In March 2013, the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) at the University of Hamburg joined the international effort to save the Timbuktu manuscripts which are considered one of the most important collections of the written heritage of the West African literary tradition, and an immensely valuable source for the cultural history of the whole region. Three months earlier, approximately 300,000 manuscripts, including voluminous and small-sized items, had been rescued from the threat of extinction posed by radical Islamist rebels during the period of political and civil unrest in Northern Mali. This gigantic operation undertaken by the NGO SAVAMA-DCI took eight months to transfer the contents of many Timbuktu libraries to Bamako, the capital of the Republic of Mali.

Urgent measures for their preservation, restoration, and research have been taken by several countries, with the active participation of German institutions. Generous funding from the German Federal Foreign Office and the Gerda Henkel Foundation has enabled the specialists at the CSMC to contribute materially and through their expertise to preservation of, and research on, the Timbuktu manuscripts in Bamako.

The overall objective of the international effort is to establish archival facilities in Bamako where the Timbuktu manuscripts can be stored, preserved, catalogued, digitised and made accessible to Malian and international scholars. These measures will ensure that the long-lived written tradition of sub-Saharan Africa, which stretches back to the European Middle Ages, is given its deserved place in the cultural heritage of humanity.


02 November 2018 – reception at Hamburg Senate dedicated to our Timbuktu project

The project “Safeguarding the manuscripts of Timbuktu” was presented during the official ceremony at the Senate of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, at the presence of representatives of supporting institutions, donors and long-standing friends and sympathisers of the project.
Dmitry Bondarev, Maria Luisa Russo and Abdel Kader Haïdara presented the main achievements of the project and outlined the perspectives for the future. The participants speaking on behalf of various institutions praised the cooperation between Mali and Germany in the joint effort to preserve the cultural heritage of Mali. The speakers included Dr. Eva Gümbel, State Secretary for Science, Research and Equalities of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Ms. Oumou Sall Seck, Ambassador of the Republic of Mali to Germany, Ms. Heidrun Tempel, Director for Research and Academic Relations Policy and Cultural Relations Policy, Federal Foreign Office, and Dr. Anna-Monika Lauter, Director of Patrimonies Programme and Public Relations, Gerda Henkel Stiftung.
Presenation: Rettung der manuskripte aus Timbuktu, 2014-2018: Download the texts and slides.

The SAMAT project and the Senate ceremony were covered in a radio broadcast of NDR 90,3:
Titel: 'Rettung der Timbuktu-Manuskripte'
Autorin: Susanne Roehse
Braodcast 2.11.2018 - 6:20pm
NDR 90,3 - Kulturjournal

The event was timed with a two-day workshop on 'African Voices in Islamic Manuscripts from Mali' held at CSMC on 31 October-1 November.


11-15 October 2018 - Maria Luisa Russo in Timbuktu

Maria Luisa Russo travelled to Timbuktu and stayed there four days. She visited some of the libraries that were renovated with the financial support of the German Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt). She also had an opportunity to see some of the manuscript collections that were not moved to Bamako in 2012 and remain in Timbuktu. The travel was logistically supported by MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali). This trip is a follow up on the visit made by Dmitry Bondarev in 2017. Such trips allow the coordinators of the project to monitor progress of various project components and to set up follow-up schemes of manuscript preservation and research beyond 2018. The security situation in Timbuktu is still precarious and we are very grateful to MINUSMA for their help and support. Maria Luisa’s trip is featured in this UN publication.

1 October 2018 - Masterpieces of Mali: Djenné and its Manuscripts

Dmitry Bondarev was invited to talk about the importance of the manuscripts from Djenné at the public event at the British Library, “Masterpieces of Mali: Djenné and its Manuscripts”. His presentation drew upon recent discoveries made in the course of the cataloguing modul of the SaMaT project funded by Gerda Henkel Foundation.

27 September 2018 - Beyond Timbuktu: Preserving the Manuscripts of Djenné

Maria Luisa Russo and Dmitry Bondarev attended the opening of the photographic exhibition “Beyond Timbuktu: Preserving the Manuscripts of Djenné, Mali”, which will be on display until 6 January at the British Library, London. The exhibition features contemporary photographs of the Djenné, the World Heritage Site, and manuscripts digitised in the course of three project funded by the Endangered Archives Programme. Our SaMaT project has contributed to the preservation of Djenné’s manuscripts, providing funding for box making and in-depth cataloguing of almost 2,000 manuscripts. This work was part of the SaMaT module funded by Gerda Henkel Foundation.

18 September 2018 - UNESCO Jikji Prize awarded to SAVAMA-DCI

SAVAMA-DCI has been selected as the winner of the 2018 UNESCO Jikji Memory of the World Prize in recognition of its efforts to preserve Islamic manuscripts of Mali. The biennial UNESCO Jikji Memory of the World Prize is awarded to an individual or group who has made a contribution to preserving and promoting written heritage. We congratulate our Malian colleagues from SAVAMA-DCI on this important award.

Project’s outcomes in September 2018

From January to September 2018, SAVAMA-DCI made 6,598 boxes and produced Arabic handlists of 65,000 manuscripts. The handlists are currently being revised and translated into French and by the end of 2018 they will be uploaded on the handlists section of the SaMaT website.

June 2018 - Daily activities in Djenné Manuscript Library

The project in the library of Djenné has been extended until September 2018 thanks to the support of Gerda Henkel Foundation. The team at the library continues working on cataloguing, providing detailed insights into the content and physical condition of manuscripts. The library also carries on with boxmaking, which is essential for long-term preservation of the collections.

10 April 2018 – new material and equipment to the libraries in Timbuktu

At a ceremony held at SAVAMA-DCI on 10th April in Bamako, materials and equipment acquired for eleven libraries in Timbuktu were presented to Mr. Chirfi Moulaye Haidara, the representative of SAVAMA-DCI in Timbuktu. The equipment will be delivered to the following libraries: Cheick Ahamed Cissé; Alboukhary; Cheick Ibrahim Alhassane; Imam Alpha Saloum; Cady Ahmed Baba Aboul Abass; Almoustapha Konaté; Mohamed Yahya Ould Komni; Alphady Cheickna Sidaly; Alpha Attayoub; Attaher Mouaz; Zawiyatou Kounti.
The ceremony was attended by the Malian Minister of Culture Ms. N’diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo and it was reported on the national television news (ORTM channel).

March 2018 - New office space at SAVAMA-DCI

A new office space has been created at SAVAMA-DIC’s headquarters. The office will be a meeting point and a working space for various research teams working on the Malian manuscripts. Building works were supported in the framework of the DFG long-term Ajami project.

Daily routine of the 2018 phase of the project

Activities planned for the financial year 2018 have started. Work on handlists began in January. To prepare the final stage of boxmaking which started in April, the last months of 2017 and the first months of 2018 were spent for purchase and shipment of all needed materials (cardboard, cloth, tools). The laboratory is now fully equipped for this year’s activities.

Project’s outcomes for the phase of 2017: boxes, handlists and renovation

In 2017, in accordance with the planned workflow, the team at SAVAMA-DCI made 6.000 boxes and handlists of 65.000 manuscripts. SAVAMA-DCI delivered the electronic versions of the handlists (in French and Arabic) to CSMC. Most of the lists are now available on the handlists’ webpage. Renovation works were carried out at the Moulaye Rachid Library building in Timbuktu and were successfully completed.

24 November 2017 - Press conference

On 24 November 2017, a joint press conference was organized in Bamako by IHERI-ABT and SAVAMA-DCI. Both organisations highlighted the importance of joint efforts in the field of manuscripts preservation and research. IHERI-ABT and SAVAMA-DCI belong to different institutional domains (the former is a governmental public institute and the latter is an NGO) and it was stressed that their collaboration will be beneficial for the wider national development. On that occasion, the participants of the press conference appreciated the technical and financial partnership with CSMC as well as the support granted over the years by the German donors to the Malian public and private institutions. The conference was reported on the national television news (ORTM channel).

Daily routines in Bamako

Daily activities in Bamako, at SAVAMA-DCI’s premises: dry cleaning, box-making and work on inventory lists. The end of the year is approaching and we are glad that our yearly goals (6.000 boxes, 65.000 entries in the inventory lists) will soon be achieved.

22-23 November 2017 - Conference in Bamako

On 22 and 23 November 2017, CSMC’s activities were presented at a sub-regional conference in Bamako, entitled “African manuscripts and research in West Africa: mutual support, challenges and perspectives”. The conference was organized by SAVAMA-DCI with the support of Ford Foundation. Maria Luisa Russo presented on the engagement of German institutions and donors in the support of research activities, and Darya Ogorodnikova discussed the ongoing projects on Ajami manuscripts. The conference was attended by participants from several African and European countries.

November 2017 - New contract between CSMC and IHERI-ABT

In November 2017, a new contract was signed between CSMC and IHERI-ABT (Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques Ahmed Baba de Tombouctou). In the frame of the project funded by Gerda Henkel Stiftung, IHERI-ABT will lead a research project on the critical edition of the historical work by Al-Mukhtar al-Kunti’s Dīwān al-mulūk fī salātīn as-Sūdān (The history of the rulers of the Sudanic sultanates) which is preserved in manuscript form at IHERI-ABT. The project will study other manuscripts in the libraries of Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

18 October 2017 - A new edition of the SaMaT brochure

On Wednesday, 18 October 2017, the new and revised edition of the brochure “Safeguarding the Manuscripts of Timbuktu” was launched. This coincided with the opening ceremony of an exhibition dedicated to the partnership between Mali and Germany held at the German Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt). The trilingual brochure provides a good overview of the project’s aims and activities, challenges and achievements, and future plans.

13 May 2017 - Ségou

The Cheick Oumar El Kebir Djire library in Ségou, renovated and equipped with the support of Gerda Henkel Stiftung, was inaugurated at an official ceremony.

23 April 2017

Maria Luisa Russo and Banzoumana Traoré (SAVAMA-DCI) were invited by Jutta Vogel Stiftung to the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum (Völkerkundemuseum) of Cologne for a session on the “Spektakuläre Rettung des Weltkulturerbes in Timbuktu”. Joint efforts of German donors and SAVAMA-DCI to preserve Timbuktu manuscripts were presented.

7 February 2017 – Extension of funds from the German Federal Foreign Office

In October 2016 SAVAMA-DCI and CSMC submitted an application to the German Federal Foreign Office for funding extension of the major preservation works in 2017. We are pleased to announce that the application was approved and we are very grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for the continuation of their support.

3 – 5 February 2017 – Handlists of manuscripts

Inventory lists of fourteen libraries have been uploaded to the section “Handlists of Manuscripts” on SaMaT website.

18 January 2017 – Online access to digitised manusripts

1500 digitised items from Mamma Haidara Library have been put on the vHMML Reading Room. This a first batch of digital material to appear online as part of digitiseation work at SAVAMA-DCI, supporeted by Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.

15-19 January 2017 – Training workshop in Djenné supported by Gerda Henkel Foundation

From the 15th to the 19th of January 2017, Michaelle Biddle, collection conservator and head of preservation services in the Wesleyan University Library, conducted a hands-on training on paper humidification and leaves separation for the curators of the Djenné Manuscript Library. The workshop was organised by Maria Luisa Russo who also assisted in teaching the training courses. The workshop was a follow up on the courses taught by Michelle Biddle in the Library in November 2015. This time, the training focussed on more specialised topics, including different methods of humidification used for separation of paper leaves stuck together. These methods were demonstrated on a set of manuscripts selected from the Library’s collections. The experience acquired during the workshop will allow the library team to apply more sophisticated methods of preservation to the manuscript collections in Djenné.

December 2016 – Overall progress

The overall progress of works funded by the German Federal Foreign Office has been updated in a monitoring table.

17 October 2016 – Vienna

Abdel Kader Haidara, Dmitry Bondarev, and Eva Brozowski were invited to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna to discuss the importance of manuscript heritage of Mali and to give presentations on various aspects of the SaMaT project. The event entitled “Manuscripts of Timbuktu” was organised by the Embassy of Mali in Berlin and attended by Ramatoulaye Diallo, the Minister of Culture, Mali, and the Toumani Djimé Diallo, the Ambassador of Mali in Berlin. The Embassy of Mali in Berlin released a report of the event (in French). Details in German and photographs of the event are available on the following links:

Diplomatische Akademie Wien - Event notice
Vienne Institute for International Dialogue and Communication - Event notice Die Schriften von Timbuktu, Botschafter von Mali in Wien

12 October 2016 – Manchester

Maria Luisa Russo presented a paper entitled “Joining the dots: projects on conservation and research of Malian written cultural heritage” (co-authored with Dmitry Bondarev) at the international conference “Collections, connections, collaborations: from potential to impact” in the framework of the programme “Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities” (The National Archives and Research Libraries UK). See photograph.

The abstract of the paper:
The University of Hamburg, with the financial support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Gerda Henkel Foundation, runs two projects dealing with the written cultural heritage of Mali. The environment of interconnected social space created by this collaborative work helps maintain careful attitude to what constitutes cultural heritage. Through participation in different modules of the projects, the members of the complex multilingual and multicultural communities find connective space in the activities related to manuscript preservation, cataloguing, and research.

31 July 2016 – Progress in preservation

New high quality certified preservation materials have been purchased in Europe, such as brushes, protective masks, cutters as well as pencils and rubbers. These materials will be used for dry cleaning, leaf numbering, and creation of protective folders. At the same time, environmental monitoring has been carried out by means of dataloggers installed in the storage rooms in December 2015, as well as by using insect traps.

15 July 2016 – Advancement in box making

Due to advancement in box making there is a need for additional storage space. The manuscripts from one of the storage rooms which became too small will be moved to a more spacious storage facility and will be placed on shelves.

22-25 June 2016 – Events in Timbuktu

On the occasion of the the Assembly of the Administrative Council of SAVAMA-DCI held in Timbuktu, SAVAMA delivered to the libraries’ owners the equipment (shelves, tables, chairs, computers) that had been purchased with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office in the frame of the SaMaT project. This delivery has involved the libraries that have been reconstructed or renovated so far.
SAVAMA-DCI and official governmental representatives visited the libraries currently under reconstruction in the framework of the same project. See photographs and video of the event.
The official ceremony was covered by the Malian tv, ORTM, and broadcast on 2 August.

5 February 2016 – 35 Timbuktu libraries under SAVAMA-DCI’s care in Bamako

Out of 35 libraries under SAVAMA-DCI's care, 12 libraries have been inventoried and 11 libraries have been boxed. An update as of December 2015 with a breakdown list of the libraries can be found here.

28 January 2016 – Extension of funds from the German Federal Foreign Office

At the end of 2015 SAVAMA-DCI and CSMC submitted an application to the German Federal Foreign Office for funding extension of the major preservation works in 2016. We are pleased to announce that the application was approved and we are very grateful to German Federal Foreign Office for the continuation of their support.

20 January 2016 – Digitisation works will be twice as intensive as before

SAVAMA-DCI, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, and the Juma Al-Majid Centre for Culture & Heritage have reached an agreement on doubling the capacity of digitisation work at SAVAMA-DCI. Following this agreement, the number of studios will increase to 12 (from the current 6) and there will be 22 technical assistants (compared to the current 13) working in the studios.

11 December 2015 – Digitisation in Bamako continues

SAVAMA-DCI and Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) signed another one-year extension of the digitization work funded by HMML.

16 November 2015 – Meeting of the German institutions with SAVAMA-DCI in Berlin

On 16 November 2015, after their ten-days research visit to CSMC in Hamburg, Dr. Haïdara and Dr Traoré of SAVAMA-DCI attended a meeting in Berlin. The meeting organized by CSMC brought together the SaMaT project team, representatives of the German Federal Foreign Office, Gerda Henkel Foundation, Jutta Vogel Foundation and the German Research Foundation (DFG) to discuss progress and future plans of the CSMC project “Safeguarding the Manuscripts of Timbuktu”. SAVAMA-DCI and CSMC presented reports on the major activities, and set up the year 2018 as deadline for all major preservation works to pave the way for larger research and restoration projects. The participants positively received the reports and welcomed the future plans of bringing the preservation components of the project to completion by 2018.

4–15 November 2015 – SAVAMA-DCI works with CSMC in Hamburg

Dr Abdel Kader Haïdara and Dr Banzoumana Traoré came to Hamburg to take part in research activities at CSMC and to discuss progress and future steps on SaMaT project. The Malian colleagues brought eight samples of different manuscripts from the Timbuktu collections for material analysis of ink and paper. A summery of SAVAMA-DCI’s visit is given in their report.

29 October to 2 November 2015 – Training workshop in Djenné supported by Gerda Henkel Foundation

Ms Michaelle Biddle, Head Conservator at Wesleyan University Library, conducted training in basic conservation and box making at the Djenné Manuscript Library. The training took full four days from 29 October to 1 November and a morning session on 2 November. Ms Biddle introduced a non-adhesive type of boxes made of heavy weight corrugated cardboard. More details are in Michaelle Biddle’s report. The successful outcome of the workshop is illustrated in these pictures showing the progress in box making eight weeks after the workshop.

27–30 October 2015 – Ford Foundation gives a two-year grant to SAVAMA-DCI

Following successful discussions at the regional office of the Ford Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria, 'SAVAMA-DCI' will receive financial support for covering administrative and rental expenses as well as for making 5,000 boxes which will house approximately 40,000 manuscript items. This will considerably facilitate the international efforts of bringing the preservation works at SAVAMA-DCI to completion in near future.

2–9 October 2015, Bamako – Workshops on preservation, cataloguing, and digitization of West African manuscripts

From 2 to 9 October, as part of the Malian-Franco-German manuscript awareness event “Paroles de sagesse” in Bamako, CSMC organized a series of very successful workshops on conservation, cataloguing and digitization (see the programme) with 50 specialists and participants from ten (including five African) countries. The workshops were funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, CSMC, Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, and The Islamic Manuscript Association. A report and photographs of the event give a detailed account of the workshops.

1 September 2015 – Start of cataloguing and preservation work in Djenné

Supported by shared funds from the Gerda Henkel Foundation and Endangered Archive Programme, British Library (EAP-BL), the Djenné Manuscript Library started work on cataloguing and preservation. Thanks to the co-funding scheme, the Djenné Manuscript Library welcomed Mr Saadu Traoré as head cataloguer who works with his assistant Mr Mohammed Diallo. Mr Traoré’s expertise in cataloguing of Islamic manuscripts is essential for the overall quality of the ongoing digitization project that has been funded by EAP-BL since 2009. The preservation work will be reinforced by new members of staff who will be responsible for making boxes and other basic conservation tasks.

1 September 2015 – Start date of the project “African voices in Islamic manuscripts from Mali: a study of African languages written in Arabic-based script (Ajami)”

With the support of Gerda Henkel Foundation, CSMC started a two-year project dedicated to the study of the African languages preserved in the manuscripts of SAVAMA-DCI, IHERI-AB, and other Malian libraries. Dr Dmitry Bondarev, the head of the project, and his five-strong team based in Mali will identify, catalogue and analyse the Ajami manuscripts – a largely ignored but very important source for the history of Islamic education and literacy in African languages. The team comprises Dr Hamadou Boly, Dr Banzoumana Traoré, Dr Ismaila Zangou Barazi, Mr Mouhamadou Almarzouk Cissé, and Dr Samby Khalil Magassouba. External advisors to the project are Dr Tal Tamari and Dr Lameen Souag.

27 July to 1 August 2015 – Workshop on preservation and conservation at SAVAMA-DCI, Bamako

Ms Maria Luisa Russo and Ms Eva Brozowski organised and conducted a six-day workshop on conservation and preservation which took place at SAVAMA-DCI’s head office in Bamako. The workshop was attended by SAVAMA-affiliated technicians and one technician from IHERI-AB. The event was supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

1 July 2015, 6 – 7.30pm - Public Event
A dialogue with Dr Abdel Kader Haïdara
'Manuscripts and Libraries of Timbuktu: A First Hand Account'

Dr Abdel Kader Haïdara joined Dr Elmar Frank and Dr Dmitry Bondarev in a talk devoted to the past and present problems of safeguarding the manuscripts of Timbuktu. In this interview-style presentation Dr Haïdara gave a dramatic account of the rescue operation he organised in 2012 in order to sneak thousands of endangered manuscripts from the then besieged city of Timbuktu. The presenters discussed the importance of the Timbuktu manuscripts for the history of Africa and mankind.

May 2015 – Appointment of Ms Maria Luisa Russo as co-manager on SaMaT porject

In March 2015 Ms Maria Luisa Russo, a specialist in conservation, cataloguing and codicology of Arabic manuscripts, joined the team of the project as a co-manager in Bamako, and since May 2015 she has been working on a contract basis (funded by Gerda Henkel Foundation and also by Jutta Vogel Foundation). With her multiple responsibilities, Ms Russo has been immensely contributing to the implementation of the project and facilitation of communication between our collaborators in Mali and other international partners.

25 February 2015 – Video series published by Gerda Henkel Foundation

The Gerda Henkel Foundation published the first of seven episodes, documenting the different aspects of the project work being done in Mali and Germany. The series, published in the Gerda Henkel Foundation's webportal L.I.S.A., shows the daily work at the manuscript archive in Bamako and features interviews with the people involved in the project. A new episode will be published each week. The videos are available in German and English.

26 November 2014 – Circular on the progress of the project

Professor Michael Friedrich, Director of CSMC and Dr Dmitry Bondarev, Head of West Africa projects, released a letter to the international partners with updates on the progress of the SAMAT project. The letter is avaialble in English and French.

9 October 2014 – Guardian of the Manuscripts from Timbuktu visited CSMC

Dr. Abdel Kader Haїdara visited CSMC on 7-8 October 2014 to discuss further measures for safeguarding the famous Manuscripts from Timbuktu. Dr. Haїdara arrived from Berlin, where the Federal Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier had presented him the German Africa Award of the renowned German Africa Foundation in recognition of his tremendous and continuing efforts for the rescue of this important West African cultural heritage. During his visit Dr. Haїdara not only met with researchers from the centre, but also with the Hamburg Senator for Science and Research, Dr. Dorothee Stapelfeldt, and the Honorary Consul of Mali in Hamburg, Mrs. Bettina Rhensius-Krohn.
Press release of 1.10.2014
Article from the Uni HH Newsletter October 2014

1 July 2014 – CSMC Awarded a Million Euros for Timbuktu Project

Having successfully completed a 12-month pilot phase, CSMC’s project entitled ‘Safeguarding the Manuscripts from Timbuktu’ is to be funded for five more years with the support of the German Foreign Office and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. CSMC has come to an agreement with Dr Abdel Kader Haïdara, chairman of the NGO 'SAVAMA-DCI' and the person who rescued the manuscripts, which also envisages close co-operation with other financiers and donors such as the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. The prime objective of the international effort is to rescue the manuscripts from new threats caused by completely different climatic conditions and problematic storage conditions: they need to be taken out of the densely packed boxes in which they were transported to Bamako, and to be stored in an appropriate building in accordance with conservationists’ standards. The project will continue to be run by Dr Dmitry Bondarev, who is currently its scientific co-ordinator.