Jonathan Brockopp, “The Manuscripts of Kairouan, Tunisia”
The National Laboratory for the Preservation of Parchment Manuscripts in Raqqada, Tunisia, holds one of the most important collections of Arabic manuscripts in the world, including twenty-three of the thirty oldest, dated literary Arabic manuscripts. Two of these are on paper, exceedingly rare examples of a technology that reached Europe only centuries later. While the Laboratory personnel are devoted to the collection, the Ministry of Culture does not place high priority on these manuscripts, resulting in outdated equipment, training, and methods. Together with Dr. Walid Saleh (Toronto), Dr. Nejmeddine Hentati (Tunis), and Dr. Wes Thiessen (Kairouan), I propose a major international project to digitize and preserve these irreplaceable treasures. Recent attacks by militants in Mali, Syria, and Iraq have explicitly targeted repositories of cultural heritage, similar to this collection, and militants have recently stepped up their attacks on tourists and police in Tunisia. An intervention now will help to prevent disaster by making digital copies of this collection while also strengthening ties among Tunisian, European, and North American researchers.