Archivist to Survey Islamic Manuscripts in Nigeria

Michaelle Biddle, head of Preservation Services at Olin Library, will conduct a survey of Islamic materials during a five-week sabbatical in Africa.
Posted 02/27/08
Michaelle Biddle, head of Preservation Services at Olin Library, was invited by the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria to travel to the country in March to conduct a survey of Islamic manuscripts and related materials. Wesleyan has granted her a five-week sabbatical so she can travel to locations such as Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto and Maiduguri to assess materials and help with preservation efforts.

The work of Biddle and more than 20 other archivists and librarians will assist the Arewa House in Kaduna. The Arewa House has been awarded a State Department Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation grant to conduct the survey and develop a strategy for the preservation and eventual digitization of particularly endangered items. The Arewa House has been working closely with the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy, Abuja, to seek ways to preserve and digitize Nigeria’s rich Islamic manuscript heritage that is in danger of being lost due to the lack of conservation efforts, according to Henry Mendelsohn, Information Resources Officer at the Embassy.

Biddle was invited to become involved in the project due to her extensive training and experience in working with manuscripts. She has previously worked as an Islamic Art bibliographer, with Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. (Antiquarian Oriental and African Booksellers), and has worked in the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, England. She has studied manuscript binding, preservation techniques, and is presently a M.A. student in Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester (U.K.)

“I will be engaged in prioritizing preservation needs using specific criteria: impact, feasibility and urgency; weighing appropriate collections-related factors: use, storage, condition and value; then will be making informed value judgments before reaching a decision on actions that might be taken,” Biddle says.

Biddle says she will bring back photos to Wesleyan to showcase her work and plans to publish articles about her experience.

By Corrina Balash Kerr, associate director of media relations. Photo by Olivia Drake.