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Furthering Fulbe Studies at the Libraries

On my little knowledge I sit,

To gauge the depth of my ignorance.

Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya, 18th century Fulbe scholar

Neene Mariama Djelo Barry (1913-1975): woman from Futa Jalon, Guinea. Source: Kesso Barry. Kesso: princesse Peule. (Paris: Seghers, 1988)

Fourteenth-century Arab travelers provided the earliest written accounts of the nomadic Fulbe (Fulani) of West Africa. European explorers, conquerors and administrators added partially accurate descriptions in books and periodicals from the 17th through the 19th centuries.

Fast-forward to the 20th century. A scholar of Fulbe studies, Christiane Seydou, published Bibliographie générale du monde peul (Niamey, Niger: Institut des recherches en sciences humaines, 1972) listing more than 2,000 titles.

That was before the Internet.

Today, online resources offer access to a wide range of bibliographical data, but web queries—based on such keywords as Fulbe, Fulani, Peul—yield incomplete results, mostly flat-files. But none match the scope of the Seydou’s publication.

Interconnected web databases are emerging as powerful and sophisticated research assets, which support the creation of user-friendly solutions for locating and linking bibliographic references and catalogs. Such tools bode well for research, publishing, and information sharing on the Fulbe, in particular, and African studies, in general.

Building on decades of research (see the digital library on webPulaaku), the purpose of this ongoing Fulbe research at the Warren M. Robbins Library at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is twofold:

  • Inventory Libraries' resources on Fulbe and identify the gaps.
  • Systematic collection development to enhance Libraries collections.

We are mindful of the challenges involved in any comprehensive project and welcome comments and collaborators.—Tierno S. Bah, Visiting Scholar, National Museum of African Art and Janet Stanley, Librarian, Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art

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