Although the city of Timbuktu in Mali is now an impoverished town of about 30,000 people, it has a long history as a place of scholarly learning. In the 11th century, long before the European Renaissance, thousands of people flocked to the city from other areas of Africa and the Middle East to study Islamic law, theology and a wide range of secular subjects.
"Well before there was an America, Timbuktu was a thriving center of learning, with the university. Professors were teaching philosophy, theology, mathematics," said Professor Salem Ould El Hajj.
Today, the remnants of this past can be found in the more than 200,000 ancient manuscripts and other artifacts that are stored in private libraries and a large research center in Timbuktu. The city itself has been declared a United Nations World Heritage Site.
The conflict in Mali between French and Malian forces in the south and Islamist separatist groups in the north has endangered Timbuktu and its historic artifacts.
"Well before there was an America, Timbuktu was a thriving center of learning, with the university. Professors were teaching philosophy, theology, mathematics," - Salem Ould El Hajj, professor.
1. Where is Timbuktu?
2. What can we learn from artifacts and ancient texts?
3. What does the word "university" mean? What happens at universities?
1. Why do you think it is important to preserve ancient manuscripts?
2. What do you think should or can be done to help preserve the manuscripts?
3. What are some manuscripts that document America's history? How to we preserve them?
International Community Responds to Conflict in Mali:
French Forces Advance in Mali: