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Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies pres.

CMENAS Colloquium Series. Libraries and Mobilities

Shamil Jeppie, Associate Professor of History, University of Cape Town

The 2019 CMENAS Colloquium Series theme is "Migration in the Islamicate World."

We make many assumptions about libraries such as they are fixed spaces, fairly secure and often large buildings. There are private libraries that are smaller and could simply occupy a single floor or room. But a definite space comes to mind, not immediately mobility of the books between at least two places. However we think of these spaces we seldom figure mobility or movement into our thinking about libraries, archives or collections. Perhaps with the recent rise of online book shopping we might begin to rethink things and reflect on how books travel (from depository to buyer, at least). But books have always travelled. All forms of “shipping” have been used to carry them long before the modern courier companies. Yet the circulation of the material book is not a subject of much thinking or research it would seem. And with the transport books, they also disappear, parts or volumes go missing, they find new homes, and they might reappear in surprising places. Sometimes the transfer is simply an act of theft or a by-product of conquest. In this talk I look at episodes in the book history of Northwest Africa that points to a long tradition of book buying and selling and lending over vast spaces. Nomadism is part of the fabric of this region and this included scholars and books.

Shamil Jeppie is Associate Professor in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town. He is the founder of the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project and was previously director of the Institute for Humanities in Africa (Huma) both at the University of Cape Town. He has published on various aspects of the history of Timbuktu, and on South African history.

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