all ethnic groups and all walks of life - many hundreds of people, trying to survive a war in their country, offered, at their risk, to help us save "our manuscripts". It was truly inspiring.

archaeologist4hire5 karma

I don't have a question but I did want to say thank you for your work! I found your IndieGoGo page earlier today and donated.

I was fearing the absolute worst when I saw the news that the library had been destroyed (I'm an archaeologist, I tend to get all weepy when anything of historical value is destroyed) so I'm so glad there's a way for those of us in other parts of the world to help!

StephanieDiakite5 karma

Big barakas to you for your contribution!!! Watch the UofOregon presentation on the site- i started crying when I was talking about the manuscripts and I didn't even have a hankie!!! This is heritage that resonates with people everywhere - that is why we believe its content is so important to save! You too are part of the great learning adventure of Timbuktu!!

greenlobster34 karma

When do you think it will be possible to reinstate the manuscripts in their home (Timbuktu)?

Also, has the worldwide attention the effort is receiving put you, your team or the manuscripts themselves in more danger?

StephanieDiakite6 karma

We made a decision when we evacuated the manuscripts to keep them in hiding for at least a year. That decision was made in February. We hope that elections planned in July can be held and that governance will improve, enabling the north of the country to stabilize. For the time being, we feel that there are on-going security issues of real concern for the manuscripts and the manuscript families. They have all asked that Abdel Kader retain stewardship until things are fully "back to normal" in the north.

And between destruction and danger - both big bad "d" words, we take danger.

For the time being, the whereabouts of the manuscripts remains unknown. That is their greatest protection. We cling to that.

untzuntz4 karma

Do you guys have any sufi manuscripts?

StephanieDiakite2 karma

There is a tremendous amount of material written by sufi and about sufism.

untzuntz5 karma

Awesome! Are there any digital preservation efforts going on?

StephanieDiakite6 karma

The association of family libraries that Abdel Kader presides has digitized a couple thousand manuscripts (there are hundreds of thousands of manuscirpts). because the manuscripts are, for the most part, made of linen rag paper that is extremely brittle because of the dry climate and because most of the inks are ferous and unstable, you cannot use a heat or light based digitizing process. Everything has to be done by cold-circuit photographic process - as you can imagine this adds oodles of time and cost to the process. The war in Mali has put a real damper on this work as Abdel Kader concentrated all his energy on the evacuation and now on maintaining the evacuated manuscripts. We fantasize about digitizing the whole corpus -but right now, we need to ensure the physical integrity of the manuscripts to ensure there is something to digitize!

smokeyd21973 karma

What a great thing to do. So much ancient information has been needlessly lost over the years. I applaud you both on your efforts.

What are some of the methods that you are using for preservation? Are you working on copying everything as well as making sure the originals are secure?

StephanieDiakite6 karma

I think there may be a little bit of confusion - we just finished evacuating the manuscripts in extremis. they are jam-packed freestyle in hand made metal trunks we had blacksmiths make for the occasion. they were pulled off shelves in family libraries in the dead of night during a "belligerent" induced curfew where anybody caught out on the street was immediately placed in a deep doo doo situation. they are neither wrapped, nor boxed, they are not in air conditioned rooms but in cement houses, often in rooms with no windows but with heavily locked doors because the donors didn't want to fund renovation - we could only afford padlocks with the funding we had. Copying everything? These materials are so vulnerable you can't expose them to light - have to be photographed in natural sunlight. Not really the moment for that considering that they are still in hiding as we assume there are big-time "belligerent" cells operating underground all over Mali. The reboxing, humidity traps and additional footlockers we are trying to fund is only to ensure the manuscripts do not self destruct from exposure to mold, mildew and fungus and additional damage due to freestyle packing during their exile. We fantasize about "real conservation" - digital and physical, but we are in survival mode here, folks. It all sounds very exciting, I know, but the truth is, if we don't secure the physical integrity of this patrimony, we may lose it. That would be a terrible tragedy for humanity. Unimaginable, in fact.

palipride473 karma

Do you think of these manuscripts having a certain "cultural significance" in terms of dispelling the myth that Africa had no universities or other signs of "complex civilization" and the myth of the "noble savage" with only oral tellings or griots?

And what do you think about these manuscripts in terms of propelling that conversation/education forward?

StephanieDiakite3 karma

For years, we have been dispelling those foolish concepts about Africa. This heritage is indisputable proof of highly sophisticated scholarship and sociocultural interchange in Africa over the centuries. As I said earlier, our long term goal is the mainstreaming of the knowledge in the corpus in appropriate sustainable development and governance channels in Africa. During the evacuation, we witnessed the power of the manuscripts to bring people together - even now, during this campaign, we are all witnessing that power - the heritage brings people of immense cultural, ethnic and intellectual differences together. Look at all of us right now!!! This is not a game or a gimmick - it is African scholarship that has brought us together with a common and noble purpose. Tell me that isn't magic!!!

allenahansen3 karma

Have you had any so-called para-normal experiences while working with these artifacts? Any communion with long-past archivists from other eras who've sacrificed to keep them out of the hands of those who would destroy them?

Thank you very much for your efforts. I've made a small donation and urge other readers here to do so as well.

StephanieDiakite2 karma

no paranormal as described but, on several occasions during the evacuation, abdel kader and i experienced something i have trouble describing - power, strength, perseverance. can't adequately articulate what it was. we kept thinking that we had to lose some manuscripts - theft, bandits, "belligerents", books in combat, books in canoes on the niger river - we had to lose some, right? well, we didn't. not a single manuscript was compromised during the evacuation - nada, zero, zilch manus lost. they all made it to safety. now they are in danger anew in their safehaven. ultimate irony if they are lost now because we can't afford to offer them the physical conditions they require to survive, ie, the need for crowd funding. this isn't something that a single donor or we alone can undertake - we need the resources and the support of as many people worldwide as we can possibly gather. just by participating in this AMA, you are making that happen. share the campaign with your personal and professional network, encourage them to become contributors and stakeholders as well.

antiraket3 karma


StephanieDiakite3 karma

Stephanie: i"ve been working with abdel kader for many years to promote, preserve and develop the manuscripts. it is a passion of mine, i'm a book artist and book and paper conservator with one side of my brain and an attorney and governance specialist with the other. I work in about 40 countries in africa in governance and abdel kader and i work in a number of countries supporting libraires of manuscripts similar to those in timbuktu. we, like everyone else who lives in and loves Mali were completely blindsided by the events of last year - hey, i'm a governance person and Mali has been heralded as an example of good governance for years!!! When abdel kader came to me and said that if we don't get the manuscripts out of timbuktu they are going to be destroyed, we plotted and planned and implemented the evacuation. losing them is unimaginable - then or now.

i've never even rescued a cat before and all the credit for the evacuation goes to abdel kader and the many malians who participated close up or from afar.

antiraket2 karma


StephanieDiakite3 karma

hey, i'm a governance specialist with the other side of my brain and used to be pretty smug about having Mali as my home base. hurt and humbled pretty much sums up my reaction to the events in Mali. hurt and humbled indeed!!

StephanieDiakite3 karma

Does anyone on this AMA know any celebrities? We need spokespeople bigtime!!

mspoppins3 karma

Do many fundamentalists try to stifle the evacuation with arrests to people for trying, or violence? This is so important, I do love history and though some may see it as futile I think it's super valiant. Thank You!!! :)

StephanieDiakite6 karma

it was all done in secret and abdel kader and his team emptied book boxes and left the boxes on shelves in libraries so the belligerents (aka fundamentalists) didn't actually figure out what was going on until the vast majority of the manus were out of timbuktu city - we had a few harrowing incidents en route, both with "belligerents" and soldiers fighting them - the valiant guys are the courriers who transported the footlockers!

seuftz2 karma

First I want to say that I am very happy to have supported you in this endevour to save these books.

I am appaled that people would destroy not only part of their own history, but the treasures left to humanity by our ancestors, and all humans should be able to witness it and see it preserved for future generations.

Now what I say next may seem callous, but have you considered to digitize/photograph the books, to make this your first priority instead of preserving the books themselves?

While these books are relics and should be preserved, I think that the content of a book is always more important then the book itself.

As long as you preserve what is written/drawn in some form or another, the books and what they stand for can never be truly destroyed, neither by time nor by the hand of religious fundamentalists.

StephanieDiakite2 karma

They have to exist to be digitized, we are addressing that issue with this campaign. Then think about volume a little bit - 300 000 free folio manuscipts, very few of which are single folio. That is a lot of digitization....can you imagine the resources necessary for an operation of that scale? And finally, think about the artistry of the manuscripts - they are unique works.

seuftz2 karma

And I am happy that you make preserving the manuscripts your priority.

I'm just concerned about what will be lost if you cannot save the physical manuscripts.

StephanieDiakite2 karma

well, there you go. that is our concern too, obviously. concern is a little weak - obsession may be more appropriate. we pretty much gave up on sleeping back when the "belligerents" entered timbuktu as you can imagine.

seuftz2 karma

I really hope it won't come to this.

So much of humanitys legacy has already been destroyed by people who value their irrational dogma over everything else.

StephanieDiakite2 karma

The best way for it to work is for everyone to share info in their personal and professional networks and to encourage all to contribute/participate. We are very, very far from our goal and it is going to start raining buckets soon in Mali.

zushiba2 karma

This is really fantastic, I hope you guys get more exposure because so far it looks somewhat overlooked.

It's scary how much of the world's history is being gobbled up by crazy people.

StephanieDiakite2 karma

The best way for us to get more exposure is for each of you to reach out to your personal and professional networks. Think of yourselves as Ambassadors of the scholarship.

electorpalatine2 karma

I'm an art historian that works on Late Medieval/Early Mod. MSS in Europe. Is there anything that people like me (book historians, PhDs with codicological and paleographic training, but not specialists in anything from Timbuktu or related regions) can do to help outside of funding? I have medievalist friends who would be happy to count quires for a cause like yours, especially if some work could be done digitally!

StephanieDiakite2 karma

Thanks for your interest! For the time being, we are concentrating on the immediate physical integrity needs of the manuscripts in the safehouses. If/when we get through this hurdle, we plan to launch an ALL OUT DIGITAL OFFENSIVE to get a permanent record of the corpus. At that time, we will need many people with your profiles! Keep in touch, become a member of the T160K initiative on our website and indicate your areas of volunteer interest. Be aware however, if we aren't able to respond to the current conservation challenges, we are very afraid we may lose manuscripts before we can digitally record them.

BluthCompanyBanana2 karma

Why don't you move the manuscripts to the United States or Europe for protection?

StephanieDiakite9 karma

Patrimony that leaves it's home has a very hard time getting back - there are numerous collections of African patrimony in that nebulous state already. This patrimony is Malian, we will do everything possible to keep it in Mali until we can return it to its families in Timbuktu.

hollywood_jack2 karma

Earlier today an update was posted on indiegogo about receiving a corporate sponsor. What are the implications in terms of money, labour, or anything else I'm not thinking about?

StephanieDiakite3 karma

today a small company offered a corporate sponsorship - we are happy to receive funds from organizations and companies that believe in the value of the work and as long as they understand that we only work with families who agree to open access to their manuscripts.

this is a very important issue for us - we believe that the scholarship is part of world heritage and that as many people as possible across the world should access it.  this is one of the main reasons we feel so good about crowd funding - it enables many, many people to become stakeholders in the corpus.

FredV1 karma

Have you contacted Google? Since they already own ReCaptcha and Google Books, they have infrastructure to do large-scale digital archival. Such a thing as donating to the preservation of this knowledge base, would seem to align with the interests of Google.

StephanieDiakite2 karma

There are kind of scarey licensing issues. we are concentrating effort on ensuring the physical integrity of the corpus for the time being. if we get that done - we can go to the next level and think deeply on how to approach the digitization challenge.

FreshPondIndian2 karma

Were you able to evacuate 100% of the threatened documents? Also, are the terrorists/insurgents/whatever you want to call them looking to get them back in order to destroy them (to the best of your knowledge)?

StephanieDiakite5 karma

We estimate that we evacuated approximately 95% of the manuscripts. A couple of collections were evacuated by their families. A small number of manuscripts belonging to the public collection were burned. We are keeping the manuscripts in hiding for a variety of security concerns, including destruction by people who feel their content is ideologically "inappropriate".

TotalHell2 karma

While I realize all the manuscripts are of great importance (as per your answer to an earlier question), are there any that you personally find particularly interesting or impressive? What's the oldest manuscript in this group?

StephanieDiakite3 karma

Stephanie: abdel kader and i fight about this alot - my spouse and his call us " les amis terribles" - something like the terrible twosome...........he is a total content person, i'm a book person (ie the object - the artistry of it) there is a manuscript that we found in a library about 400 kilometers in the deep desert outside Timbuktu, it is the most stunning example of indigenous saharan art i've ever seen. i'm getting all gushy just telling you about it.............i'm also a very committed governance technician and there is a wealth of material outlining conflict resolution strategies and histories enacted by the "sage" of Timbuktu over the centuries. Abdel Kader and I both believe this material needs to be brought to the table in Mali as it may hold keys to sustainably resolving the current conflict in Mali but also, in other places in the world exposed to similar territorial and ideological adversity.

GraemeTurnbull2 karma

What an awesome cause guys, you are carving your little place in history! Well done! Keep fighting the good fight!

StephanieDiakite3 karma


CunningAllusionment2 karma

I know I'm late to the AMA, but I was wondering if this AMA and the bump in your fundraising effort can be attributed to the post about your work on /r/history.

StephanieDiakite2 karma

Bless /r/history in all cases if they are talking about our campaign!

sadistikkk2 karma

Are you related to Jason Diakité?

I couldn't link it because the Wikipedia link screwed the linking up, sorry

StephanieDiakite6 karma

Am i related to jason diakité - no, but I'm going to hook my kids up to his music that you just enabled for me!!!

djinncoyote2 karma

Of the few thousand manuscripts which you mentioned were previously digitized, are any available for viewing online, and have any been translated into English?

Are most of the manuscripts unique, or are a certain percentage of them duplicate copies of the same works?

StephanieDiakite2 karma

A few years ago, Abdel Kader gifted some manuscripts to the Library of Congress for the purpose of their digitization, translation and so that they could be made available to interested parties in the US. You can access those for a start. There are a number of classic Arabic language works where there are many repeats. The uniqueness of these works is often to be found in the artistry of the manuscript or because it was copied by a particularly well known calligrapher or there are margin comments by a famous scholar of the time. There are otherwise mundane manuscripts that have fascinating comments in them about life in Timbuktu over the centuries - what was going on politically, fashion of the day, etc. This corpus has scholarly and artistic fun for everyone!!!

GeneralissimoFranco2 karma

My understanding is a decently large amount of money has been put towards the preservation of these manuscripts in recent years. What has happened to those funds and why can't you draw on them for your efforts?

I've always been skeptical of crowd funding because I fear it does very little to promote accountability. I read in another comment you posted that you are appealing to crowd funding as it promotes an open process of saving and preserving these manuscripts. Do you think crowd funding will make the safe keeping of these manuscripts occur more quickly than traditional fundraising? What are the benefits and downfalls of taking money from traditional sources (corporations and larger nonprofits) to assist in your efforts?

StephanieDiakite3 karma

The vast majority of funding has gone to support conservation efforts in the small public collection held at IHERI-AB. There has bee valuable work done there but it is much more about building capacity for collection management, including conservation, that doing in extremis preservation work - what we are confronted with now. We got some help with the evacuation but the majority of the work we funded ourselves with help from our families. I'm hocked up to my eyeballs and Abdel Kader and his family are living in exile. That means that his labs, his library, his offices and his home are not available to us for these operations. Nor are any of the libraries that he and the Ford Foundation have supported over the years in Timbuktu. Mali has been at war and Timbuktu has been in the center of it. That is why we evacuated the manuscripts in the first place.

We think that the more people who feel they have a stake in the corpus, the safer it is. For us, all of the contributors to the campaign are constituents of the heritage. We are accountable to each of them in that they contribute to preserving it at this most crucial period in its existence - this is do or die, here - not a long term socioeconomic development project. To date, we have been unable to mobilize major donors for this work - they are more interested in the long term stuff like digitization. This is survival work - alot less sexy for their "sustainable development" objectives. Every organization involved in development has its own agenda and its own way of working - one of the most pertinent issues that I work on with the other side of my brain is donor coordination and building national capacity to drive national ownership. The amount of time that is required to satisfy donor monitoring and evaluation (ie reporting requirements) is often redundant, tedious and neither time nor cost effective. I dream that Abdel Kader will someday have enough funding to be able to autonomously finance the mainstreaming of the knowledge in the corpus in appropriate sustainable development and governance channels in Africa. To do that, we need to immediately address the burning issue of the survival of the corpus - we think taking this to the world and offering everyone an opportunity to become a stakeholder in this through our crowdfunding campaign is the best and most honorable way to approach our final goals.

djinncoyote2 karma

What kind of moisture traps are used with the archival boxes? Have any other stop-gap measures been considered, such as vacuum sealing the manuscripts in plastic bags?

StephanieDiakite2 karma

We assume that during the rainy season we will have to use interchangeable traps due to the sheer volume of humidity. After that time, we think we will be be able to use internal wraps that will require less frequent changing. See previous response on where we are - re SURVIVAL MODE.

DrFunPolice1 karma

How much of the corpus is written by women?

StephanieDiakite7 karma

interestingly enough, the evacuation of the manuscripts has been the first opportunity to do an inventory of the work - this work has been done in collaboration with dutch institutions including the Prince Claus Fund, the DOEN Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Holland. We cannot tell you how much work is done by women with any certainty, but we can confirm that there is work by women and for women such as material on women's and child health, family law, the rights of women among others there is also literary work by women including poetry that we know of. this inventorying was so exciting for us - it continues to this day and it is just marvelous to see the breadth and the diversity in the corpus first hand!!!

pimptruckin1 karma


StephanieDiakite1 karma

Did not know that, you have a contact? I'll hit him up - manuscripts on ice??? sounds good to me!!

friedjumboshrimp-2 karma

Do people assume you're bullshitting when you mention Timbuktu, as if it's a fictional location?

StephanieDiakite5 karma

in general, only americans think timbuktu is a mythical, nonexistant place - i think it orginates in the american saying about it being at the end of world.....

MicahsAnAristocrat-5 karma

Have you come across any ancient spank-rags yet? Ancient porno? No? Yes? Regardless, I'll donate some cash.

StephanieDiakite3 karma

Sorry, no porn.