Case Studies

Posted: 22 September 2020

Digitizing at-risk manuscripts in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South Asia

  • Programme:

    Preserving endangered culture

  • Focus area:

    Archives and manuscripts

  • Grantee:

    Hill Museum & Manuscript Library

  • Project:

    Digitization of manuscripts in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia

  • Grants awarded:

    $7,000,000

  • Years:

    2011-2021

The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) is a global cultural heritage organization, dedicated to photographing manuscript collections, archiving and making images accessible to global audiences. HMML was established in 1965 as the “Monastic Microfilm Library” to photograph Benedictine monastic libraries in Austria and Germany. It has since expanded to preserve libraries in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, and today holds the world’s largest archive of manuscript photographs in both microfilm and digital format – approximately 300,000 manuscripts. These manuscripts range in size from large codices of hundreds of folios to brief documents consisting of just a few leaves.

HMML's online platform, vHMML, provides long-term access to collections, which in some cases have been relocated. Our grants have supported the team’s work in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South Asia, making tens of thousands of at-risk manuscripts freely accessible online.


Project examples

Syria

Our first grant in 2011 supported work in Syria just before dramatic events unfolded in the country, causing unprecedented threats to cultural heritage. HMML completed its work in Aleppo in the early days of the Syrian civil war.

Iraq

In partnership with the Centre Numérique des Manuscrits Orientaux (CNMO), HMML worked in Mosul and Qarah Qūsh to preserve Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni texts. In 2014, when the city and region were overrun by IS/Daesh, the digitization studio moved to Erbil where most Christians fled. Refugees rescued many of the region’s manuscript collections, but, sadly, not all.

Mali

In the aftermath of political upheaval and armed conflict in Timbuktu HMML partnered with SAVAMA-DCI (Sauvegarde et Valorisation des Manuscrits pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique) to digitize thousands of manuscripts brought from Timbuktu to the capital city of Bamako for safety. The project expanded in 2017 to collections that remained in Timbuktu, in partnership with the Arcadia-funded British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP).

Arcadia-supported technician digitizing West African Arabic and Ajami manuscripts at SAVAMA in Bamako, Mali.
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