Skip to main content


Timbuktu and the Best Friends of the Philologist: A Conversation with Shamil Jeppie

Past Series, The Program in World Philology

dateNovember 14, 2016 timeMonday, 5:00pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Office of the Dean of Humanities
Painting of letters bundled in a trunk

Introduction by David B. Lurie and Kai Kresse.

However we define philology it always entails some understanding of the contexts in which texts are produced and in which they circulate/d. In this lecture I shall examine some of the practices that often shape such contexts through looking at the place of manuscripts as they travel from a writer’s working space into collections. Such collections are never stable but grow or disintegrate and in attempting to re-constitute a work from disparate manuscript copies the micro-histories of manuscript movements have to be taken into account. Working in Timbuktu’s manuscript libraries we have found the limitations of working solely from published texts and catalogues and similar scholarly apparatuses. Working with local scholars and library owners – often the same people involved in producing the catalogues – sheds new light on the trajectories of manuscripts and collections. Such information can often be contradictory but crucial to understanding contexts when undertaking a philological project. These local colleagues and their insights should be the philologist’s best friends. The history of West Africa – and Timbuktu having come to stand in as a sign of that region’s scholarly traditions – as a site for potential philological projects should take into account a larger set of practices and locally embedded knowledge around (manuscript) book learning, making, and collecting.