Celebrating Sub-Saharan Arabic Manuscripts

Introduction 

page of west-African manuscript

This is a page from Professor Stewart’s manuscript collection.

In April, the University Library celebrated the preservation of the Charles Stewart Mauritanian Arabic manuscripts, which is the most extensive collection of Sub-Sahar manuscripts in North America. Prof. Charles served for 35 years in the Department of History, and for half of that time held administrative posts as Director of African Studies, Associate Chair, then Chair of History, Executive Associate Dean in the College of LAS and Interim Associate Provost for International Studies, before his retirement in 2006.

According to Stewart, the collection has 10,000 manuscripts, and it covers topics such as jurisprudence, devotions, science, Quran, history, langaugestics, Sufism, politics, and economics.

The celebration of the collection also had an exhibit that was created by Atyeh (Ati) Ashtari and an online LibGuide created by Lauryn Lehman.

Laila Hussein Moustafa, Assistant Professor, Middle Eastern and North African Studies Librarian

The Exhibition

panels about the west-African Caliphate

Panels about the Caliphate are on display in the IAS Library through mid-May.

“Working on an exhibition to showcase Caliphate of Hamdallahi exposed me to many challenges. In order to create a successful exhibition, you need to come up with highly visually pleasing graphics to make the intended audience interested in the work. However, this particular topic did not have any easily accessible visual materials such as photos, images and manuscripts. Therefore, we had to spend hours digging up the relevant information. Moreover, we had to be very innovative to come up with ways of visualizing the gathered data in a way that is both interesting as a text and much more fascinating as a graphic. This is very well indicated in our poster presenting the challenges of studying the Sokoto Caliphate. We wanted to convey that the two most challenging part of this study was that the material was diffused all over the world and that the data was in many different languages. To visualize these amazing facts, we ended up building layers of graphics on top of a world map to depict such challenges.”

Atyeh Ashtari, Graduate Research Assistant for Urban and Regional Planning

The Online LibGuide

screenshot of library guide about west-african manuscripts

This library guide will be available online soon from the International and Area Studies Library.

This semester, we have been in the process of developing a library guide to aid researchers in locating West African Arabic and Arabic-script resources to use in their research. The initial focus was on finding as many open-access resources as were available, though the scope has expanded outwards to include any relevant resources that could be found. We were able to successfully locate a number of digitization projects that have made resources openly available, as well as an extensive list of physical archives, both domestically and internationally, that researchers may visit. Additionally, we are in the process of creating an interactive map, to further aid in the finding of resources. We look forward to adding new materials as further projects make them available.”

Lauryn Lehman, master’s candidate for African Studies and Library and Information Sciences

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‘Black Panther’: A Realistic Africa within a Fictitious Wakanda

Black Panther theatrical poster

Post by Ashley Adams

For months now, people have been raving about Marvel’s Black Panther movie. It has received some criticism, but also overwhelming support and love from people all over the world.

Marvel produces superhero movies that are fascinating to watch, and sometimes have brief historical and realistic components, but this is the first time when fiction and reality combine in this specific way. Not only is this movie a first of its kind, with an almost entirely black cast, but it sets out to provide its viewers with a connection. For the first time, there is a black superhero who takes center stage. And although this story is based in fantasy, the filmmakers took the opportunity to fuse fantasy with real African concepts, cultures, and histories.

Wakanda is a fictitious Central East African nation that has not yet been discovered, let alone exploited by outside colonizers. It directly counters many common perceptions of Africa as being a dark, poor continent. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, comes to mind when considering this perception and “the danger of a single story”. In reality, however, Africa is so much more. It is a continent rich in so many ways, and equally rich in diversity. This movie provides some insight into the diversity that is present throughout the continent, while it can also be seen as promoting a sense of identity, a sense of pan-Africanism.

A map of regions in Africa

One of the most visually exciting components of this movie is the fashion. Ruth E. Carter was the costume designer for the film, and she created a combination of traditional African attire with hi-tech Afropunk influences. Carter had the goal of creating attire for a fictional African nation that was completely original, but that also represented and honored both African history and African-American history. She took several trips to Africa and drew inspiration from those visits. Some of her specific inspiration came from the Dogon people of West Africa, the Turkana people in East Africa, the Hemba people in Congo, the Suri tribe in Ethiopia, the Tuareg people in Western and Northern Africa, along with several others, totaling over 10 different tribes and groups of people from throughout the continent (Giles, 2018). She combined these inspirations with an Afro-futuristic edge to create the original attire for the film. Check out a brief red carpet interview with Carter here when she talks about some of her favorite inspirations:

Throughout the film, characters are sometimes seen speaking to each other in another language. What is even more interesting, however, is the fact that this is a real African language. The filmmakers decided to incorporate isiXhosa, a South African language with over eight million native speakers, into the story line (Eligon, 2018). This language was not chosen at random, but was suggested by one of the actors in the film. John Kani, who plays T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa, in the film, is a native of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, and a native isiXhosa speaker. He suggested that the directors should incorporate some isiXhosa into the film’s dialogue to increase the African authenticity of the film. The filmmakers loved the idea, and the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, “wanted to make it a priority to use Xhosa as much as possible” throughout the film (Eligon, 2018). The usage of isiXhosa, however, was not random or sporadic throughout the film, but rather was strategically used during what would be considered natural or authentic situations. An example of this would be when two Wakandan characters wanted to discuss something privately but were in the presence of an outsider. The language itself is very difficult to learn, and because none of the cast were native speakers of isiXhosa, the filmmakers hired several dialect coaches, including Mr. Kani and his son. If you’re interested in hearing a bit about the pronunciation of isiXhosa, check out this video:

This film has definitely paved the way for new narratives about Africa. It has inspired viewers to consider more than a single story, and has increased pride for African culture, language, and history.

For more information on African Studies resources, visit the International and Area Studies Library’s African Studies Collections & Services page, or contact:

Atoma Batoma, PhD
African Studies Bibliographer
323 Library
batoma@illinois.edu

Search for African language resources: https://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/languageresources/

News Sources:

Eligon, John. (2018, February 16). Wakanda Is a Fake Country, but the African Language in ‘Black Panther’ Is Real. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/wakanda-black-panther.html.

Giles, Chris. (2018, February 19). A journey into Wakanda: How we made Black Panther. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/africa/black-panther-behind-the-scenes-marvel/index.html.

Ashley M Adams
MS in Community Health Candidate, MA in African Studies Candidate
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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Reviving a Revolution: Exploring Newspapers at the Slavic Research Lab

Zohra Saulat with her poster at BOBCATSSS 2018

By Zohra Saulat

When I decided to pursue librarianship, I did not imagine that it would take me across the world. Just a few short weeks ago I had the opportunity to present one of my projects in Riga, Latvia for the 2018 BOBCATSSS symposium. Not only was this my first ever library conference, but this was the first time I traveled to Europe. The experience itself was exciting, but I was also thrilled to share my project, which had its start on campus at the International and Area Studies Library.

The exhibit about the Russian Revolution was on display in the main library for the month of September 2017.

 

 

This past summer, I assisted with IAS’ Slavic Summer Research Laboratory (SRL). Since 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Revolution, one of my duties to was to help create a banner that would accompany a library exhibit commemorating the historical event. The library exhibit featured memoirs and artifacts from the library’s Slavic collection as well as from the University Archives. My specific task was to survey how historical English language newspapers around the world were reporting on the events of the Russian Revolution. I used both microfilm copies as well as digitized newspapers.

 

Screenshot of a Daily Illini article about a Russian chemist

Using the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, I started local and looked to see if the Daily Illini was reporting on the Revolution in 1917. I was pleased to find a few articles that featured the Russian Revolution. One was of Illinois faculty member Dr. Simon Litman giving a series of lectures. Another was of a student, who was also a refugee from Russia, as well as a library worker, who also gave a talk on the events of the revolution. Another was a brief feature on a female Russian chemist who was continuing her studies on campus since all universities in Russia were closed at the time of the Revolution.

I further expanded my search to American newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune as well as international newspapers Sunday Times of London, Times of India, and the North China Herald.  It was especially interesting to see how oppressed groups were reporting on this particular Revolution. In all the newspapers I examined,I realized that there seemed to be a lot of information circulating regarding the Russian Revolution. There was indeed a lot of buzz as well as philosophical musings, but I noticed there was also a trend of rectifying supposed misinformation. Take the highlighted Daily Illini newspaper articles as examples. The events on campus were designed to refute certain information and present what the revolution was supposedly really like. This makes sense; In a time of war and political upheaval especially, not only is there information overload, but also misinformation.

Screenshot of a Daily Illini article about Dr. Simon Litman

Newspapers provide a fascinating historical insight. In 2018, whether a news article or a tweet (presidential or personal), a lot of information is found and preserved online. But 100 years ago, newspapers were the go-to for current information. If you are interested, be sure to check out the library guide on using newspapers as primary sources, also listed at the end of this post.

As someone who studied history in undergrad, I naturally enjoyed the nature of this project. But my favorite aspect was seeing its progression: that is,  the process from start to finish, and the collaboration with a variety of experts and specialized departments to put together an exhibit for public consumption. These resources –  whether digitized online or preserved as physical copies – are waiting to see the light of day once again. Libraries contain such valuable information. Often it takes the conscious efforts of a team of librarians and archivists to revive a revolution. I may be a little biased, but libraries truly are remarkable.

Zohra presenting her poster on-stage at BOBCATSSS 2018

Resources:

http://guides.library.illinois.edu/periodicalshttp://guides.library.illinois.edu/periodicals
https://www.library.illinois.edu/hpnl/newspapers/
http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinois?a=cl&cl=CL2&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——–
http://guides.library.illinois.edu/OrientationtoSRL
http://reeec.illinois.edu/programming-and-events/summer-research-laboratory/srl-application/
https://bobcatsss2018.lu.lv/
https://19172017.weebly.com/

Zohra Saulat
Graduate Assistant | Undergraduate Library
MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Conference Travel: BOBCATSSS 2018 and the Latvia National Library

Photo by Indriķis Stūrmanis, courtesy of http://bobcatsss2018.lu.lv/venues/

From Wednesday, January 24 to Friday, January 26, I attended the BOBCATSSS 2018 conference in Riga, Latvia. BOBCATSSS is an acronym that stands for the cities of the universities that initiated the first conference in 1993: Budapest, Oslo, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Tampere, Stuttgart, Szombathely and Sheffield. Since that first year, this international library and information science conference has been held in cities all over Europe.

This year’s conference theme was “The Power of Reading,” and presenters shared their research on the social, cultural, educational, and linguistic powers accessed through reading, as well as how libraries can conceptualize their relationship with reading in the 21st-century. Poster, paper, and workshop topics included usability testing, digital resources, big data, virtual reality, reader’s advisory, and more. This conference brought together information science professionals and students from a variety of countries to discuss these issues both locally and globally, and to learn from each other’s practices. UIUC MSLIS student Lisa Morrison won the best paper award for her and iSchool Associate Professor Terry L. Weech’s paper “Reading Data – The Missing Literacy from LIS Education.” This post from the iSchool lists the names and projects of the other UIUC presenters.

Photo taken by me – outside of the National Library

The first day of the conference was hosted at the National Library of Latvia, which opened its new building recently in 2014. Nicknamed the Castle of Light, the library sits on the south side of Riga’s Daugava River, and its 12 floors are visible to the rest of the city. The collection houses more than 4 million items and access to a variety of reading rooms, technologies, and exhibits.

Photo taken by me – the People’s Bookshelf

 

The focal point of the building is the People’s Bookshelf, which occupies five stories of a wall visible throughout the library. Each book on the shelf has been donated to the library with a written message or personal story on its title page. More than 5,000 books currently sit on the shelves, but the library hopes to fill it to 15,000 by the time of the library’s 100th anniversary in 2019. The library states on its website that:

“We want the library to have a special place, created by people themselves. Consequently, it is important that each book has its own story about the history of an individual – a story whose like can’t be found in an encyclopaedia or novel. About the everyday, fortune, feelings or beliefs. About what would otherwise be lost in the passage of time.”

UIUC students at the conference – photo from Zohra Saulat

In addition to providing an opportunity for professional development, attending an international conference is a chance to step outside of your local sphere and participate in global conversations. Libraries all over the world each have unique challenges and victories, but also some that are universal. As we all strive to improve our services and resources, it is invaluable to see what our peers are doing and to learn from their research and knowledge, as well as to celebrate in their institutions.

For students interested in presenting at conferences, whether local, national, or international, the University provides useful resources:

Undergraduate Conferences – the Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research compiles a list of professional conferences that accept undergraduate presentations.

Posters – the Scholarly Commons has a detailed LibGuide about how to design, print, and present research posters and a LibGuide about presentation skills.

Printing – Posters can be printed through Document Services.

Funding – Graduate students can talk to their departments to apply for travel grants through the Graduate College: http://www.grad.illinois.edu/general/travelaward

Additional References:

https://www.lnb.lv/en/about-library/peoples-bookshelf

https://bobcatsss2018.lu.lv/

http://euclid-lis.eu/events/bobcatsss/

Laura Rocco

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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