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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter 2017

A Preliminary Appraisal of Marginalia in West African Manuscripts from the Mamma Haïdara Memorial Library Collection (Timbuktu)

From the book The Arts and Crafts of Literacy

  • Susana Molins Lliteras


This article presents an introductory incursion into the field of marginalia - otherwise known as paratext or annotations - in the West African Arabic manuscript tradition. Marginalia, often under-studied and marginalised, can be a valuable source in a number of fields, including the history of ideas, the transmission of knowledge, to social and economic history, and the production, circulation and reception of texts and manuscript collections. In order to locate West African marginalia in the broader context of Arabic manuscript production, and to provide a comparative perspective, the article begins with a brief outline of common types of marginalia found on Arabic manuscripts from other regions. The article then continues with its central contribution, the tentative classification and appraisal of marginalia found in a selection of West African manuscripts from a private family collection from Timbuktu, the Mamma Haïdara Memorial Library. Marginalia related to the text, such as corrections, addenda, clarifications, commentaries and highlights are quite common and share certain characteristics. Signes-de-renvoi and symbols - frequently letters, groups of letters, or words - indicate the nature of the notes in the margin. Some of these symbols are found in Arabic manuscripts from other regions, while others seem peculiar to West African manuscripts. Other common marginalia are independent textual fragments and ownership notes, found in manuscripts both from the Islamic East and West. The article, though preliminary in scope, may serve as an informal definition of the characteristics of marginalia in the region’s manuscript tradition, thus providing a useful comparative device and hinting at the fruitful potential of related studies.

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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