About the Catalog | Project History

In 1991 the Herskovits Library received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to prepare a database catalog of its holdings in the Arabic room. John Hunwick directed the project, and Hamid Bobboyi and Muhammad S. Umar—then graduate students at Northwestern University—prepared and entered the data. Approximately 4,200 items were cataloged during this project, including all of the Paden collection, most of the Falke collection, and half of the Hunwick collection.

The cataloging system adopted for this project was based upon one developed for a similar project by Charles Stewart of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Stewart developed his Arabic Manuscript Management System (AMMS) in the late 1980s as a finding aid for a collection of Arabic manuscripts from Mauritania. The AMMS has gone through several transformations and is now available on-line as the West African Arabic Manuscript Database. This database contains over 20,000 records from seven West African collections, including the Northwestern collection (referred to there as the “Kano Collection”).

In 2005, a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Northwestern’s Program of African Studies supported the cataloging of materials that had been added to the collection since the 1990s. Cataloging in this second phase was performed by Muhammad Sani Umar, Andrea Brigaglia, and Zachary Wright. The grant from the Mellon Foundation also supported the creation of the present website and search interface specifically for the Arabic materials held at Northwestern.

Materials from the Northwestern collection are now searchable in two places: the present website and the AMMS/West African Arabic Manuscript Database. This project would not have been possible without the cooperation of Charles Stewart at the University of Illinois and the use of the AMMS database and input system, and we acknowledge with gratitude his support and assistance. Collaboration between the two projects will continue, and any new materials added to the Northwestern collection in the future will be searchable in both the AMMS database and through the present website.