Dr Susana Molins-Lliteras, post-doctoral fellow, Department of Historical Studies, UCT

This course focuses on Timbuktu, home to Islamic scholars, students, merchants and manuscripts, as well as object of desire for the western imaginary. It will explore the historic trajectory of the city as well as its entanglements with European exploration and colonialism, culminating in the iconic image of the city today. It then deals with the history of its manuscript libraries and collections, and the projects set up for their conservation and research as well as the 2012 occupation of the city, the fate of the manuscript collections and the ‘smuggling’ operation of a large number of manuscripts to Bamako, and the challenges they now face. The Fondo Kati library will illustrate particular histories, genealogies and knowledge transmission practices. The course ends with a focus on the lives and concerns of women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



1. Timbuktu: Iconic archive Susana Molins Lliteras

2. The Timbuktu libraries: history and current state Susana Molins Lliteras

3. The Conservation of Timbuktu’s manuscripts Mary Minicka

4. The Fondo Kati library: genealogies and marginalia Susana Molins Lliteras

5. Women in the manuscripts of Timbuktu Mohamed Shahid Mathee


Recommended reading

Jeppie, S. and Bachir Diagne, S. (eds). 2008. The Meanings of Timbuktu.  Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Krätli, G. and Lydon, G. (eds.) 2011. The Trans-Saharan Book Trade: Manuscript Culture, Arabic Literacy and Intellectual History in Muslim Africa. Leiden: Brill.

English, C. (2017). The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu: The Quest for This Storied City and the Race to Save its Treasures. London: Harper Collins.

2008. Timbuktu: Script & Scholarship. Prepared by the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project and Iziko Social History Collections Department. Cape Town.



Date:  7 – 11 January 
Time: 9.15 am
COURSE FEES Full: R550,00  Staff and Students R275,00
Venue: Classroom 2A Kramer Law Building UCT