Apr 232015


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.


An example of a manuscript page with colored inks

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.

Treatment documentation of losses

Treatment documentation of edge repairs

Apr 162015

Northwestern conservators are currently engaged in a research project which has allowed us to explore the relationship between manuscript and print culture in Renaissance Italy as well as the possibilities for using multispectral imaging and x-ray fluorescence (XRF) to unlock the secrets behind a recycled vellum manuscript used to cover a 16th century Italian binding.

Northwestern holds a rare copy of Hesiodou tou Askraiou Erga kai hemerai (the Greek poet Hesiod’s Works and Days), printed by Bartolomeo Zanetti in Venice in 1537. The printed text is derived from a 15th century Greek manuscript currently held by the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.

Scott Devine and Tonia Grafakos will teach a course on the Northwestern Hesiod in August 2015 at the Montefiascone Conservation Project Summer School. Course participants will recreate the original binding and learn more about the results of our ongoing research. The course description and images below provide additional details.

Montefiascone Conservation Project Summer School
Week Two: 3-7 August 2015

Italian Stiff-Board Vellum Binding with Slotted Spine

This course will explore the use of parchment as a covering material for stiff-board bindings. Participants will recreate a vellum over boards binding of Hesiod’s Works and Days printed by Bartolomeo Zanetti in Venice in 1537. This style of binding was used in Venice c. 1490 – 1670 and often characterized by the use of recycled vellum manuscripts applied flesh side out. The binding features sewing supports covered with alum tawed patches; the vellum over the patches is cut away, creating small slots which allow for greater flexibility in opening. Additional structural features, including transverse spine linings and a wide fore edge turn-in, help to balance the tension of the vellum on the boards and limit warping.

Drawing on their recent study of similar bindings at the New York Public Library, the Newberry Library and the University of Chicago, course tutors will discuss how this binding style evolved and eventually fell out of use, providing an interesting case study of the economics and aesthetics of 16th and early 17th century Venetian book production.

Some knowledge and experience of bookbinding or book history would be useful, but is not essential. All materials will be supplied at a nominal cost. Participants will need to bring basic bookbinding tools. The tutors will contact prospective students well in advance of the class with suggested readings and a list of recommended tools.

To register or learn more, visit The Montefiascone Project.