Google Arts & Culture in collaboration with some of Mali's community leaders and various local and international organizations have unveiled a project in which they will share digitized endangered manuscripts (up to 40,000 pages) and historic contemporary art and culture from Mali. The thousands of pages that make up the Timbuktu manuscripts contain centuries of Afrikan knowledge and scholarship on topics ranging from mathematics to human rights.

Due to political unrest in Mali, the Timbuktu manuscripts have been endangered for many years. As such, they needed to be smuggled to safety, following which Google Arts & Culture joined forces with community leaders and other organizations to digitize and preserve them under the Mail Magic project, a digital treasure trove which aims to preserve and showcase Mali’s historic and contemporary art and culture.

“Many experts, NGOs and cultural institutions work in this space and do an incredible job. We are honoured to support our partners with the technology to make their work accessible to people all over the world,” said Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, the ‘badass librarian’ known for smuggling the manuscripts out of Timbuktu.

Digitizing Mali's heritage

With the launch of Mali Magic, people from all over the world can view an array of manuscripts, music, art, and heritage sites including over 40 000+ digitized endangered manuscripts many of which were smuggled to safety during political unrest in the country.

It also contains more than 50 exhibits which include the first online, interactive tours of some of Mali’s most significant historic sites,  at-risk mausoleums, and mosques including the Sidi Yahiya and Djinguereber Mosques and the Tomb of Askia, all created using Street View.

“The Malian city of Timbuktu gave birth to an abundance of learning in the fields of human rights, morality, politics, astronomy and literature captured in thousands of  manuscripts. When this ancient knowledge was threatened by extremist groups in 2012,  local communities raced against time to preserve these treasures. This legacy is now available for people across the world to explore,” said Chance Coughenour, Program Manager and Digital Archaeologist, Google Arts & Culture.

Mali Magic project highlights

It is encouraging that Google in this case has partnered with local organizations in Mali to preserve and digitize the country's heritage through the Mali Magic project.

Highlight content available in the Mali Magic project:

  • 40 000+ assets digitized manuscript pages
  • 50+ exhibits on Mali heritage - manuscripts, music, monuments & contemporary art
  • First-ever Street View capture in Mali of 9 heritage sites
  • 3D model and annotated tour of Djenne Mosque
  • 1 music album, Maliba, by Fatoumata Diawara

Organizations working in partnership with Google Arts & Culture on the Mali project include:

  • SAVAMA - Manuscript Digitization & Curation - which aims to preserve and enhance the Timbuktu Arabic manuscripts that constitute the Islamic cultural heritage of Mali, Africa's collective memory and part of the world’s heritage.
  • Timbuktu Renaissance which aims to leverage Mali’s and Timbuktu’s heritage and living culture to promote peace and prosperity
  • UNESCO, which has published two stories of its efforts to reconstruct mausoleums and ancestral heritage sites targeted during the conflict,
  • Instruments 4 Africa a non-profit organisation committed to cultural preservation, I4A supports artists to keep their practises alive so they can continue to empower their communities
  • Brooklyn Public Library, which hosted the launch

— By Tefo Mohapi

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