The ‘Umar Falke Collection is the largest of the four Arabic manuscript collections held by the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies and consists of over 3,000 items, the majority of which are 19th and early 20th century manuscripts written in a wide variety of inks on single unbound sheets of paper. The collection, which is housed in traditional leather wrappers, represents the intact library of ‘Umar Falke, a prominent Nigerian trader, scholar and author, and contains manuscripts on all aspects of Islamic learning and protective medicine. The collection is particularly strong in works on Sufism and in almost all the branches of Islamic sciences as well as Maliki law and jurisprudence, theology, literature, and grammar.
The Falke Collection was chosen for an extensive preservation needs assessment survey. The purpose of the survey was to gather a complex range of information about the condition of paper, inks, and housings that would impact the conservation and digitization of such a large manuscript collection. A subsequent pilot project included repairing and digitizing selected manuscripts to determine treatment protocols and guidelines for image capture. At the 2014 conference of The Islamic Manuscript Association held at University of Cambridge, Scott Devine, Marie A. Quinlan Director of Preservation and Conservation, and Chief Conservator Tonia Grafakos presented a paper about the history of the collection, results of the survey, and potential for new research initiatives.
The uniqueness of the Falke Collection, coupled with growing scholarly interest in the intellectual history of West Africa, make it a prime candidate for both scholarly research and digitization. Ongoing work with the collection is underway, including a rehousing project and the development of research initiatives related to materials analysis. NUL’s Conservation Fellow, Graham Patten, is currently analyzing the yellow pigments found throughout the manuscripts; details of this investigation will be featured in upcoming posts.