Saving African Literature : Crowdfunding is preserving Timbuktu

The famed city of Timbuktu was known as a city of trade, wealth and knowledge. Islamic scholars flocked to the city to study and to teach those eager to learn. In the late 1500-early 1600’s Timbuktu’s golden age began to decline and the city of knowledge was no more. However, the mystique of the city remained and inspired many to keep the original manuscripts that remained in the city’s university. An attack in 2013 threatened to destroy the priceless books that remained in Timbuktu . While 28,000 books were saved, the need to properly preserve what was left became a high priority. Stephanie Diakatie’ knew that preserving these literary works was important, so she turned to crowdfunding as a way to save the legacy of the Timbuktu manuscripts. What happened next not only saved the day, but created an important community around this project. From The Guardian:

“Thomas Gruner didn’t know Timbuktu was a real town when it was drawn to his attention by the hacker community. They had seen a campaign on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo called T160K to raise money to protect several hundred thousand historic manuscripts that had been evacuated from the al-Qaida-occupied north of Mali but were now at risk of rotting in the humid climate of the capital, Bamako.

Gruner, a young programmer from Olympia, Washington state, wanted to do his bit to help. So, naturally, he wrote a game. If visitors to the T160K web page played it, they could hold umbrellas over photographs of the rescued texts, many of which date to the time of the European middle ages. It was trivial but diverting.

“I thought if I could make something that was fun, people would start sharing it, and we could get T160K more active on social media,” says the unabashedly geeky Gruner now, sitting in the shared office space in Seattle where he sometimes works. The game – and the Indiegogo campaign – delivered: tens of thousands of dollars given by more than 1,000 donors bought dehumidifying agents to save Mali’s manuscripts anew. It was an innovative use of a very modern phenomenon, crowdfunding via the internet, to protect something very old.”


Continue reading this fascinating story here.

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