Corrie Commisso is a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, with research interests in special collections and historic/cultural preservation. She currently lives and works in West Africa, where she is the content manager for an international human rights organization headquartered in Dakar, Senegal. When she is not working, studying, writing, or bargaining with local vendors, she is perfecting her French and wondering where in the world she will end up next.
For centuries, Timbuktu, Mali, has quietly housed some of the greatest treasures of the ancient world: hundreds of thousands of scientific, literary, and religious manuscripts. But when Al Qaeda jihadists seized control of the city in the wake of a coup in 2012, the manuscripts found themselves in dire threat of destruction. To save them, a group of unlikely allies worked together to organize one of the most brazen evacuations of cultural heritage ever attempted . . . and succeeded in rescuing 95 % of Timbuktu’s ancient written heritage. In examining the story of the manuscripts, this article considers three areas—preparation, evacuation, and continued preservation—in which cultural heritage institutions can gain insight into the preservation of historical treasures in the midst of conflict.
Abraham, Curtis. “Timbuktu’s Ancient Manuscripts Under Threat.” New African October 1, 2012: 20–24.
“Final Report and Action Plan for the Rehabilitation of Cultural Heritage and the Safeguarding of Ancient Manuscripts in Mali.” Paris: UNESCO, February 18, 2013. <whc.unesco.org/document/123373> (accessed 3/26/15).
Hammer, Joshua. “Barbarians at the Gates.” Smithsonian 44.9 (2014): 64–74. EBSCOhost (accessed 11/14/14).
Moustafa, Laila Hussein. “Disaster Management Plans in Middle East Libraries and Archives in Time of War: Case Studies of Iraq and Egypt.” Library and Archival Security 26 (2013): 15–35.
<ProjectMosul.org. Initial Training Network for Digital Cultural Heritage. (accessed 3/26/15).
Rico, Trinidad. “The Limits of a ‘Heritage at Risk’ Framework: The Construction of a Post-Disaster Cultural Heritage in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.” Journal of Social Archaeology 14 (2014): 157–76.
Rothfield, Lawrence. The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum. Kindle Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Singleton, Brent D. “African Bibliophiles: Books and Libraries in Medieval Timbuktu.” Libraries and Culture 39.1 (2004): 1–12.
Teijgeler, René. “Preserving Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict.” In Preservation Management for Libraries, Archives and Museums. Ed. G. E. Gorman and Sydney J Shep. London: Facet Publishing, 2006, pp. 133–65.
Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture (PDT&C) is an international journal which focuses on preserving digital content from a wide variety of perspectives, including technological, social, economic, political, and user. Its scope is global, covering projects and practices from key international players in the field. The goal of the journal is to provide a timely forum for refereed articles, news, and field notes from around the world.