Sudanic Africa 4, 1993.

Catalog of Arabic Script Manuscripts at Northwestern University

In 1991 the Melville J. Herskovits Library of Africana at Northwestern University was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to prepare a data-base catalog of its holdings of Arabic script manuscipts. The project has been directed by John Hunwick but much of the hard work of preparing and entering the data was done by Hamidu Bobboyi (now of the Islamic Trust, Nigeria) and latterly by Muhammad Sani Umar, currently a doctoral student in Religion at Northwestern University.

Entering of data is now complete and work is going ahead on checking the entries for consistency and data errors, using the author and titles indexes as a starting point. It is hoped that an initial print-out will be made in December 1993 and a final print-out some time in 1994. At that point copies of the paper version will be available on sale on a request basis.

There are three collections of Arabic script materials in the Herskovits library, all originating in Nigeria: the Paden Collection, the Falke Collection and the Hunwick Collection. The first was purchased item by item by John N. Paden during the course of his research in Nigeria in the 1960s and contains about 450 items; the Falke Collection (some 2,500 items) was purchased from the heirs of the Kano scholar-trader Umar Falke in 1972; the Hunwick collection consists of a little over 200 items purchased by Hunwick during research trips in the 1980s. Overall, the items in these collections are 90 per cent in Arabic, the rest being in Hausa with a few odd items in Fulfulde. The Paden collection contains some 450 items, mainly hand-written, but with a number of privately printed editions published in Zaria, Kano, Ibadan or Cairo. There are also a number of what we have called 'market editions', that is works that have been reproduced by offsetting manuscripts in some way (lithography, photo-offset, xerography) and enclosing them in paper covers for sale in the market place. These are mainly works of Nigerian authorship or works of popular piety. The Falke Collection consists mainly of hand-written items with a few older (and now rare) printed works. The Hunwick collection is largely market editions, with a few printed books, including some Tijani works from Morocco. The collections are, in fact, rich in Tijani material. Umar Falke was a Tijani muqaddam and much of Paden's research touched on the Tijaniyya in Kano.

Each entry may have up to thirty indexable fields. Half of these use Arabic script and the other half English. Field 2, the title, exists only in Arabic. All other fields are paralleled in both Arabic and English. Other fields include: Author, Known as, Nisba, Subject, Form, Copyist/Publisher, Date of Composition, Place of Copying/Publication, Date of Copying/ Publication, Number of pages, Dimensions, Condition, Additional Information. The original system was designed by Charles Stewart of the University of Illinois, Urbana with Kazumi Hatasa and some modifications were made for use at Northwestern University. The Nisba field can include up to three nisbas that can be indexed separately. The Subject field also divides into a possible three.

The Subject headings and sub-headings were devised by Hunwick in consultation with Stewart and with the help of Bobboyi. They basically follow Arabic/Islamic divisions of knowledge (e.g. 'Aqida/Belief, Fiqh/Jurisprudence, Tasawwuf/ Sufism), but it was necessary to add in some others (e.g. Iqtisad/ Economics, Ijtima'iyyat/Social Matters, Tanassuk/Devotional). These principal headings can then be sub-divided once or twice, so that one may end up with Subject fields such as 'Belief: Theology: Divine Attributes' or Sufism: Tijaniyya: Wird. The Form field consists of two parts. The first identifies the work as being either in prose or in verse. Prose may be then sub-categorized as, for example, Book, Opuscule, Commentary, Document, while verse may be sub-divided into Kasida, Urjuza, Alfiyya, etc. Using the indexing function one can then determine what proportion of the collection is prose or verse, how may Alfiyyas or Kasidas there, are, for example; and using the Subject field, one can readily identify all the works on, for example, divorce, Friday prayer or history of Borno.

All revisions to fields and to the list of subject headings and sub-headings, have been agreed upon in consultation with Charles Stewart who has incorporated any changes in his system. Before Northwestern University began its project he had already indexed the manuscript collection of the Mauritanian National Library and a major Mauritanian private library. Since then he has added information on several other West African collections working from available data and eventually his data base will contain all the information in the Northwestern catalog of manuscripts. Although its eventual completion is a long way off, he hopes one day to produce a union catalog of Arabic script materials from West Africa.

John O. Hunwick

Home Contents Index

© The author and Sudanic Africa. Archived 8.4.95