August 23, 2019 0

Conversation on the Omar Ibn Said Collection

Conversation on the Omar Ibn Said Collection


>>Mary Jane Deeb:
Okay, good morning. Good morning, everybody. Good morning. I’m Mary Jane Deeb, chief of
the African/Middle East division which is hosting this event. And as the division has
acquired the online Omar Said autobiography that we are all
gathered here today to discuss. These items are now held
by the Rare Books division where you will have a chance
to view them this afternoon. But this morning it is my honor
and privilege to introduce to you Dr. Carla Hayden, the
14th Librarian of Congress who will welcome
you to the library. Before coming to the library,
Dr. Hayden served as CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library
in Baltimore and was nominated by President Obama to be a
member of the National Museum and Library Services Board. She was also president of the American Library
Association from 2003 to 2004. Prior to joining
the Pratt Library, Dr. Hayden was deputy
commissioner and chief librarian of the Chicago Public
Library from ’91 to ’93, and assistant professor
library and information science at University of
Pittsburgh from ’87 to ’91. She was also library services
coordinator for the Museum of Science and Industry in
Chicago from ’82 to ’87. And she began her career with
the Chicago Public Library as the young adult services
coordinator from ’79 to ’82 and as library associate and children’s librarian
from ’73 to ’79. Dr. Hayden received a BA from
Roosevelt University and an MA and PhD from the
Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago. She has received numerous — and you can go online
and see numerous awards and honorary doctorates. I would be here the whole
morning just to say it. So let us welcome Dr. Hayden. [ Applause ]>>Dr. Carla Hayden: Thank
you, thank you, Dr. Deeb. Only my mother could do
a better job at that. And as you went through every
year I kept telling the young people, I am getting
older and older and older. But good morning and Dr.
Deeb, I just want to start out by thanking you
for your perseverance and what you have done. And I’m not going
to break any news, but we really appreciate
your service. So thank you. And I think we can
give her a hand. [ Applause ] So good morning and welcome. I’m delighted to
be here with you as we celebrate African American
history month and the launch of the online publication
of the Omar Said Collection which was purchased in 2017. And this unique collection
consists of documents in both English and Arabic,
including an 1831 autobiography, handwritten in Arabic. Mr. Said was a west African
scholar who at the age of 37 was captured,
enslaved and brought to South Carolina in 1804. And this document,
the autobiography, is the centerpiece of the
collection that includes texts which will be discussed
throughout the day by prominent scholars and
library experts who acquired, worked on the preservation,
cataloged and digitized the collection and then created what I think
is a very wonderful website that we are launching for
the whole world to see. And you can see it takes a
village to present a Library of Congress collection
to the public. And it requires expertise
and technological and technical capacities
that showcase the expertise of the library’s staff. This collection and all of the
library’s collections are used by scholars and researchers and
anyone and everyone who wants to come in and learn about the
items regardless of their age. And so what about
the Said collection? Who apart from the
scholars and the researchers and library staff
would be interested? Well, high school students
who are here today. And we have a special
treat for you today. The Richard Wright Public
Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts in
Washington DC — and I told them to shout out — [ Applause ] And the Montgomery
Blaire High School in Silver Spring Maryland. [ Applause ] It’s like the Super Bowls again. But Super Bowl of
research and history, and that’s what’s so exciting. Well, both schools and
I say young scholars in both schools have been so
fascinated by the collection that they have actually
come to the library, viewed the collection,
did research, met with the specialist
and experts and then interviewed
and filmed them. And like professional
journalists and camera people, they have created special
videos of the collection and they will be sharing them
with you during the lunch hour. So I want you to please welcome
them and show your appreciation and tell them how proud we
are that they are carrying on the tradition of being
interested in history and bringing history to life. Let’s give them a hand. [ Applause ] So, we will now have Marieta
Harper to say a few words in memory of Mr. Derrick
Beard who was the last owner of the collection, and who
wanted so much for it to be at the Library of Congress. Marieta is an African and
Africa area specialist. And she first identified
this collection and thanks to her perseverance, the
library was able to purchase it. So please join me
in welcoming her. [ Applause ]>>Marieta Harper: Good morning. As you just heard, my
name is Marieta Harper and I am Africa area
specialist in the African and Middle Eastern division at this institution,
Library of Congress. In January 2002, I
met Derrick Beard, the prominent antiquarian
book dealer of African American
historical collections. He was visiting our division
while we were organizing a panel on the historical roots of Muslim immigration
to the United States. The symposium was entitled Islam
in America and was sponsored by the African and Middle
Eastern Division and the Office of Scholarly Programs. I coordinated the first
panel of the symposium and Derrick Beard was
the first speaker. During this visit, Mr. Beard
showed me his collection of historic Arabic manuscripts
written by Omar Ibn Said, along with other manuscripts
written by African Muslims from the 18th and
19th centuries. At the end of the symposium, Mr.
Beard told Dr. Mary Jane Deeb and me that he felt the Library of Congress should purchase
his unique collection so the world could see and research Arabic manuscripts
written by literate Africans who were enslaved in
the early Americas. When Derrick Beard finally put
his collection of manuscripts on sale, he informed me and I then initiated the
recommendation for the Library of Congress to purchase
this collection. So after much determination,
we were able to locate funds to purchase the collection. The purchase was completed
in early winter of 2017. Regretfully, months
after the sale, Derrick Beard died in July 2018. I am still shocked by his death, even though I knew he was
critically ill throughout our negotiations. Derrick Beard was a consummate
connoisseur of various arts and collectibles and
was recognized as one of the world’s preeminent
experts in his field, which was the art world. He was a collector
of American, Islamic and other foreign decorative
arts, including photography, paintings, rare books, unique
documents and other objects of aesthetic and
historical value. The Art and Antiques Magazine
listed Mr. Beard as one of the top 100 American
collectors in 1994 and again in 2005. Prior to his death, Derrick
Beard resided in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. His 20-plus years of foreign
travels included residencies in Europe, Asia, South
America and the Caribbean. Asia, sorry. Derrick Beard’s broad and extensive academic
background included a BS in real estate finance
from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne. And additional advanced
studies in interior architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago. Studies in photography
at Loyola University, studies in mechanical
engineering at Tuskegee University,
studies in Islamic finance at Harvard University, and studies in earth
architecture construction and management at the
California Institute of Earth and Architecture. In acknowledging
these few aspects of Derrick Beard’s
background and accomplishment, we bid farewell to one of
America’s greatest collectors. May his soul rest in peace. I will now share the memorial
tribute to Derrick Tyreek Beard from the Mashid Asabar
Derrick Beard’s mosque in Los Angeles, Nevada. “In the name of Allah most
gracious, most merciful, it is with deepest regret
that you are being advised of the recent death of our
dear brother Derrick Beard. Brother Derrick Beard was an
amazing giant regarding the history, culture and ethnologic
research of Islam in America and its reclamation
and preservation. Among his numerous and most
notable contributions was the purchase of the original Arabic
handwritten autobiography manuscript of Omar Ibn Said
and having it translated and published in the
English language. For years, Derrick
would actually travel with the original manuscript, taking it to various
public events and activities and allowing the general
public to examine it as well as take photos with it. His involvement in the
research and acquisition of rare Islamic historical
artifacts relevant to their impact in early
America was phenomenal. Derrick was always available
and approachable by anyone. He was an African
American giant of Islam who will be dearly missed. May Allah grant him paradise.” This is the Islamic funeral
prayer sent on Friday, July 27th, 2018 by Masjid
As-Sabur 711 Morgan Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Mary Jane Deeb: You
can come and move forward. There are spaces. So I know that many
of you are there. Please come up. Please come in. Yes, yes, come up, please. Okay, there are seats up here. Okay. So thank you, Dr. Hayden
and thank you Marieta Harper for your words regarding our
program today and Derrick Beard. And so now we will move
on to our first panel which covers the importance of
the autobiography of Omar Said, a west African scholar who
was captured in 1807 and sold to South Carolina as a slave. He wrote his autobiography
in 1831. And this remains the only
known one at this time in existence in the US. [ Inaudible ] And before joining the library
he was director of marketing and communications at
PCNG international. What I’m going to do now is I’m
going to read the biographies of each one of the speakers. [ Inaudible ] But I am doing this because this
programming is being webcast. And as people watching around the world will not have
biographies, I’m going to share with them and with you
the bios of the panel. So Dr. Sylviane Diuof is
an award-winning historian and curator of the
African diaspora. She is the holder of — [ Inaudible ] It’s 15th anniversary
edition was released in 2013. Her book Dreams of Africa in
Alabama: The Slave Ship Clodilda and the Story of the Last
Africans Brought to America, published by Oxford
University Press received prizes from the American
Historical Association, the Alabama Historical
Association and the first Legacy Award. Dr. Diuof is the author
of Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American
Maroons, also published by New York University Press. She is the editor of
Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies, published by Ohio
University Press. And In Motion: The African
American Migration Experience, a National Geographic Book. Dr. Diuof received
the Rosa Parks Award, the [inaudible] Achievement
Award and the Shabazz Achievement
Award. She was the inaugural
director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis
of Transatlantic Slavery. And is history professor at
Brown University’s Center for the Study of
Slavery and Justice. Our second speaker sitting next
to Dr. Diuof is Dr. Adam Rothman who is a professor in
the history department at Georgetown University
where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses
on the history of slavery and Atlantic history. Rothman’s first book, Slave
Country, American expansion and the origin of
the deep south, published by Harvard University
Press in 2005, traced the roots of slavery in the
early United States. His latest book, Beyond
Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of
Slavery, Harvard 2015, tells the true story of three
slave children who were taken from New Orleans to
Havana during the Civil War and their mother’s
quest to rescue them. It won awards from the
America Civil War Museum, Louisiana Endowment
for the Humanities and the American
Librarian Association. He has written for The
Atlantic, the Daily Beast, Al-Jazeera America and the
New York Times Disunion Blog. He has been the recipient of an
ACLS Oscar Handley Fellowship and is an Organization of American Historians
distinguished lecturer. He was a member of Georgetown
University’s working group on slavery, memory
and reconciliation, and is the lead curator of the online Georgetown
slavery archive. As a distinguished
visiting scholar at the Kluge Center last fall,
he created a podcast series about the Library of
Congress manuscript material on American slavery,
including one about Omar Ibn Said’s
autobiography. And he also transcribed
the letters of the documents that we have. He has earned his BA from
Yale and PhD from Columbia. And last but not least, Ala
Alryyes who is the author of the book The Translation
of Omar Ibn Said, that will be for sale by the way
at lunchtime as well. So you’ll all be able to
acquire a copy if you wish. Dr. Ala Alryyes is
associate professor of English at Queens College, the City
University of New York. He was educated at MIT
and Harvard University where he received his PhD
in comparative literature. And is a recipient of
a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and an American Philosophical
Society grant. He is a scholar of 18th century
British and French literature, the European Enlightenment,
slavery and the literature of empire. Professor Alryyes is a
translator as we mentioned of Omar Ibn Said’s autobiography
from the original Arabic, and a contributing editor of
the Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn
Said, and so is Dr. Diuof. He also wrote Original
Subjects: The Child, the Novel and the Nation, published
by University Press and numerous journal articles. Among other current project
Professor Alryyes is completing Between Ordinary Life and
War, a book about proximity of war and literature. In addition to the City
University of New York, Professor Alryyes
has also taught at [inaudible] University. Now you won’t hear
from me anymore. And I am passing the
baton on to Dr. Flanagan. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Thank you, Mary Jane. So I just want to
circle back to a couple of things Dr. Hayden said. One I think she referred
to us as the Super Bowl of research and history. That’s interesting. I think there’s probably
more people in room today than watched the second
half of the game on Sunday. More seriously, she said
that this program is part of the library’s celebration
of Black History Month. And what an amazing sort of
history we have before us to discuss this morning. Some 250 years of politics
and geography and religion and literature from sort
of 18th-century west Africa to the 19th-century American
south, and from the rediscovery of the autobiography
in the 20th century to the 21st century
when here we are. The Library has acquired,
preserved and digitized the Omar
Ibn Said collection. So we have a lot
of ground to cover, and so I guess the obvious place
to begin is at the beginning. And so, Sylviane, you’ve written
several award-winning books on the African diaspora and
slave trade, one of which, Servants of Allah:
African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, deals
with the time and place of Omar’s capture
and enslavement. That time and place seems to have been sort
of far from simple. Maybe you could give us the
background to his environment and what he would
have experienced in the first 30 years
of his life.>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof:
Thank you. So Omar Ibn Said was
born in Senegal in 1770. He came from northern Senegal,
the region of [inaudible] which is really kind of the
cradle of Islam in this area. And you know, for about 100
years before he was born, there had been really — the
region really felt the impact of the transatlantic
slave trade. And that had given rise to
Islamic reformist movements. You know, there were
Muslims who were trying to protect themselves from
the transatlantic salve trade and from the despotism of
some of the local rulers. And many of them were
actually attacked, deported, were victims of the slave trade. And Islam does not allow that. Islam does not allow free
Muslims to be enslaved. So there were those movements
that started to protect Muslims, to oppose the transatlantic
slave trade, and as I mentioned,
despotism as well. And we see that not only in
Senegal but in several parts of Senegal and in
Guinea as well. Now when Omar was born in 1770,
a few years later when actually around 1776, when he
started his studies, there was a real very
important movement there. For several years before, the
British had really taken a lot of Muslims and sent
them to the Caribbean. There was also a famine. The British allied
themselves with the Moors and there were really massacres
and large taking of people. So that gave rise to a new
Islamic reformist movement, again to protect the Muslims. And their leader Sulaiman
Ball was a scholar. His view was that
it’s not enough to have a Muslim
leader, a Muslim king. You have to have a scholar. And I just want to read very
quickly what he envisioned. Because I think it’s
very relevant to that particular story,
but to others as well. He said, “Choose an
Imam, pious and ascetic who is not interested in
the riches of this world. And if you see that his
possessions increase, depose him and confiscate all
his belongings. And if he refuses to abdicate,
fight him and exile him to make sure he does not
establish a tyranny his sons will imitate. Replace him with another among
the men of knowledge and action. Bring to power one who deserves
it, one who forbids his soldiers to kill defenseless
children and old people and to rape women,
let alone kill them.” So that was the basis
of those movements. And he was killed in battle. And the first leader of a new
theocracy [inaudible] really forbade trade on the river, forbade the enslavement
of Muslims. And he was really very strongly
opposed to the slave trade, not only of Muslims but also
putting an end to the transit of people from the
east to Saint-Louis. So this is the kind of regime
that Omar Ibn Said lived under. And it was really a time
where Islamic education spread with lots of schools
being built. Omar continued his studies
he said for 25 years. He went to other parts of the
country and then he came back to Futa, probably around 1801. And that was a period
which was crucial. The leader of the [inaudible]
continued to forbid the transit of slaves, and there were of
course strong repercussions. The French who had come back
to Saint-Louis burned villages, killed people, enslaved
600 people, retaliations from [inaudible] and
so on and so forth. Until in 1807 internal and external forces
coalesced against [inaudible]. And as Omar wrote, an army
came and invaded Futa. And this army actually
killed [inaudible] and that’s when Omar was made a prisoner. He was worked to Saint-Louis. He was 37, very old actually for
being part of the slave trade. And in three ships
left Saint-Louis between October and
December 1807. And he was certainly
on one of those ships. Close to 400 people arrived
from Saint-Louis in Charleston. And Omar was on one
of those last ships that brought legally Africans through the transatlantic
slave trade. Because on January 1st, 1808,
the international slave trade to the United States came to a formal end even though
it continued until July 1860.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: So given
that tumultuous background, it seems to have swung wildly
from being turbulent at times to being a safe haven
at other times. Ala, perhaps you can
talk a little bit about the intellectual milieu that he would have experienced
during those years before 1807.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes:
Uniquely I think, because Omar has left this
manuscript, we are accessory to the words of a “slave” who
recounts not only his education in his country of
origin in Africa, but also who seems to cast sort
of a symbolic role for himself as resisting it in certain
ways as we will talk about later today, I think. But as Sylviane was giving a
context of the previous lives of slaves whom we
usually think of as, or the standard narrative
thinks of them as sort of a blank slate, right? When slavery and the particular
kind of slavery that developed in the US turned human
beings into chattel, people into real estate,
the standard narrative of resistance became one
of freedom versus bondage. And that narrative, as crucial
and fundamental as it is, sometimes short-changes
this historicity and the historical
forces and context that set those slaves apart
or set those human beings, those people, apart
as individuals. They all had unique stories,
but these unique stories like the stories of all,
you know, frankly enslaved or poor people all over
the world are not known or have been erased from
the historical record just because of the fact that
they have left no records of their own. In the case of Omar,
however, his literacy which was a consequence of his
faith and his education in Futa in Sene-Gambia, left clues to
the mind, to the inner life as well as to the kind of
contexts in which this man when he arrived to the
US became involved in.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: And perhaps we can talk then a
little bit about the movement from Africa to the Americas
and the slave trade. And Adam, this is something
you’ve studies particularly on arrival in the Americas. But perhaps you can draw some
parallels for us in this regard.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: Sure. Thanks very much. I just want to say before I
get into that history that most of what I know about Omar
Ibn Said actually comes from the scholarship of the people sitting
on either side of me. And I want to acknowledge that. I’m especially lucky to be here. Just picking up on
something that Ala said, I think it’s very
important to understand that not only had the history
of Atlantic slavery been written and understood for a long time
in ways that generally ignore, neglect or deny the African
historicity of enslaved people and everything they
brought into that history. But the slave trade
itself depended on the denial of that history. Just to give you an example, I was with some students
this week. We’re looking at a letter
from a Jesuit priest in the early 1600’s who
is explaining to one of his colleagues in
Cartagena de Indias about why you shouldn’t ask
captive Africans how they were enslaved. And he says, “If you ask
them, they’ll tell you that they were unjustly
and illegally captured.” Because if they were, then
they ought to be free. He says, “They’re
self-interested so they’re lying. So don’t ask them.” The whole operation of the slave
trade depended upon willfully neglecting the origins
of enslavement. And that’s one of the reasons
why a text like Omar’s is so important, because
it recovers that suppressed history. Slavery is a silencer. It denies the voices of captive
Africans and enslaved peoples in the Americas, so recovering
this text is so important to getting that history back
and understanding the lies and violence that were
really at the root of the Atlantic slave trade. So that’s one thing. The second thing is I
think it’s so interesting as Sylviana was talking about
the politics and history of northern Senegal and these
tensions and in fact wars over slavery that ended
up with Omar Ibn Said on a slave ship in Charleston. It’s interesting to think
about the intersection of this tumultuous
politics in West Africa with equally tumultuous
politics in North America. Omar Ibn Said is a kind of
nexus, a connecting point between those two histories. Sylviane mentioned that
Omar Ibn Said is one of the very last captive
Africans to be imported legally into the United States. Well, why was that? This gets us into the
whole history of the debate over slavery in the
New United States. You know, while Omar Ibn Said
is being born in West Africa, there’s a revolution about to
get underway in North American in which the concept of
slavery both literally and as a metaphor is central. But so is the reality
of the slave economy which undergirds the new nation. So a whole series of
compromises is worked out to try to reconcile the
rhetoric of freedom with the reality of slavery. And one of those
compromises has to do with the Atlantic slave trade. So in the Constitution
of the United States, one of the compromise clauses is that Congress cannot
prohibit the introduction of Africans for 20 years. So there’s a 20-year window in
which captive Africans continued to be introduced into
the United States. That 20-year window
basically ends in 1808. And right before that window
closes, there is a kind of surge in slaving as planters
in the United States try to get one last cargo
of Africans in before that window closes. So Omar Ibn Said is caught in
this kind of trap of politics on one side of the
Atlantic and politics on the other side
of the Atlantic. And I think it’s
really important to understand both sides of his
story, his story on both sides of the Atlantic together. That’s the only way we
understand the particularity of his history.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes:
Just as a footnote to what Adam was saying, if
I may, Omar is born in 1770, so that’s six years before the
Declaration of Independence, and he dies in 1863-64. And so that’s one
year before the end of the American Civil War. So his life in a way is an
actual one might say record or demonstration of what you
were saying about context.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: Yeah. His life is a microcosm
of the history of slavery in the United States from the
Revolution to the Civil War.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: So
we’ve been talking about him as both an individual and sort
of a sign for large themes. Getting back to 1807, Ala, maybe
you can have a go at this one. Can you give us sort of a
sketch of who he was in 1807?>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: No one individual is
one thing for sure. And it’s a difficult question,
but it’s a crucial question, perhaps the most
fundamental question to ask. And we know from the
manuscript that for example, for those people who
captured him at that moment, when he escaped — as we know,
he escaped from South Carolina, from Charleston, about two
years after he was brought in the big ship to this country. To the people he
must have seemed like this remarkable phenomenon of someone writing
Arabic letters on the walls of his jail cell. So that’s one thing
that they saw in him, someone who possibly
was unusually, perhaps spectacularly
educated in a way that they expected no
African or no slave to be educated at the time. Because of course
the common belief was that Africans had no culture
or at least no literate culture of that sort or no culture
that can be of value. On the other hand, he
himself from the manuscript, we learn that he
was born in 1770. We know from the dates that
he was an old man when he — I mean, roughly, right? He was 37. He certainly was not — I know. He was not a young,
youthful man. He refers to himself
as a weak man. He certainly saw himself as a
scholar, did not see himself as someone who is fit to work
in the fields or in plantations. You know, certainly
the plantation regime in Charleston was one
of the most difficult and backbreaking in
the United States. But he refers to his education,
he talks about the fact that he spent 25 years
seeking knowledge. He refers to three teachers, one of whom was his own
brother in Putatoro. He refers endearingly to
his father and mother. He refers to clearly both of his parents were married
before they had a number of children, and he
had a big family. So he refers to all sorts
of details of that sort, and the manuscript itself
also reveals details about his escape, about the
number of days he was held in jail in Fayetteville, North Carolina once he
escapes from the south. All of these various
details sketch Omar as a multiple person,
like all of us. I mean, he was an African. He was one might say certainly
an insipient American. The moment he was captured, he was an extraordinary
individual who could write. And so that question I
think should not be boiled down to one answer,
but we should look at the historical record first
and foremost the autobiography to open up that question. And that question is also
intertwined I would say with a kind of one might
say informants or people in the United States,
and we have a clue as to who these people were from the
title page of the manuscript that was written in English. We know a lot about them. These were well-known
people, scholars and these are all white
individuals, including a man by the name of Theodore Dwight, whose uncle was a
former president of Yale College, Timothy Dwight. And I’m sure Adam will maybe
later say a little bit more about Theodore Dwight. There were others,
Isaac Byrd who was one of the early translators
of the manuscript, and who himself was a
missionary actually, ended up going to
the Middle East. He was in Lebanon, working on producing a new
Protestant Bible. We have a lot of information
about that circuit of people who solicited Omar to
write his autobiography. And certainly the question
of who Omar is, is a question about his interiority. It’s also a question about
his culture back in Africa. But it’s also a question
about his future collaboration and really incorporation
into the circuit of people who had definite goals about
one might say the future of enslaved people in
the Americas, right? Including the fact that many
of them were not comfortable — this particular circuit
of people, they were not comfortable
with slavery as such. They saw in Omar’s culture,
his education and his literacy, manifest proofs that
Africans were cultured and they should not be
subject to this regime. But they also were not happy or
not comfortable with the idea of freeing those slaves
and then having them stay in the United States. There’s a particular group of people called the American
Colonization Society whose plans were to [inaudible] as
many slaves as they can through convincing slave
owners to release them and then have them
immigrate to Africa, to Liberia or other places. And so Omar has a multiple
identity and he’s really — as we were saying
before, he has a biography but also a historical moment.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Sylviane, there’s many ways
of looking at Omar. There’s a tendency to
see him as exceptional. Is that the case?>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: Yes,
and he actually was not. I mean, we have to understand
that the estimate is about 10% of the 12.5 million
Africans who were deported through the transatlantic
slave trade, 10% were Muslims. So we are talking about
more than a million people, more than a million Muslims
arrived in the Americas and really in every country. I mean, I used English, French,
Portuguese and Spanish sources and I found them
in 20 countries. And I didn’t use Dutch
because I don’t know Dutch. And what I found, you know, again it’s not just
what is there. There’s many others. And you know, we’re talking
about people who had been — not all of them, but
many of them had been to Koranic schools, could
read and write like Omar. Of course, you know, when
you were taken at 10, you have a little knowledge. When you arrived at 20
or 25, you had more. Some had been teachers,
scholars, judges. So we have really a
large number of people who like Omar were literate,
who like Omar left documents. And there are a lot. I mean, a lot. It’s maybe not exaggerated. But in Brazil, for example,
there are a lot of documents that have been preserved
in Arabic as well as in languages written
in Arabic script. And we have that even
in the United States. You know, there’s a 13-page
manuscript that was written by a Muslim on the island of
Georgia that still exists. We have facsimiles of other
writings that Muslims left. And in Jamaica, in Trinidad. And that goes from chapters
of the Koran to full Koran. One man here in the United
States known as Job ben Solomon from Senegal wrote three
copies of the Koran that of course he knew by rote. And one copy of the Koran that
he wrote was sold at auction in London, I think
it was in 2011. So a number of manuscripts
still exist. And sometimes it’s letters,
it’s religious writings. It’s also plans for revolt. Let’s not forget that in 1807
when Omar Ibn Said arrived in the United States, that
was the start also of a series of conspiracies and revolts
by Muslims in [inaudible]. And those Muslims arrived because of another
Islamic reformist movement in Nigeria that started in 1804. And there was also one
autobiography that was written by a Muslim in Jamaica. And it’s much longer
than Omar’s. It’s much, much,
much more detailed. Now the difference though is
that Abuba Asidic who wrote it, and I think he wrote
three versions of it, wrote it when he
was freed in 1834. He wrote one version in
1834 and one in 1835. He was free. He actually went back to Mali. He was born in Timbuktu. And the other thing that
is different from Omar, that particular original
manuscript doesn’t exist anymore. So it had been translated
and the idea is probably that he actually took those
versions that he wrote with him when he went back home. So Omar’s manuscript
as far as we know, and maybe something would be
discovered, we don’t know. But Omar’s manuscript
is unique in the sense that it’s the only autobiography
of a person who was enslaved and wrote his biography
when he was still enslaved.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman:
Can I just add one thing? I think Sylviane is
absolutely right to place Omar and his autobiography
in a larger context of enslaved Muslim
Africans in the Americas. So it’s part of a
broader picture, but there’s always this
tension between the degree to which somebody like
Omar Said is representative of something larger
and the extent to which he really is unique
sort of in his own experience. So when I read the
translation of his autobiography and the way he writes about
arriving in Charleston, the overwhelming
sense that I get is that he is alone
and traumatized. That there is a shock of arrival in this new very strange
and very harsh place. He writes in the autobiography
of being sold into the hands of Christians and arriving
in a Christian country. But then his first
owner, his first enslaver in Charleston he describes
as a wicked infidel, which is strong language. And he suffers. He’s a scholar but he’s
made to do hard labor. He’s literate but he
doesn’t speak the language of the society that
he’s found himself in. And it’s hard, but instead
of having his spirit broken, which could have been
one of the effects of this extraordinary odyssey
that he’s been on, he resists. He runs away. You know, he takes matters into
his own hands and he runs away and he wanders for
what seems to be weeks. And somehow he gets from
Charleston, South Carolina to I think it is
Fayetteville, North Carolina. How does he do that? And then he ends up you
know, and maybe it’s a church where he’s arrested
and gets sent to jail. He spends time in jail and
he’s writing Arabic characters on the wall of his jail cell. I mean, you could not write a
novel that’s more remarkable than the true story of this man when he arrives in
South Carolina. So he is part of this broader
movement, but he is also so alone when he arrives
in the United States. And I find that to be
one of the most poignant and powerful aspects
of his story.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: And he
really is ripped from his world and placed in a very
different world.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: May
I just follow up on that?>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: Please.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes:
It’s no accident that Omar was [inaudible]
a life, right? He refers to it a [inaudible],
an honorific title that he gives to a clergyman who I
think later I traced down to a man called Eli Hunter, a member of the American
Colonization Society. I am pretty sure about that. So this [inaudible]
asked him to write a life which Omar actually ended up —
in the manuscript it refers to, “You asked me to write hayati,”
which is the Arabic word for a life, immediately
translating it. Now the fascinating thing about
it is that the Arabic genre of the life is not called that,
but is referred to as sira. And so there is something
remarkable about the fact that he’s asked to
write an autobiography for the simple reason that
this particular genre has by now become in the west
the kind of genre that speaks to the authenticity of
someone’s experiences as well as the development
of a person, right? That is you turn
yourself into a person, you sort of demonstrate your
personhood and consciousness by writing about it, by
writing an autobiography. And autobiographies remain
of course huge bestsellers in the US today, right? They’re seen as in
a way a reflection, a mirror of the person. And so in a way, Omar’s
1832 manuscript is unique because in it we encounter
someone who not only fulfills that premise or that
aspect of the genre. But he actually opens it by
talking about his previous life, by talking about his teachers,
by talking about his education by actually drawing on the other
Arabic tradition of writing, which is the Arabic
tradition of the sira, right? Where you actually don’t
begin by talking necessarily about yourself and about your
education and about your culture and about your teachers. And therefore Omar is able
to bring together these two, concatenate as it were
these two literary genres in his narrative. And that really sets him apart.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
And in your book, A Muslim American Slave,
the Life of Omar Ibn Said, you characterize a three-step
process of translating, deciphering and contextualizing. And I’m wondering if you
can tell us a little bit about the insights that
come from that approach.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: Sure. So the work that later became
this book really was done in two stages. One was an encounter with the
manuscript itself with the life and autobiography and
translating it and trying to in translating it, to
interpret it and to think about both the inner life
of this man, his suffering as Adam was saying, the
fact that at one point he for example responds
to an overseer, clearly someone who’s
sent by his southern owner to recapture him
and take him back or to buy him whatever
again, he responds by — I mean, he’s responding in 1831. He’s writing in 1831. Remember, there is a
24-year differential or so between the moment of
the escape and the moment of the writing of
the manuscript. And he’s so traumatized
by that moment that he actually records it as
having responded to that man by writing seven no’s in Arabic. The word for no is
lah in Arabic. And he writes seven no’s,
right, not one but seven. And that is really a moment
where you could see just by looking at the space of the
page, you could gain something into one might say really
the mind of someone. So there is that aspect of the
suffering of the human being that can be given by
the work of translation. There is also the fact that
there is the political agency or the act of resistance itself
that the manuscript reveals where Omar rhetorically
casts certain kind of symbolic role for himself. The text, as my introduction to
the book shows, is full of sort of double hidden utterances in which he often will use
koranic suras to cast sort of a role for himself or to
deliver a message that is hidden to all except for those who
can really decipher what he is writing. So that’s one aspect or
one big part of the work. The other aspect that I refer
to as recovering the context of it is something that I have
already spoken about briefly, and that’s kind of — thinking
about the circuit of people who are mentioned, a few of
them are actually mentioned on the manuscript
on the title page. And these are white men
who obviously are related to that [inaudible] who asked
him to write his manuscript. And you know, you need to
ask yourself the question, in a country where —
what’s the percentage? 0.0001% of people spoke Arabic. I mean, obviously I’m even
increasing that percentage. I haven’t computed it,
but a minute number of people spoke Arabic. Why ask this man
who speaks Arabic to write a manuscript in Arabic? Who could read it? Who could really be
interested in it? And that opens really
or has opened a window into the interest of a number
of missionary scholars, ethnographers and so on who
saw in Omar an opportunity to do something or to kind
of prove or make a point or create an anti-slavery
argument that was at that point becoming
a third way shall we say in the anti-slavery rhetoric. Between the northern
abolitionists and the southern slave
plantation owners, there was a middle
way as they called it. And that middle way was
colonization, namely convincing as many salve owners to
release slaves or buying them and then sending
them to Liberia. And those particular people
were not universally it seems interested in all slaves. They were particularly drawn
to men of culture and education like Omar was and as
Sylviane was talking about other people whom they
saw as deserving of manumission because of their
culture and literacy.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: Now
part of the record assumes that he converted
to Christianity, but the autobiography
itself starts with a long quotation
chapter from the Koran. What’s in play there? Can you tell us a
little bit about that?>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: It’s
one of the things that a number of Muslims did, you know,
that pseudo-conversion. In some countries
they were forced. And they externally if you
will conformed to that. And then you know, they
actually remained Muslims. And we have several
examples of that in Brazil, in Jamaica, in Trinidad. And when you read these
particular autobiographies, you see how opaque if you
will it is, how contradictory. And if he had been truly
converted as a Christian, there wouldn’t have been
I think this need to kind of say one thing from
one side of his mouth and another from the other. It’s confusing and
Ala, of course, you’re very well
placed to dig into that. But again, if he had
been a true Christian, there wouldn’t have been
the need to be that opaque, that complicated, that unclear.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
And Adam, the autobiography
was written in 1831. And I’ll switch us
here in other ways. Can you speak to the context
of that particular year and the years surrounding it and
whether there’s a coincidence in play or they’re connected.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: 1831
was an auspicious year in American slavery, the year
of Nat Turner’s insurrection and the publication of Nat
Turner’s alleged confessions. It’s really interesting I think to compare these two
biographies, the one ostensibly of Turner written by a white
lawyer who had interviewed him in jail which represents
Turner as a kind of prophet or religious fanatic,
depending on your perspective. So that’s one thing
that’s happening in 1831. And on one hand Turner’s
insurrection of course causes widespread
panic across the south about the possibility of slave
insurrection and provokes a kind of backlash, a crackdown
against slaves and free people of color across the south. So you have that going on. At the same time you have
Omar Ibn Said writing his own autobiography which represents
a totally different kind of textual presence or
representation of the life of an enslaved person. And I think there’s
no direct connection between those two events, but
I do think that by the time that Omar writes
this autobiography, he’s already become a
kind of minor celebrity. Especially in the colonization
circles that Ala mentioned. So the colonizationists
do represent this kind of middle ground or third way between abolitionism
and pro-slavery. And they’re trying to cultivate
a different way of thinking about slavery and its demise and
also a different relationship between the United
States and Africa. So there’s a kind of broad pivot
between Africa as a reservoir of labor through
the slave trade. And in the 19th century,
Africa as kind of an object of salvation and civilization. This is what the
missionaries are up to. And they see Omar Ibn Said as
this cultured, literate African who in their minds had
converted to Christianity. And they see in him a
model for all of Africa. And I think that’s one of the reasons why they
illicit this autobiography and he’s described in
various colonization — there are articles about him
in colonizationist publications where he really represents
this possibility of civilizing Africa. So I think to put Omar
Ibn Said’s autobiography in conversation with
Turner’s confessions is to show a wide range of both
the positions of enslaved people in America in the early
1830’s, but also the variety of white responses to
the problem of slavery.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: And
we should encourage everybody, if they’re going to read
one autobiography this year, it should be his, right? Because it’s actually quite
short as well, which is handy. So do we know details
of his life between 1831 and his death in 1863? Perhaps we could sort of
sketch that out briefly?>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: Well,
after he was bought by Owen who was a brother of the
governor of North Carolina, he was said to have been put
to kind of light work regime, gardening and that
kind of things. The thing also is that
there’s no good slavery. And the fact also is
that he died enslaved. And there was no
good reason for that. I mean, no good reason. He could have been freed, he
could have stayed where he was and continued working
or drawing an income. He died enslaved. So you know, even though by
some measure his enslavement was lighter if you will in the
sense that he was not punished, he did not have this horrible
workload, he was not abused — and that’s what he says. But at the same time, in his autobiography he
denounces slavery in the way that he says that you know,
“I eat what they eat.” I mean, it’s not
his exact words, but “I have clothes,
I am not naked. I’m not abused.” Meaning that the
others are, right? And so in that way he is
also denouncing slavery, even as he contrasts
the normal lot of enslaved people to his own.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes:
So regarding his life, there are fascinating contexts
that you find when you dig into the research and when
you look at known facts and context at an angle. So for example, one of my favorite 19th-century
African American texts is David Walker’s 1829 Appeal for the
Colored Citizens of the World which he modelled on the
US Constitution, right, with a preamble and everything. It is a really remarkable
document inasmuch as he creates a document
that is modeled on the supposedly
universal Constitution. But it speaks to
black experience. And the appeal by the [inaudible] made him
really a hated man in the south. They were like Turner of course after the rebellion
two years later. And I found a letter which
was written to precisely Owen, John Owen who was then the
governor of South Carolina, the brother of the man in
whose house Omar resided for so many years. And that letter alerts
the governor to the fact that there have been attempts
to translate or to actually read that book to the
illiterate slaves, right? To the illiterate slaves
around where you live. And so be on the
lookout for that. And certainly Omar who never
learned English could not have read the appeal in English,
but he could have listened to someone reading it, right? Clearly that letter makes the
case that there are people going around reading that appeal
as Walker himself said when he offered the pamphlet
for no cost to people who would read it to your
brethren who were illiterate, right, could not read
it for themselves. So there are these
fascinating intersections that remind us again of, as
Adam was saying, the historicity of Omar not only
in Africa which is to be emphasized
but also in America. That history speaks
broadly and it’s wider and full context are his
words placed in the context of his intentions as well
as in the other texts that were circulating
at that time and the other political
acts that were being played. The full history of that
reprehensible institution.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: As you
said, that full history has sort of a deep fascination but
also a deep sadness running through the whole thing. Omar dies in 1863 and Adam, I believe you discovered
his obituary. Is that correct, while
you were researching?>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: Yeah. Just to add to this connotation
about Omar’s life after 1831, I do think bits and pieces
of this have come up already. But I think it’s
important to understand that 1831 autobiography is not
the only thing that Omar wrote and that still exists
in the archives. There’s actually quite
an extensive set of — he left a paper trail, is what
I’m saying here, in Arabic. That extends to the 1850’s. So his story archivally
speaking is even richer than just his extraordinary
1831 autobiography. It’s one of the things
that makes him so, so deeply fascinating. But I do think that
the main fact is that he remains enslaved. Unlike so many other African
Americans who made their way — not so many, but some
other African Americans who made their way
from slavery to freedom and then wrote their stories, like Frederick Douglass
for instance. Omar is unusual because he
never made it to freedom. Yet we have this
archival record of him as a person held in bondage. And just the point — I mean, he lived a long life,
a really long life. More than 90 years. But just not quite long enough
to make it back to freedom. I mean, if he lasts
just two more years, he sees emancipation
in North Carolina. And then how would the
story be different? If he had lived just those
two more years and been able to tell us stories of a free
person, what would he have said? That’s to me one of the things
that’s so sad about this.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: Ala,
did you want to add to that?>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: Maybe later.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
You each have — I mentioned the obituary. You each have sort of a
close connection to Omar and to the collection
or the autobiography or the more extensive
collection. Perhaps we can touch
on those intersections, each of you in turn. Ala, perhaps you can start
in terms of what drew you to translating the
autobiography, which had been done,
what, two or three times and it’s been sort of
lost and rediscovered. What drew you to it?>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: At
first it began at that time to resurrect the words, thinking
about the words of someone who is so distinctive and
in many ways unique to think about what his words
mean to us today, to think about the
fuller debate on slavery that those words can entail. And that as I said before
kind of morphed into — connected with the story of
the bigger historical work. So there was — I
mean, I’m a professor of comparative literature
in English and I spend my days
thinking about the way in which you interpret words
and sentences put together. And there is a fascinating
sentence by W. E. B. Dubois that as I recall it,
“The expression in words of the tragic experience
of the negro race is to be found in various places.” And it was fascinating
that in addition to the well-known places
of the Negro Spirituals or the Slave Narratives, wills in which certainly
slaves were left as property from someone. I mean, that kind of expression of how they were treated
or seen as slaves. But their own expressions we see
in this autobiography by someone that in a way reorients
I think the debates about slave narratives
themselves. So in a way I was drawn to
it first through the words of the man, then trying
to think about his agency. The fact that he was — that
the opacity of his narrative when he opens it for
example by a particular surah from the Koran, that seemed
to me to be included as kind of a message, a hidden message that his owners had
no right over him. That the possession and power
are all in the hands of God. This seemed to kind of
go against the narrative of his conversion, right,
or his slavery itself. And to go back to your
question about earlier moments of translation, I mean
what is different is that certainly before the
overarching assumption about this man and
this narrative was that he is essentially a
convert to Christianity, right? His culture vindicates
the missionary converting, evangelizing aspect
of the people who were circulating his work. And not necessarily or not at
all that it proves the universal or near-universal
obviously education of people back in Africa, right? So in a way I began my
translation and I began thinking about his words and interpreting
them with different assumptions which I think make a difference.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Thank you. And Adam, in your most recent
book, Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the
Twilight of Slavery — and this is while you were a
visiting Kluge scholar here at the Library of Congress
carrying out research on African American voices
from slavery to freedom during which time you graciously helped
us out with some translations in the collections of Omar. Can you tell us a little
bit more about that? If you can give a plug to Chronicling America,
that would be okay.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: Yeah,
like I said at the beginning, I’m really a latecomer
to Omar Ibn Said compared to the other scholars
sitting up here. But I just happened to be sort of in the right place
at the right time. I was here at the library Kluge
Center last semester working on a project of trying
to find material in the Manuscript Collections
written by African Americans, especially enslaved African
Americans in the 19th century. I mean, the Manuscript
Collections are vast. Millions of pages of material. But only here and there do you
find anything actually written by a person who was enslaved. And I wanted to highlight
that material. So of course, the news that the
Omar Ibn Said autobiography had come into the library and that
the library was doing a whole project around it was
incredibly exciting. And then I was doing a series
of podcasts about the material that I found in the manuscript
division, so we decided to do one on Omar Ibn Said. So that should be
coming out pretty soon. Sylviane is on it and
Mary Jane as well. And for those of you
who like podcasts, be on the lookout for that. But that’s also part of a
broader I think goal which is to find new ways of telling
stories about history. Finding new ways to bring
manuscript materials and archival materials to light. You know, as scholars we sort
of seem to have a special and privileged access
to these materials. But something like Omar Ibn
Said’s autobiography really ought to be accessible
to everyone. It’s that important. And part of that is
digitizing these materials. Part of it is translating and transcribing the
original documents. So my role was really
just to take some of the English language
documents in the collection, which are really remarkable,
and just transcribe them. Now many of you in this audience
look like you’re of a generation that probably knows
how to read cursive. [ Laughter ] But some of you may not. Reading cursive is
actually a dying art. And it’s not just reading
cursive, but going through some of these 19th century
manuscripts, the handwriting is
actually difficult to read. I happen to have decades now of experience reading
19th century handwriting, so I thought, let’s put
those skills to good use. I transcribed some
of these materials to make them more accessible in the overall digital
platform of the project. But actually transcribing
19th-century and archival materials, it’s much like how Ala
described translating materials from Arabic from English. You just get a closer bond to the language and
to the artifacts. It just stays with you better. You sit with it. You just ruminate about it. And so doing these
transcriptions led me to do some of my own research. I started noodling
around on the Library of Congress’s Chronicling
America website which is an incredible database
of historical newspapers. And doing that led me to this
1863 obituary of Omar Ibn Said in a North Carolina newspaper. So how many enslaved people
got their obituary written in a newspaper in
the 19th century? That’s just a testament of
the kind of celebrity of Omar. But that was my connection
to this project, and it was really — I’ll tell
you all a tremendous thrill to get to the library and
have an opportunity to work on something as important,
significant and tremendous as this.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Terrific. And Sylviane, your engagement
with Omar might be the longest, certainly over 20 years or so.>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: Yes.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
And you’ve intersected with the collection and the
Library of Congress on a couple of occasions over those
couple of decades. Could you tell us about that and
what it all means to you today?>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: Yeah. My encounter with Omar
probably started when I decided to write this book on Muslims
enslaved in the Americas. And I don’t remember
exactly when I got this idea. I think it was probably
’93, ’94. So I encountered Omar then. But at kind of two encounters,
if you will, with him. I mentioned earlier that he was
taken a prisoner of war in 1807 and during this entire
[inaudible] coalition. And I mean, to me there’s
a family connection there. Sulaiman Ball whose text I read
earlier, and [inaudible] as well as many of the Islamist
reformists studied at [inaudible] in Senegal
which is a very renowned school which was founded by my
ancestor Hami Amachfal in 1603. So I had this particular
connection. Then while I was writing,
I was almost finished. When I was writing Servants
of Allah, I learned in ’96 that there was this
auction in New York of the manuscript plus others. So I went there not exactly
to buy it, even though I tried to interest somebody who had
more money that I did to buy it. So I got there and I was
looking at the document. And you know, this young
man came and very affable and sociable, and it’s only
that he wanted to buy it and introduce himself,
Derrick Beard, Muslim. And you know, we
started to talk. And you know, the price was
not that expensive at all. And I thought, “Well,
he’s there all alone. I’m sure a lot of other people
are interested as well.” And I was kind of
appalled by the fact that nobody bid for
that collection. He was the only one. And I was happy for him,
but I thought, “Okay, there’s no museum, there’s no
archive, library, university, collectors who are
interested in this unique” — because it was not
only the manuscript. It was other things as well. And I thought, “Okay,
nobody is interested?” And I was surprised and I
was disappointed as well. You know, fortunately
the interest came after. But at least the good
thing about the fact that Derrick bought it is
that he really exposed it in the sense that he was
always willing to lend it to scholars and others. To have it read,
translated, written about. He did something that was
in my view very moving. As I mentioned, he
bought it in 1996. In 1998, he took it to
Senegal in order to share it with the people of Senegal, with
the scholars and others there. And Omar never made it back,
but his manuscript did. And I thought that was you know, moving and that’s
who Derrick was.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Thank you. I will be opening it up
to questions in a minute. Any sort of final
thoughts before we open it up to questions, Ala?>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: Since
there is a large number of young people here, I think
one important thing to say, one important advice is learn
foreign languages, right? That method of multiculturism
in the US, as positive as it is, short-changes the
fact that people come with their own culture
to this country, and those cultures are
encoded in their own languages. And often the only
access you’ll have to other people’s cultures is if you take the time
to learn languages. Not everything comes in English.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
So before I open it up to questions, please
join me in saying thank you to our terrific panel. [ Applause ] So questions. Yes, sir?>>Hi, Ishmael Royer from the
Religious Freedom Institute. Thank you. This is a fascinating and
overlooked topic, all of you. And I was wondering
if anyone who wanted to could say something
about what this collection or more broadly what
the collection of materials that’s available
from Muslim slaves says about the ability to
practice Islam as slaves. We know that there was
originally under slavery, slaves were not permitted
even to be Christians. So what did the slave
owners and so on, how did they handle their
slaves that were Muslims? What did they do to either
allow or oppress that?>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof:
I can address that. You know, there were
two different kinds of things, of attitude. You had really — I mean, as
Muslims were known in the sense that people knew that they were. And that’s why you have all
these testimonies of journalists and travelers and
slaveholders, et cetera. Mentioning my so and so is. So it was known. So you had this attitude, especially in Catholic
countries, where they had to convert. So the idea was you know,
you have to be Christian. And so you have all
these crypto-Muslims. You know, in an overt manner,
say that they are Christian or go through the motions
and actually remain Muslims. Then you also have people
who know that the people who are enslaved
can read and write. And it was mentioned by a
number of American scholars at the time, that that created
jealousy in slaveholders because they themselves
were illiterate. So that was kind of an
impediment also to learn more about the people
they had enslaved. You also had in the
United States this idea that the Muslims were not
Africans, that they were Arabs who had been taken
kind of by mistake. And that those Muslims,
those Arabs, despised the rest
of the Africans. And you know, so there were
sometimes these attempts at putting people one
against the other. So you had kind of
a multiplicity of attitudes concerning them. But we also find for example
in the islands of Georgia, people who had been enslaved and
had been freed were interviewed in the 1930’s and who
described their parents and their grandparents
praying several times a day, having prayer beads,
having turbans. So we know that they continued on the plantations
to actually pray. So you know, again we have
all those different attitudes. The thing is that
Islam did not — I mean, Islam as brought by the West Africans did
not really continue even in countries like Brazil where you had really
established communities. So that’s what I –>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Thank you for the question. Any other questions? Here.>>This side, please. Just a couple questions. One is, what do you know about
Omar Ibn Said’s descendants and relatives in Senegal? And for that matter,
what do you know about his family
in North Carolina? Does he have descendants
that we know about? And two, what do you know about
the provenance of the documents from Omar Ibn Said
to Derrick Beard? How did Derrick Beard
acquire the documents?>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: The
provenance of the sale? How it came to Mr. Beard?>>How it came to
Mr. Beard, yeah.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: There is
a well-documented provenance because the title page as I was
mentioning, which is written in English, describes
exactly the way — it says written by Omar and
then given by another slave and then translated ultimately
by a man called Theodore Dwight. Dwight was a member of the
American Ethnological Society. And he sends the
manuscript to another man, Isaac Byrd who then
has another — there’s a letter actually in
the Theodore Dwight collection that has been acquired by the
Library of Congress as well within that rich collection, in which you see Isaac Byrd
responding to Theodore Dwight. There is a conversation
between them about a number of manuscripts that
have been sent to Isaac Byrd for translating. Isaac Byrd in later life
goes to Hartford, Connecticut and opens a school,
right, a private school. I mean, he has been a
linguist in the Middle East for many years and he ends his
life as a principle in Hartford. But he is well-known and that
manuscript gets sent to him. And he has it, and then it ends
up with I think the secretary of the American Numismatic
Society or something. We know that as well. And then the manuscript I think
ends up in his family kind of hidden in an attic. And then finally it comes out
and ends up at the gallery at that auction that
Slyviane has introduced. So there’s actually a
well-known record of it, quite a remarkable one. As to your first
question, Omar never married or sired children in the US. I mean, he remained
a lonely man, a lonely presence
for whatever reason. I mean, maybe he
didn’t want his children to be sold into slavery, right? I mean, maybe he saw what
happened in Charleston where he spent two years and saw
the way families were treated, that they were not
respected as families at all. And so in a sense, I think
that he never had children. He never had a progeny
in the US.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: I
just want to add one thing to the question of the
provenance of the autobiography. One of the moments where the
autobiography reappears is in the early 20th century when a scholar named J. Franklin
Jameson somehow gets his hand on it and actually
translates it and publishes it in the American Historical
Review. Which is the leading journal
for American historians. So this is a document that’s
been discussed by historians for 100 years and then has a
much longer history than that. But Jameson, the man who
translated and published this, then went on to become the chief
of the Manuscripts Division here at the Library of Congress. So there is a long Library of Congress connection
to this document.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: So
we have a question over here.>>Yes. I’m Angela Pashane. I’m a PhD student at
Howard University. Thank you so much for
your contributions. It’s just beyond beyond. Two questions. One, will the manuscript ever be
printed and bound for students to be able to read
and to be able to have a course with the book? And two, I’m thinking about
the writings of Charles Meals in The Racial Contract. And I’m wondering how you
posit the importance of both of those writings together. And I know they’re
completely different. I know they’re from
completely different eras. But if you’re familiar
with The Racial Contract and the importance of that piece
as compared to Omar Ibn Said.>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: So I’ll
speak to the first question which is the manuscript is
now available on the website of the Library of
Congress itself of course in its full glory. But it’s also available
in translation in my book. I hate to — since you
were asking that question, I can take this occasion to
disavow plugging my book, right?>>Dr. Aldam Rothman:
I’ll plug it for you.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: Yeah. Is this the book that’s for
sale outside at the break? Is that the book
we’re talking about?>>Dr. Ala Alryyes:
Did I say that? But yes, available online. We also have facsimile
editions for on-site research. So that’s one of
the exciting things about this theme throughout. It’s been available, studied on
and off for quite a long time. And now it’s readily available
to schools everywhere, high schools to colleges,
to book clubs, to churches. You just go on, as long
as you have a computer and an internet connection,
it’s there for you. So that’s a very exciting
aspect of all of this. Did we answer this? Was there a second
part to the question? [ Inaudible ]>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: So I actually cannot
answer that question.>>That’s fine.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman:
But I do think that it is an exciting
opportunity to have this source available
to enter into all sorts of scholarly conversations
about race and slavery in American history,
about archival power, about religion and power. There are so many conversations
that this particular document and set of documents speaks to. And that’s one of the
reasons why it’s so exciting to have this material so readily and generally available
up on the website. So scholars can talk about
it, students can talk about it on every level. Just to give you one example, I’m teaching an Atlantic
history class this semester at Georgetown. And every week students have
to post an artifact to a map about Atlantic history. And then completely unprovoked
by me, two weeks ago one of the students used the
Omar Ibn Said autobiography for the map. Like the day after I
think it came online. So it’s out there, it’s
being used and it can enter into every conversation that
we can have about these issues.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Terrific. I believe we have a
question over here.>>[Inaudible] I
am a [inaudible]. I am from the Muslim Institute. I am in the process of
writing a history of Muslims of America going back
to Dr. Leo Winer. My question is this
Arabic manuscript of our elder Omar Said. Is it in the Fusa
Arabic or local Arabic? And do we find the
names of his teachers?>>Dr. Ala Alryyes: He does
mention the name of his teachers and he actually refers to their
names and he refers to one of them as his own brother. One thing that we need
to remember about Omar, and this is really
critically important about him and about someone else who
was also a friend of his and someone whose title
on the title page is that these men’s native
languages were not Arabic, right? These men were Africans
and they spoke — that’s right, they
spoke local languages. So they have their own
obviously mother tongue. Arabic was the language of
scholarship and literacy in the same way shall we say
that Latin was the language of scholarship in Europe
for a very long time, right? And so that’s one thing that
needs to be I think mentioned at this time and I think
fits into your question. The other thing is about the
level of the register of Arabic. And yes, the register
is [inaudible], right? The register is Ahi. It’s not a demotic. It’s not a local dialect. It’s really a Fusa,
formal Arabic.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: Thanks. Oh, sorry, Adam. Please.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman: At the
beginning of the autobiography, Omar Said apologizes for
the quality of the writing because he says he’s
basically forgotten Arabic and his own language. So there’s just this
hint of loss there. He may be being overly modest.>>24 years.>>Dr. Aldam Rothman:
There is that.>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: I would
just add that for example in the other autobiography that
I mentioned from [inaudible] who said actually that he was
a descendant of the prophet. He also gives a long
list of his teachers. And there are documents in other
parts of the Americas written in different types of
Arabic, in Ajami as well. And you know, it’s interesting. I think that to translate
is one thing. To interpret is another. And there’s really a lot of
work that needs to be done on all those documents
that exist because sometimes they’ve
been translated years ago, decades ago, by people
who spoke Arabic but not necessarily the Arabic
that was used in West Africa. And also the interpretation
of those. Because you know, there are
quite a few old documents and those need to be interpreted
by people who can do that. And it’s not necessarily
scholars who can do that, but [inaudible],
Imams, et cetera.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
This is great. I saw three hands. We’re going to start here.>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: Yeah. I think here, this
gentleman has been –>>First of all, thank
you to all three of you.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: Hold on,
we actually haven’t teed up yet. Yeah.>>Okay. Thank you. Maybe this question requires
a little bit of speculation but I would pose
it to Dr. Diuof. In these days where
people are doing things like Finding Your Roots which
is one of my favorite programs, have you found in your research
that there are any families that have returned to
their practice of Islam after discovering that their
predecessor was a Muslim? Or that were actually practicing
Islam without the knowledge that their predecessor
was a Muslim?>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: I
think there are probably both of those. The thing is that what we’ve
seen a few years ago is that people whose DNA was
for example said to be — because I have my
reservation about that — said to be Fulbe or Olsa. So people who are mostly
Muslims, then you know, some of the people
actually became Muslims, or Muslims today have
their DNA traced to check if their ancestors
were Muslims as well. So it’s kind of — now you
know, again this is kind of — those are situations that are
a little iffy if you will. And religion, I don’t know if
biology can give you any kind of way of becoming Muslims. I mean, to me it’s
all complicated.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan: So
we have a question over here.>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: Yes. To the distinguished panel and to the distinguished
people here. My name is B. M. Shakeer. I’m from Fayetteville,
North Carolina. There in Fayetteville,
North Carolina when Omar Ibn Said came
there and went to the jail, he wrote the Arabic on the wall. We have the church there, the
First Presbyterian Church. Where in the history of the
First Presbyterian Church, they have Omar annotated,
but they refer to him as Uncle Moran. And as to the question
that was earlier discussed, whether he accepted
Christianity or not, we find that he did not
convert to Christianity. As one of the scholars said,
based on the circumstances and the situation
he found himself in, he did many things
in order to adapt. The same way that from our
ancestors when they went down by the river,
maybe they sung a song, it was coded language
in order to adapt. Now I just want to
mention one thing. The young lady was asking
a question about if any of the predecessors converted or accepted Al Islam
or became Muslims. You know, the late
Dr. Sierra Lincoln who was a theologian there
at the Duke University, he said there is something in
the African American make up, he called it the
Islamic genetic memory. The Islamic genetic memory, that
somewhere in some place and time in our families, that gene or that genetic memory
is going to awaken in us. Now in my family, I’m the
only one that accepted. I heard the call and I
accepted Al Islam in 1973. Now we also have built two
edifices in Fayetteville, North Carolina honoring our
great ancestor Omar Ibn Said. We built two masjids
or houses of worship. This gentleman here, under his
leadership we built the first one as indigenous
Muslims in North Carolina. We structured Omar Ibn Said. Then when the highway
department came through and declared imminent domain,
well, we took that money and we built another masjid. Plus we have a marker
in North Carolina that recognized Omar
Ibn Said that was issued by the state of North Carolina. And these are very
important things because Omar Ibn
Said is all of us. Everyone sitting in this
room is Omar Ibn Said. What I like about your
presentation is first you talked about him as a human being. He was a human being. You talked about his identity. Then you also emphasized his
intellectual enlightenment. If you don’t know, Omar
was very influential in bringing public
education to North Carolina through his legislation. And we thank you very much
for allowing us to be here at this great, great
program honoring a great, great human being,
Omar Ibn Said. [ Applause ]>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
Thank you for that. We might have time for one,
maybe two more questions. We have one here.>>I’ll be very quick. Thank you, everyone
for a wonderful talk. The question is
linguistics-related. I’m curious, what forms of
material potentially are lest in the various forms of Arabic? The Ajami was brought
up just a second ago and Fusa, what have you. As well as languages
written in Arabic script or just other African languages. I’m curious what all we
have regardless of religion. So I would be curious
to see what’s there. Thank you.>>Dr. Sylviane Diuof: I think
that in the United States, I mean, there are
not many manuscripts that have been found. But in other countries you have
Ousa written in Arabic script. I think it’s in Trinidad,
there’s Uroba, written in Arabic script. You know, and again, the
[inaudible] is not enormous and other things may be found. But you know, you also have
people really who actually from — I mean it’s
not me who said that, because I’m not capable
of knowing that. But people whose knowledge of Arabic was actually
much better than Omar’s. And who also quote
a number of books that they had read
before they were enslaved. And so you see really kind
of an elite of scholars, people who have attained a
high level of scholarship. And we find that in Brazil and
in some other countries as well. Now when there was just
very briefly this mention of conversion in Jamaica, there
is a case for example of a man, a Muslim, who converted. And what that gave him was
access to paper, to notebooks. And in one of them he wrote
a 50-page treatise on how to remain a good Muslim,
these kind of things, and how to preserve
the community. You has missionaries also who gave Bibles in
Arabic to Muslims. And that was for them — you know, that was great
because you could read. Omar also had — some
also received Korans. And in Brazil actually the
Muslims organized themselves to have Korans in Arabic
imported from France. And people who were
enslaved bought the Korans by installments, taking years
sometimes to actually buy them. And then the organized
networks from Rio to Bia to send those Korans
to other Muslims.>>Dr. Eugene Flanagan:
So I see more hands up, but unfortunately we’ve
come to the end of our time. And I’ve been handed a
note that appears to be in Arabic itself, Mary Jane. But I will — so a
couple of things. One, we’ll be taking
a break in a minute. There will be lunch at the back. And also then at 12:30
we’ll be showing a couple of videos I believe, one from
the Library of Congress itself and one from our high
school participants that are here today with us. So before we reconvene,
again I want to — I would appreciate
you joining me in thanking our terrific panel
and a wonderful conversation. [ Applause ]>>Leanne Potter:
I’m Leanne Potter and I direct the new Office
of Learning and Engagement in the Library’s new Center
for Learning, Literacy and Engagement here at
the Library of Congress. A bit of background. I want to talk with
you a little bit about how students got involved with the Omar Ibn
Said collection and how these students
got involved with creating the documentary
films that you’re going to have a chance to
see in just a minute. So this past fall, colleagues
from around the library gathered to talk about this acquisition. And in the course of
those conversations, we spoke about how the
library would not only make the collection available, but
also provide opportunities for lots of promotion. We talked about articles
that would be written. We talked about the texts that
would appear on the website. We talked about tweets
and so on. And in the course of that
conversation, we also talked about how might we get young
student voices involved in the conversation? And I was really thrilled that
my colleagues were as energetic at the possibility of
introducing students to the collection even before
it became available online. This is very new for us. The library hasn’t done
anything quite like this before, and so in just a minute,
you guys are going to see the results of
us trying something new. And I hope you’ll be as
excited about it as we are. We reached out to two local
teachers, George Mayo who’s over there getting his lunch, who is at Montgomery
Blaire High School in Silver Spring Maryland. And we reached out to
Michelle Santos who’s over here eating her lunch, who roped in her
colleague John Simms at Richard Wright Public
Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts here
in the District. I like that you guys have moved because now we’re getting
voices around the room. This is good. And I sent them an email. And in this initial email
that I wrote to them, I shared some information about
the Omar Ibn Said collection and the library’s plan for it. And asked if they thought
that they had some students who might be interested
in working with us to create some related
documentaries. I am very happy to
report that they said yes and we’re very intrigued
with possibilities. So thank you George and
Michelle and John for that. Since that initial email
at the very end of October, 13 students from the two
schools have been conducting original research. In fact, I just told both
groups that they probably — no offense, folks — know
more about Omar Ibn Said and his collection than at least
half the people in this room. These kids have been
doing their homework. Not only have they
been doing research. They have also been collecting
footage here at the library. They have been learning
more about copyright. They have been conducting
interviews. They have been drafting
narratives and more in order to create the two documentary
films that we’re excited to share with you momentarily. I really need to emphasize
that this was a pilot effort on our side, but absolutely not
a pilot effort on their side. This one required buy-in here
at the library and support from extraordinary colleagues
across the Library of Congress. So I really want to send a
little shout-out and thank you to my colleagues in the Africa
and Middle East division as well as the Communications
Office, my colleagues in our digitization
lab, my colleagues in the conservation lab. Our colleagues in the
acquisitions division as well as my team in the Learning
and Innovation Office. A project like this
does not just happen. It happens when folks
are willing and able to work together
and make it happen. So thank you all for that. It also required amazing
coordination and thank goodness for Colina Black who’s
right there pretending to be mild-mannered. She did an exceptional
job serving as this pilot project’s manager. Her enthusiasm and her
organizational skills coupled with her graciousness and
tact were absolutely vital to pull this one off. So thank you, Colina. Now on with our show. [ Music ]>>You asked me to
write my life. I cannot write my life, for I
have forgotten much of my talk as well as the talk
of the Arabs. Oh, brother, in the name
of Allah, I ask you not to blame me, for my eye is
weak as well as my body.>>Omar Ibn Said was a famous and scholarly African
American Muslim who came here in
the early 1800s. Omar Ibn Said’s manuscript
shows that he was a scholar, he was a world’s traveler
before he was even captured and enslaved.>>It is the only known,
existing manuscript in Arabic written by a slave. And it’s written by a
man who is still a slave. He arrived when he was 37. He died when he was over 80. Over a period of 40
years, he knew English. In Arabic he knew that nobody
could understand what he said, and therefore he
could be more truthful if he wanted, less fearful.>>That fact that these
materials are written in Arabic sort of changes
what we believe we know about American slavery and
about those individuals who were enslaved in America. In a typical classroom,
when students are introduced to American slavery, there is
a section in their textbook. And that section in
their textbook may or may not introduce
many details about specific individuals. So I think part of what this
collection does is it lends an original voice that we’ve
never heard before to a story that we thought we knew.>>It opens a window
into 200 years ago. What was West Africa like? Who were the people who
were on that continent? So we begin asking
new questions. The questions about the lives of those slaves before
they became slaves. [ Music ]>>My name is Omar Ibn
Said, my birthplace Futa between the two rivers.>>He was born in an area
which was between two rivers, probably what is Senegal today. And there he grows
up and he studies. So he says, “I spent
26 years studying.” And you say, “Okay,
what was he studying?” He doesn’t elaborate. One has to assume that
he went beyond reading and writing to doing much more.>>Then there came to
our country a big army. It killed many people. It took me and brought me
to the big sea and sold me in the hand of a Christian man.>>There was tribal
warfare in the region. And he is caught. And then he is sold
into slavery. He is sold to merchants
who were buying slaves. And he is then put on a ship
and he sails for six weeks. [ Music ]>>He also talked
about his experience when he was riding to, making it into a place he called
Charles-Town, and being badgered and misused and abused. To the point that
he had to escape.>>So they captured him
and they put him in jail. And so he stays there and
he is alone and in a room and he begins writing
on the wall. He begins writing. And he writes in Arabic because
that’s the language he knew. He could not understand what
people were saying around him.>>And they were
curious about this guy that wrote this writing. They thought that Africans
had no culture nor history, couldn’t read and write. Omar Ibn Said dispels that. He could read, he could write
and he was very scholarly.>>One Friday, a man
came and opened the door of the jail and I saw many men. The language was Christian. They called to me. “Is your name not Omar? Is it not Said?” I did not understand
the Christian language.>>He refers to them as
the Owens, and they are — one of them turns out to be
the governor of North Carolina. And he takes him in and then
he says that they were good men who believed in God,
who had a Bible and who read to him the Bible.>>Anywhere from
25-28% of the population that was brought
here were Muslims. The same prophets that we find in the Koran we find
in the Bible. So they were able to intertwine,
interrelate those experiences.>>But when he writes
his biography, he begins with a
verse from the Koran. And the verse from the Koran is
again a very interesting choice. It is the verse which
refers to domination, which refers to ownership. And in Islam, all
ownership belongs to God. God is the only owner. It can be understood
as a criticism of the whole institution
of slavery. He does this in a
subtle way of saying, “You really have no right
to own another human being.”>>They robbed the culture. They robbed the identity. They disconnected
them from family. There was no connection.>>I reside in a country
because of the great harm. The infidels took me
unjustly and sold me.>>It’s one of those stories
that will always be relevant. Today around the world
there are tens of millions of people who are enslaved. So Omar Ibn Said
humanizes the experience of a person in his own words. [ Music ]>>This is a voice we
had never heard before. And these materials
have been out there. What other materials exist? What other stories
can we help uncover? And how can those stories
together help us better understand an episode
of our nation’s past that maybe we don’t understand
as thoroughly as we ought to?>>There’s a lot of insight
that can be pulled out of it if people take it not with
bigotry in their heart or arrogance in their heart,
but to look for the insight. You see concrete, grass
come up out of concrete or trees grow by the concrete. So out of the concrete of enslavement we found positive
Muslim personalities rising up. Things will get better,
things will be better. And that’s what he
represents: hope, that things will get better. [ Music ]>>The manuscript of Omar
Ibn Said signifies the spread of knowledge about the African
Muslim community, specifically as it relates to the
American slave trade, religion and race relations. The other aspect of the library’s collection is
the African Islamic Manuscript Collection, a series
containing such documents as the visionary
religious Arabic manuscripts of Sheik Son-Asi, a mystical
account of the creation of the world and of
mankind by Mohammed Dakar. And various translations of
the Omar Ibn Said narrative. The attainment and dissemination
of all of these required years of correspondence between
significant missionaries, ethnographers, historians
and scholarly specialists. At the core of this company was
Theodore Dwight, a New Yorker, abolitionist and founding member of the American Ethnological
Society who campaigned for a better understanding
and appreciation of African Islamic culture.>>He was interested in
introducing African culture to this country so people will
understand better you know, the backgrounds of
the African people and not just seeing
them as slaves. So he collected a number of
important manuscripts written by the slaves of his time. And through the help of various
people including two presidents of Liberia. So you know, therefore we have
now a collection of 42 items. And each one is unique
in its own way.>>Long before each of Dwight’s
pieces could find a permanent place in the archives, the
individual documents passed through dozens of hands. An extensive and
interconnected chain of acquisition brought the
collection to its current home. Beginning with Theodore Dwight,
the manuscripts first went to David Bliss, a
noted missionary, founder of the prestigious
American University of Beirut and fellow founding
member of AES. Shortly after the documents
were returned to Dwight, they passed through the
offices of the first and second presidents of
Liberia, Joseph Jenkins Roberts and Stephen Allen
Benson, respectively. After the documents were
given back once again, they were studied by
numismatist Helen Wood, likely from his home
state of Massachusetts. The collection was then given
to Dr. F. M. Musa and Isaac Byrd in order to be translated
from Arabic into English. After quite a number of years
with them, the papers went to accomplished historian
John Franklin Jameson in Washington, DC. The last known individual to have the Omar Ibn Said
manuscript was Derrick Beard, a philanthropist and art
collector based in California. This process of analyzing,
translating and simply appreciating
the collection created a comprehensive web of people all
dedicated to scholarly integrity and sharing knowledge. Finally, in 2002 the full
collection began its journey to the library.>>The original owner Derrick
Beard was an art collector. And he first displayed the
Omar Ibn Said manuscript here at the library in
2002 at a symposium. So when the materials were
made available at Sotheby’s, the library decided to acquire
them and use library funding to acquire those
manuscripts in 2017. [ Music ]>>When broken down, the library’s basic acquisition
process is really only five steps. Identification, approval
and funding, exchange in partnerships,
copyright deposit and purchase. But it’s not actually
so straightforward.>>It sounds like a very
simple thing to say, but this is actually a very, pretty big project
involving a lot of different offices
collaborating together over a period of time in
order to achieve that goal of eventually presenting
the collection online to the general public, to anyone who is interested
in looking at it.>>While, the mechanism
and infrastructure for how we make it
happen may have changed, the purpose behind
it is the same. Building the collection,
building up a relationship, and you do that through
communication. And that communication
improves with each generation and technology improvements.>>The library is a
research institution, meaning like we have you
know, millions and millions of materials that are
available for scholars. But we also have these materials
for education purposes. So teachers will
be able to come in and use the Omar Ibn Said
collection for their classroom. They can use this collection,
design a history class. Scholars can come in,
look at these materials from a different perspective and write their scholarly
papers or publications. And the general public can come
and just look at the collection and just simply learn
more about the history of this country, about slavery. Yeah, so you know, definitely
the collection is of great value to our people, not just now. It’s also important for
generations to come.>>So what has happened
is this is just one set of documents that’s added to that rich research
field we wanted to explore. And it also helps establish
boundaries, or it helps break down boundaries among
those disciplines to say that they really are
not that separate. They all begin to meld. And the beauty of having access
to a broad array of content is that it allows the research
of a scholar, the student, to be able to pull these pieces
together, see how they do over them, how they
intertwine, how they meld and how there is likely no real
strong demarcation among all of these disciplines.>>You have to think about it. Theodore Dwight did not put an
emphasis on this manuscript. If he did not correspond
with others, this manuscript may
not have survived. It was his effort to retain,
to keep this manuscript, to bring in other scholars
to write about, to translate, to communicate and to
retain this collection. That made it possible for the
manuscript in a way to survive. And so as you see
there are the creators, the one who has actually written
the manuscript, Omar Ibn Said. And then there are the enablers who enable those
materials to be made public. And the Library of Congress
is doing the same thing by creating a website making
these materials available. We enable the learning process about the society,
about Omar Ibn Said. [ Music ]>>Before an artifact
can go on display, it must go through a
lengthy conservation process that ensures the
artifacts can be enjoyed for generations to come. Before anything can happen,
the departments involved in preservation and presentation
get together and decide which artifacts are the
top of their priorities and how feasible
each project is. After an artifact is
given the green light, it heads to conservation where it undergoes intense
inspection and repair. Shelly Smith, head of book
conservation at the Library of Congress, and Sylvia Albro,
senior paper conservator, talk to us about the
conservation process.>>Broadly, we treat
the collections of the Library of Congress. We make sure that they are well
cared for, that they are stored and housed properly, that
they can be accessed and used by researchers and
scholars and visitors.>>The conservators told us
about how they get to interact with artifacts in unique
ways in order to learn more about the historical
context of the documents.>>Well, I think that items
have layers and stories to tell. And there’s their
immediate appearance, there’s what’s written
in the text in the case of a manuscript. But there’s also what
it’s composed of, how it was designed,
how it was put together. It all means something. And so you can tell
a different story with the technical information than necessarily what’s
written in the text.>>Looking at the Omar
Ibn Said documents, the conservators were
able to analyze the paper that allowed them
to make predictions about the origins
of the document. The original autobiography was
written with iron gall ink. This ink is known for its
rich color and durability. It’s created by a
chemical reaction between tanic acid
and iron sulfate. This causes the tanic acid
to produce a dark color when exposed to oxygen. Tanic acid is found in galls
which are growths on an oak tree in response to parasites. To extract the acid,
the galls are crushed, boiled or chemically
fermented using mold. The fermentation method will
result in the blackest ink but takes the longest. Because of the acidic
nature, the ink is known to be fairly corrosive over
time and prone to color changes. The conservators found the
ink had not corroded much of the paper so it was likely
of a very high quality.>>We try as much as possible
in conservation to be sure that what we do doesn’t
unalterably change something. But sometimes it is necessary
to attempt a treatment procedure that has the potential — there’s always a chance that something unexpected
could happen. And it involves affair amount
of guts to be able to go through and say test and test and
test but then put a piece of paper in a bath of water. You just have to jump in.>>The conservators
have to be very careful when interacting
with the documents. They made it clear that their
purpose is to make the documents as accessible as possible while
maintaining its integrity. After conservation has finished
their work on the artifacts, they are sent to
the digitization lab where they are photographed
and prepared to be put online.>>We are responsible
for digitizing items from the Cultural
Heritage Collections to make them available
online so that people around the world can see them.>>The lab has a variety
of equipment in order to present the artifacts
with the best lighting and most accurate
quality available. Their equipment ensures that
the files accessible online are accurate in replicating what the
documents may be like in person.>>New color checker, because
our job is to capture items at true to color form. Color accuracy is
very important. So each color swatch
here has an end point which is a number value that we
try to set up the camera toward.>>Similar to conservation, the
lab has to be very careful not to damage any documents, so
they use special machinery to handle them and get
the best picture possible. This is the rare book
modulator that has a scanner which holds pages flat,
pressed against the glass. But the table underneath
the glass moves in such a precise manner
that the glass is able to apply little to no pressure on the book itself,
reducing any damage.>>The Omar Ibn Said
documents were so old that the digitization
process had to take place inside
the conservation lab to avoid any damage. The library works to ensure
that all artifacts remain intact so that they’re accessible to
scholars and the general public.>>A lot of scholars
and researchers, a lot can’t come
here to the library. And we have a lot of things
here, one of a kind things that given — sometimes
the fragility of an item determines
whether it can be served to the public or not.>>After digitization, the
artifacts are posted online for scholars and the
general public to view. The library uses a
technique called metadata to attach keywords
to various artifacts so that anyone can search for a
topic on the library’s website.>>Some of the things
that we’ve handled in the past are top treasure
items here at the library, such as documents like
in the US, for example. Which would entail the rough
draft of the Declaration of Independence,
Gettysburg address and so on.>>To bring out something
that’s so iconic and see people’s reaction to it and see them interact
with history. And there’s something that’s
so immediate and intimate about a person seeing
a document that is so much a part of
our American life.>>No matter whether it’s the
Declaration of Independence or the Omar Ibn Said
manuscripts, the Library of Congress
is filled with artifacts which are each a
piece in the puzzle of America’s rich history. Today you saw an inside
look at the process through which these artifacts
are preserved for scholars, researchers and the general
public for generations to come. [ Music ] [ Music ]>>Omar Ibn Said was a wealthy
Islamic scholar who was born and educated in an African
region then called Utatolo. He was born in the late
1700’s and received 25 years of schooling in Africa. He studied in Bundu under his
brother Sheik Mohammed Said. Said was mostly known for
his Arabic autobiography. Despite his inability
to speak English, his autobiography describes how
he was captured by a great army and placed on a great
ship headed to Charleston, South Carolina. Almost half of all enslaved
Africans were brought to Charleston before being sold. Said managed to escape his cruel
master and fled to Fayetteville, North Carolina where
he was recaptured and sent to a prison camp. Omar Ibn Said was discovered
and eventually taken into the household of
Jim Owen and John Owen who was the governor of
North Carolina at that time. He remained with the Owens
until his death in 1854. He became the first known slave to write an autobiography
in Arabic in the US. His manuscripts show a long
tradition of written culture in Africa at that time. They also provide a tremendous
tool for research on Africa in the 18th and 19th century.>>We wanted to know what
the process was coming from Muslim countries
to America. When did it start? And the earliest we could trace
it back to was from Africa. It was Muslims from
Africa who came who were the first
Muslims in America. And so we invited
different professors to cover this conference
on Muslims in America. And so we had Sylviane
Diuof from Senegal who came. She’s actually one of
the writers in this book. We had Derrick Beard who came and say a few words,
and I love him. And then we had professors
from Asia, Pakistan, who talked about
the Asian migration. We had professors
from the Middle East. We spoke about Muslims from
the Middle East coming. But the earliest
were from Africa and Derrick Beard
was a collector. He was not a scholar,
but a collector. And he owned the
manuscript of Omar Ibn Said. He was the owner. And he said he had found it,
he had purchased it and it was in his collection, his
family’s collection. And that was 2002. And when he talked about
it and he displayed it for all the people who had come
to the conference, he said, “It should be here at
the Library of Congress. It should be part of the
library’s collections.” And we all said, “Yes,
of course it should be.” But at that point he was not
selling and we were not buying. But that’s how we
found out it existed.>>It provided historical
information and cultural information about
the existence of Africans who came here enslaved. And they were Muslims. You don’t really hear
much, at least I didn’t when I was growing up, about
the Muslim contributions in the United States. We’re still learning
more about Omar Ibn Said because he wrote his
own autobiography. And when we talk about
enslaved Africans here and what they contributed
to the United States, you don’t really realize
who individuals were. And we learned a lot just from
this one man, and a little bit about his life in the past. But we have other histories that
are being researched and found and we get more information. And I thought that
was very important.>>In 2017, Derrick
Beard, the previous owner of the manuscripts, reached
out to the Library of Congress to inform them of
his declining health. He also informed them
of his willingness to sell his Oma Ibn Collection to the well-known auction
house Sotheby’s located in London, England.>>All these materials
were in fact in England. And so they were then shipped
to us here in a big, big crate. I mean, it was a huge crate of
wood with metal all wrapped up. And we had screws on the box. And it arrived to great fanfare
to Washington and we took one of the major rooms here
next to us in Rare Books which is a beautiful room. And everybody gathered,
25 chiefs, directors, important people from
around the library. Everybody came and we
started unscrewing the box. And people were taking turns and they were taking
photographs and so on. And this is how it arrived.>>Before the library
acquired these manuscripts, Derrick Beard traveled to many
places granting various academic institutions, art
galleries, museums and even historians
an opportunity to examine the documents.>>We are called the
Library of Congress and of course this
is how it started. But we are also the National
Library of the United States. So to have this here means
that A, it was purchased with taxpayers’ dollars. It was purchased by Americans. It is America money. It is not a private
collector’s money. It is the money coming
from our tax dollars that purchased this manuscript. And it is available for every
American to come and see and to use and to do research.>>Mr. Beard granted a Yale
professor the permission to make copies of
the autobiography and publish a book titled,
A Muslim American Slave, the Life of Omar Ibn Said.>>In Islam, all
ownership belongs to God. Only God is an owner. No one owns anything. We come, we live
and then we die. We really are not owners. But why does he start his
biography with [inaudible]? Really, he is telling the
people that ownership is God’s. It’s not yours. You have no right to
own and certainly not to own another human being. So what I am simply
saying here is that Omar Ibn Said’s
autobiography opens up a world. A world we are looking at, a history which has really
not been written yet. There is so much that
can be discovered from existing manuscripts
in Africa, okay? This one was written here. However, he comes from a
long tradition of those who wrote manuscripts there. See? So Senegal has a large
collection of manuscripts. Mali has a wonderful
collection of manuscripts. Nigeria is enormously
rich with manuscripts. And those manuscripts are
about everything from medicine to the stars, astronomy
and cosmology, to culture, traditions, food,
anything you want. They need to be preserved. So in a way Omar Ibn
Said is leading the way and taking us back to
West Africa and saying, “I’m bringing you this, but
look at what my ancestors did and what they wrote and
what they contributed.” And those things need
to be preserved as well. We need to go back and we need
to go to Nigeria, we need to go to Mali, we need
to go everywhere. And we need to digitize
these manuscripts.>>You know, it reveals a lot
about, like we said earlier, the history and the culture of
the two continents which are so far apart and yet they
are being brought together by this man. And so when we’re looking at
history, studying history, American history, we actually
also have to look at the rest of the world because
we’re all connected. So to me that’s the
importance of this collection. And so I’m very excited to be
able to work with all the items and make sure they
are properly digitized and make sure they are
presented on our website so more people will be
able to access them.>>In July of 2018, Derrick
Beard sadly passed away. But with the help of the Library
of Congress, they’ve continued to preserve the story of
Omar Ibn Said with the help of their conservation team. Since the acquisition
of these manuscripts, they’ve made a replica
of these documents which maintains its authentic
texture and appearance.>>So we use a device
similar to these, but we hand carry a camera
to the conservation division and that’s what we have done
to do the Omar Said papers. They were done on-site
in conservation because they couldn’t travel to this building
given their fragility and conditions that
they were in. So as conservation
was treating those, they would quickly call us and
say, “Hey, we have 10 ready.” We’d go over and shoot
them and create the files. The handling was done by
them on-site and we would set up our camera and shoot
right there on the premises. So as we had ten documents
or maybe 20 ready to go, I’d say within an hour
to two hours we were able to capture all of them
from front to back. And so you have the
digitization side, because it’s all
instant capture, our newest technology
is very, very fast now. So the handling of the item
could take a lot longer than the actual capturing
process. [ Inaudible ] And it does in this case. What we tried to
do is salvage it by getting really good digital
files, and later historians or whoever can take those
images and work with them on their end using Photoshop to reestablish what the
colors might have been. So there’s a lot of that that
goes on outside of our realm. This is why it’s very
important to send them up to a color checker
like I showed you. Because that ensures that you’re
getting the color accuracy in today’s color. But it can be recreated
based on those numbers that we achieve on
those targets. The life cycle of our
technology runs about ten years. So up until ten years ago
we were using old limier technology, which
doing a newspaper like you just saw
would be a pass of about 5-7 minutes per sheet. Today it’s two seconds.>>Right.>>With no compromising quality
or anything of that nature.>>It can cause endless
discussion amongst researchers when someone says, “I think
this is in this person’s hand.” And someone may disagree
and think that it looks more
like another person. But when you’ve got a manuscript
like this that has the main body of the manuscript but then
it clearly has marginality that has been written by
someone else, it has pagination that may have been
written by someone else, it has a cover that’s
been added that has yet another style of hand on it. It’s educated guesses
based on evidence. And the more data points
you have, the better. So the more examples that
you have, the better. But mostly it is just
a good — absolutely.>>In addition to
— you see a lot of microscope difference
between inks.>>Right.>>And you can see a lot of UV. And we also have infrared
photography that we can apply, and that’s very useful
if somebody’s tried to make a correction
in the script.>>Right.>>You can usually see a
difference in one of those kinds of lighting conditions. [ Music ]>>Abolitionist people, they
were studying these cultures in West Africa because
they became convinced that the only way of stopping
the slave trade was having the Muslim cultures intervene. So this book is his writing
of his meeting of a lot of different people’s
journeys into West Africa. Think how large that could be. So all these different
people’s journeys and what they discovered. And he comes to a conclusion
at the end of his book: the only way that
we’re going to be able to really say something
meaningful about these cultures is
if we learn the language and live there for a
substantial period of time.>>So my background is in
literature and language. So I was very interested
in the African story about how this is the only known
slave narrative that was written by a slave who was in
captivity in Arabic. So I was very interested
in that aspect and the kind of authenticity that went to the
manuscript and also the kinds of questions that that
raised about others like him, about Arabic speakers who
were slave sand their stories. So that was one of
my access points. And I think also just
the nuance that it added to my understanding or my
learning about American slavery, I think that was
also interesting. Because I had not
heard about him. I didn’t know a lot
about the history of Muslim slaves in America. So I think you know, for me
it was good to be exposed to something that I
didn’t know anything about. And frankly now I really feel
like I should learn more. And like I said, I’m going
back to kind of being proud of the institution,
being proud to work here. Because I think that
it’s wonderful to present another voice
and present another example. And to really show diverse
voices, even diversity within diversity, so to speak. So my hope is that bringing
this collection forward, that many people who perhaps
had never heard of the Library of Congress or had never been
to the Library of Congress or had never used it for
research will be able to in some ways see themselves
here and be able to see that there is a value in
history, in their history. And will be encouraged
to come here or go online and further their own research,
whether that’s, like I said, for their academic
projects or even for their personal research. So I really hope that they
can also see the value in their own stories.>>Throughout the process of
creating this film, my peers and I gained a wealth of knowledge concerning
the Islamic background of many Africans
enslaved in America. These were human beings who
were treated as animals. Human beings with their own
rich culture, set of beliefs, way of life and families. It is our hope that
the publishing of this document will
help change the perception of Islam’s history in America. [ Music ]>>Leanne Potter: All
right, so we actually — look at this, we’ve
got 15 minutes. We can ask questions, you
can go to the bathroom. You can do whatever
you need to do. We’re going to get the
other panel started in about 15 minutes. But I really would love
it if you’d stick around, and if you have some questions for our young documentary
filmmakers, I hope you’ll take advantage
of this chance to talk to them. And I really need
to give a shout-out to all of my colleagues. I had no idea you were
extraordinary film talents. That was great fun. Those of you who were
not pictured in the film, look around, chances are
good you’re sitting next to somebody who was. Really awesome. All right. So questions? Yeah? Here’s a question,
two things.>>My question is, have any of
your ideas about history changed in the process of
doing your work?>>Student: So I
can answer that. At least for me, I
really was able to look at history in a different way. You know, usually we learn
history through textbook pages, maybe through some films in
class, a lot of lectures. I would say this is the first
time I was able to learn history in this kind of way and really
feel like connected to Omar. It wasn’t just reading pages. I was so passionate about it
and it was really interesting to be kind of so involved
with the history itself. And I feel like we should
try to incorporate that more in our classrooms today.>>Student: Also, learning
such a personal story, it added another layer of depth
to what my prior knowledge was about slavery in America. Before it was more like you
kind of get a list of facts, like various aspects of slavery. But rarely did we ever hear a
personal story besides maybe Frederick Douglas. And so being able to learn and
experience hands-on the life of Omar Ibn Said was
really impactful.>>Leanne Potter:
Other questions? Yeah, Jane. And actually, Davon, you
guys, come on up as well. We’ll pull up chairs
and pass the mics. That was a good question,
by the way, wasn’t it? All right. Jane.>>A practical question
which is, are you going to post your videos online so
that we can watch them again?>>Student: Yes. Yes.>>Is that coming up soon
or are they already online?>>Student: So our video
is on YouTube, correct?>>Student: Yeah.>>Okay.>>Student: It’s on YouTube under the Blair Network
Communications Channel.>>All right.>>Student: And that’s
where our full video is.>>Wonderful.>>Leanne Potter: We will
share that link, definitely.>>Student: Yeah. And also ours is on Richard
Wright PCS on YouTube also.>>Leanne Potter: Yes,
and we will share those. Awesome. All right,
another question?>>We have one over here.>>Leanne Potter: Oh good. Okay.>>Yeah.>>I just want to give you all
a shout-out for a job well done. I wanted to ask, what was like
the most difficult part in terms of like the production? I know the research was like
really, really extensive. But in terms of like just
putting together the whole entire thing, what was
like the most detailed part or the most difficult
part for you?>>Student: So filmmaking is an
incredibly complicated process. So I want to give a shout-out
to my sister school too. You guys were also incredible.>>Student: Thank you.>>Student: We know
how hard it is to put together a really good
film, especially of this length. For us it was just a
whole journey of learning about something we had no
background knowledge about, Omar Ibn Said. I was really surprised to hear
a lot of the things I heard, including how there was such
a large population of Muslims that were brought
to this country. I had never heard a voice
from that population before. And so the hardest part was
definitely taking this vast amount of information
that we had. Thank you so much to
everyone at the Library that gave us the
opportunity to be exposed to all of that information. And to put it together into
something that made sense and something that really
communicated what we were trying to communicate, and going deeper than just the facts
to the message. So I don’t know if that’s a
specific thing, but that’s kind of my favorite part
of filmmaking and the most difficult part.>>Leanne Potter:
Another question, great.>>What was it that
initially enticed you all to get involved in this project?>>Student: Oh, well I knew
for one that I had never worked on a project almost with
an institution rather than about an institution. In the past, most of
my filmmaking has been about emailing like
20-30 people, hoping that maybe
two get back to me. And with this it was
just given to me. I was like, “Oh, we have
all these researchers, all these experts here for
you to answer your questions.” And I was given the
opportunity to explore things. Normally I would never
think I would have access to the conservation lab,
to the digitization lab. So I think what really
interested me was the ability to have a hands-on experience.>>Student: Yeah, same. We had the same experience. We walked in, they
asked us to do a film. It was like, “Wow, let’s do it.” Because it was about
literally someone that none of us really knew about. I had never heard
of Omar Ibn Said. I had never even
heard of him before. And just to be at the Library
of Congress, the biggest library to learn about Omar
Ibn Said was amazing. This is the most fun film
I’ll be in in my life. Because I’m not really
a history person, just to dig into the
history and make it a film, this is the first time
I’ve did it before. This is amazing. It was a very great experience,
definitely for all of us, I can say, we at Richard Wright.>>Student: And also to hear
an institution like the Library of Congress come to us
students and say, “We want you to do something for us,”
was kind of like, “Wow. What?” We’ve never had
someone so prestigious and well-known ask
us young people to do something so incredible. And we’re not used to that. I think a lot of people kind
of overlook young people, think that we can’t
do amazing things. So I like really appreciate that
the Library of Congress kind of thought about us and
really put their faith in us to make a good product.>>Student: Definitely. Sorry, go ahead. Go ahead.>>Student: You go
first, go first.>>Student: Really?>>Student: Yeah, you’re good.>>Student: Is this on? Okay. One thing for me
that definitely inspired me to do it — okay, so one, my
stepdad is actually Muslim. So he teaches me a lot about
it, so that made me interested. And then with the help of my school I’ll
actually be travelling to Africa this summer. I’m going to Egypt and Ethiopia. And so beyond that and just
learning Arabic and going to Africa and having a Muslim
stepdad, that was so much around my life that
just dealt with that. And I was like, “I need
to get on this project.” So that’s definitely
one of the major things that made me want to get on it. So go ahead.>>Student: I wanted to add
on to what Chauncey said. Someone else who
had a ton of faith in us was our teacher, Mr. Mayo. [ Applause ] I know that I definitely —
this was a huge undertaking, very daunting for sure. And Mr. Mayo from the beginning
has had so much faith in us and has been such an amazing
and encouraging teacher. That when this opportunity
presented itself, we weren’t like scared
or nervous. We were so incredibly excited. So thank you, Mr. Mayo. [ Applause ]>>Leanne Potter: Okay,
any other questions?>>Just a quick one. I’m wondering if you all
are familiar with Yaro Mamou who was enslaved in Montgomery
County a few years before Omar Ibn Said achieved his freedom and was pretty much
an Islamic scholar in the same mold
as Omar Ibn Said. It might be interesting
to do a comparison study.>>Student: We’re not
familiar with that story, but that sounds really
interesting.>>Student: Yeah.>>Student: No, I haven’t
heard of it either. I’ve never heard of this person. You know, every day we find out
new not only African American but black Africans that pretty
much have contributed to history and general black history. So there’s a lot of people
I’ve never heard about, so I’m willing to do more
research on a lot of people. But there’s a lot that
we don’t know other than Martin Luther King, Malcolm
X and the regular normal people. We still have a lot
more research to do on black history in general. So this month at my
school we’re working on doing something
different than Malcolm X and Martin Luther
King and Rosa Parks. We’ll do something
bigger than that because we need to go deeper. There’s more people that
actually live in the DNV area, that contributed
to black history.>>Leanne Potter: Outstanding. You guys are just terrific. And I need to say first
of all, a huge thank you for making this pilot successful
from our vantage point. Thank you again to
all my colleagues who participated in
making this work. And really you guys need to
know that the impact you had on us was really significant
because it is so reaffirming when young people see the work
that happens here as something that is valuable and important
and interesting and exciting. I have had more colleagues who
have gotten to know you guys in the last few weeks stopping
me in the tunnels talking about how great you are. And how much fun it’s been
for them to work with you, because we need to know that the
next generation cares as deeply about this kind of
work as we do. And so we just feel
really good around you. So come back any time. We have little certificates
for you. We have them for
your teachers too. And we decided to call this
the Pilot Student Documentary Project celebrating the
Omar Ibn Said collection.>>Student: Oh, thank
you so much. [ Applause ]>>Dr. Anchi Hoh: I am Anchi
Hoh, program specialist at the African and
Middle Eastern Division and also project manager
for the Omar Ibn Said collection project. I’m delighted to introduce this
afternoon’s panel titled The Role of the Library in
Acquiring, Preserving, Digitizing, Cataloging and Making Accessible the
Omar Ibn Said Collection. This morning you have
learned about the story of Omar Ibn Said
and his biography. Now our afternoon panel will
tell you part two of the story from the library’s perspective. As project manager, in the past
nine months I was very excited to work with a group
of specialists from the Library’s several
offices to preserve, catalog and digitize the Omar
Ibn Said collection and to see it eventually mounted to the library’s website
for public access. Under a very tight deadline, our
team was able to work seamlessly and complete the project
ahead of schedule. So this afternoon you will
hear, you have the opportunity to learn firsthand from
the library’s conservation, cataloging and digitization
specialists who will share their
experience working with this amazing Omar
Ibn Said collection. We have six specialists
participating in this panel discussion. And I will introduce
them briefly. They are Sylvia Albro,
conservation curator. Shelly Smith, head of
book conservation section. Sam Manivong, digital
library specialist. Domenico Sergi, supervisory
digital imaging specialist. Christa Maher, digital
project coordinator. And Dave Reser, metadata
librarian. You’ll find the panelists’
bios in the program handouts. This panel will be
moderated by Beacher Wiggins, director for acquisitions and bibliographic
access at the Library. Beacher has a long and
glorious career at the library. Over the past four and a half
decades he has been serving in a number of important
leadership positions at the library and in professional
organizations including the American Library
Association, ALA, and the International Federation
of Library Associations and Institutions, IFLAI. He leads major projects such
as Leap Frame, an initiative on track to transform the future of librarianship in
the digital world. He is a recipient of the
2013 ALA Melville-Dewey Medal for distinguished contribution
to library technical services. It would be very remissive of me
not to point out Beacher’s role in the Omar Ibn Said
collection project. You learned this morning that Marieta Harper
our area specialist in the African section first
identified the collection. Then it was due to Beacher’s
remarkable leadership and great support that
enabled the library to acquire the Omar Ibn
Said manuscript collection. The result is that today his
manuscript becomes a part of the library’s permanent
collection preserved and made accessible
to not only us today, but also to generations to come. So before the panel
discussions begin, I wanted to just
briefly let you know that following this panel
discussion we invite you to view the sampling display
of the Omar Ibn Said collection in the Rosenwald Room on the
second floor of this building across from the Rare
Book Reading Room. We will guide you
there, so not to worry. So we will begin the panel with a brief video titled
Preserving Omar Ibn Said’s Words: A Slave’s Narrative. Produced by Sean Miller, Library
of Congress photographer. So where’s Sean? Sean is right there. Panel discussion will follow. Thank you. [ Music ]>>Because it speaks of
a specific individual. His thoughts, his
feelings, his story. Omar Ibn Said is a scholar
in what is today Senegal. And he was sold into slavery. He ran away and was
caught as a runaway slave. And in jail he began
writing on the walls. And that’s when people
began wondering who he was, what he was writing. This autobiography is the only
known autobiography as a slave in Arabic in the United States. When he was writing, he knew that his owners could
not read it. So Arabic is in a way a language in which he could
be more truthful, more candid about
his real feelings. Using the original of course
is what every researcher would like to do. However, the paper is very
brittle, very delicate. So it was important
to make facsimiles so that people would get
a sense of the item and yet not damage it
by looking at it. And preservation did a fantastic
job trying to preserve it and to maintain it so that
it can continue existing for generations to come.>>So what we’re really hoping
to achieve with this documentary that we’re doing, Richard
Wright, we hope to really appeal to the younger audience. Because we want them to know
more about their black history. For me it’s amazing
because I had never heard of Omar Ibn Said at all. So to me it’s just like
an amazing experience.>>A collection such as this
one questions the very principle of enslaving another
human being. Hopefully it will be a tool
of education, of learning, of better understanding others, of understanding the
history of Africa as well. It is this very personal
way of writing and of talking that reaches us. It reaches everyone
across the 200 years. And speaks to people today. [ Music ] [ Applause ]>>Beacher Wiggins: Good
afternoon, everyone. It takes hearing how long —
I have one somewhere, don’t I? How long one has been around to
hear it voiced openly like that, four and a half decades
sounds like a lot. And I guess it is. But I’ve enjoyed
every minute of it. I did play a role as the manager
for the acquisition process, and most of you have seen and
heard about that this morning. But I’d be remiss if I
didn’t mention the division that played the role. Usually I manage the division
and the division, the chief and the specialists then
do the acquisitions work. So I wanted to acknowledge the
Alaway Division, the Africa, Latin American and
Western European division and in particular one of
the acquisitions librarians, Aaron Friet Smith who
worked to make this happen. Because we get what
the library wants and what the specialists tell us
is important for filling voids. And yes, Marieta did every
time she saw me in the hall for the past five years or so, “I’ve got this thing
that we have to get.” I’d say, “Okay, let
me know and we’ll see if we can find something.” So we’re so happy
to be a part of that on the AVA side of the house. So now let’s turn to
Shelly and Sylvia, and why don’t you tell
us some of what you did? And I think you might
have something to share with us as you talk.>>Shelly Smith: We do. Conservation is pretty visual,
so we included some photographs to kind of illustrate
some of our processes. So first of all, I would like
to say that this really was just such a big team effort. This fabulous team up here
and many other team members that are here in the audience. Way to go team. Good job. So I am the head of
the Book Conservation Section and I was asked to oversee and
coordinate the preservation and conservation activities
that would be required to make the Omar Ibn
Said collection available for whatever use,
whether that be research or exhibition or other. Now luckily, before the
collection even arrived, we were able to see a few
images of several items in the collection that were
from the auction catalog that was produced by Southaby’s,
and that’s what you see on the screen right now,
are these couple of images that were from Southaby’s. This was really helpful to
get a very basic understanding of what the scope
of this project was. We knew it was 42 items, but
not having seen any of them, we didn’t know what that
would really entail. And that’s because conservation
can take quite some time from start to finish. Especially so many
of the activities that we do ideally
should happen in sequence and can’t really
happen concurrently. So to be able to know up front
if this was a six-month project or a multi-year project,
which is not inconceivable, was of course very helpful. So this initial brief
view of the collection at least gave us the
confidence that the schedule that the library was
hoping for, to get this done in approximately 18
months, was possible. And if 18 months seems like a
long time, just the conservation and preservation parts of this
included detailed assessment, documentation, and
that includes written and photographic documentation
which is a very important part of the conservation process. Treatment of course and
housing, making the facsimiles, assisting with digitization and
being a part of the multiplicity that would all be happening
around this project as well. So as I mentioned,
in an ideal world, a lot of these activities
would happen in sequence. But because of the timeline, because the library wanted
these materials to be available as soon as possible, it
meant that a lot of this had to happen concurrently. There were a lot of things
happening all at the same time. So by far I think the most
meaningful thing that I did to contribute to the
success of this project was that I asked Sylvia
Albro, this really talented and qualified conservator, to
take care of the assessment and the treatment and
the documentation. So I’m going to hand
it over to Sylvia to talk about those things.>>Sylvia Albro:
Thank you, Shelly. We were definitely a duo. And I want to reiterate
our thanks to the African and Middle Eastern Division
for managing this project and for really the joy
of participating in it. Because we know that his voice,
the voice of Omar Ibn Said, spoke for a lot of people. And we all felt very
privileged to be part of trying to get that voice out. Now I cannot see the
screens as well as you can. But I will just point out that
— I will talk to this screen but I’ll try to say left
and right so that people who are watching that
screen will know what I’m talking about. If we go back to the slide
that was right before Shelly, that one, we can see
on the right-hand side that was the condition of
the manuscript when it came to the conservation lab. And after it arrived,
of course the African and Middle Eastern
Division made sure that all of the objects arrived from
Southaby’s and they also went through them all and labeled
them and numbered them. So for the whole project we had
their titles and their numbers. And I also had the opportunity
to read the translation and it was so wonderful
to meet the author today of the translation. And so because before
attempting work on any object at the Library of this value,
you want to know what you have and what you’re working with. And it was important
to know what was said. I don’t read Arabic. But the materials of
this project also speak their language. And a conservator has to become
kind of very familiar with them, sort of intimate
with the materials. So at the beginning, you can see that there were some
damages visible. The way that the cover
which was put on 20 years after Omar had written
the script — 20 years later it was
stab-sewn on the side. And all of the original
paper was breaking where those stitches were. And so together with
the curators, we looked at the item
and we made a plan. It was a joint decision
that we would take it apart so that it would
eventually open fully. With the stitching on the
side added later like that, the manuscript did
not open safely and it cracked all
along that fold. So Shelly, the book conservator,
we moved the stitching. And one of the things
that we found when we removed the stitching is that actually there was
another layer of stitching that held the manuscript
through the fold that had been invisible. And that was much closer to the
execution of the manuscript. So we had to take
both threads out. They both were made of cotton,
but they were very different. And we saved them of course. And later in the project
we found that this thread that had been used
to sew the cover to the manuscript was the
same thread that was found on the translations
by Isaac Byrd. So it was important to save
that and make that connection. Whereas the thread that was
used to sew through the fold of the manuscript was the
same as one that was found on the manuscripts that
had been commissioned from Arabic scribes
in West Africa. So there was a connection
with that thread and those manuscripts. So let’s go to the next slide. And you can see on
one of the pages part of the page was missing. So we were looking at
the ink and the paper. We have actually
done a lot of work on iron gall ink preservation
here at the Library of Congress. Some of my colleagues
are very expert in this. We were beneficiaries
of their research. And so we looked at the
document using ultraviolet light which is a tool. You can see what the manuscript
looked like on the right under ultraviolet light. And that shows us what
the deterioration process of the ink is. This ink was actually
in very good condition. And as the students so
amply talked about — I won’t go into iron
gall ink again, because they gave a
very good explanation. It turned out to be in really
reasonably good condition. And the paper was
of good quality. It’s made of rag which is
a cotton-linen mixture. It’s a wove paper
without a watermark. And it’s a machine-made paper. We think that it was made in
America but we can’t prove that because there’s no
watermark or blind stamp on it. So it did not require any
kind of chemical treatment. It simply required
repair of the pages. We did take extensive
photographs so that we can use them to monitor whether the
ink deteriorates further in the future. There were a few areas in the
script that were heavily applied and there it was breaking
through the paper. So here you see the different
steps, the different tools and the different papers
used to mend the manuscript. There were at least
six different kinds. I primarily used lightweight
Japanese papers that were toned to match the different
colors of the paper. And two different adhesives. Reed starch paste which is
a traditional conservation adhesive was used in
areas with no ink. But where there was mending that
was required in inked areas, we used a non-aqueous
adhesive applied that all mends are
reversible in the future. But that will not cause any
kind of reaction with the ink. And here I’d like to make
a comment about a couple of graduate students that
helped me on this project. They worked on some of
the other items that were in the collection in
addition to the Omar Ibn Said. And here we see Marie Keita
Mora who’s repairing some of the publisher’s
scripts that were part of the 41 other items
in the collection. We also had Mary
Elizabeth Watson who’s here, and Grace Walters
who also assisted. The cover did require
a chemical treatment. The paper was very
different than the text paper. It actually had a lot
of straw threads in it. It was kind of the equivalent
of sort of a paper bag quality and it actually had
discolored Omar’s text at the front and back pages. And it had a very
low pH, under four. We tried to aim for a
neutral pH with paper to be stable for the future. The ink was tested
thoroughly and it was able to undergo aqueous treatment. And we did that with an alkaline
water bath, mixed with alcohol. And you can see there
it’s being immersed. And after it came out and
it was dried, it was resized with gelatin to help with
the future handling stability of this paper. Let’s see. Oh. Okay, here you can see a
picture of before treatment on the left where
you can see that some of the pages had
separated, and you can see where mending was required. And then after treatment
on the right. And I thought I would show
page one of Omar’s script because of course
the cover is put on in the English
orientation, but the text opens in the opposite direction. So that is actually
the first page. The cover required a little
bit of mending on the spine and on the corners
and that was also done with a tinted Japanese paper. And as I said, we
try to do repairs that don’t look like
they’re repairs. We try to keep the
manuscript looking as authentic and original as possible. We don’t want our
thumbprint to be on there. So we hope that it
just enables handling without making any
alterations to the authenticity. And one last thing, imaging
can tell you material things about the manuscript that
you don’t immediately see in visible light. And some of the other
manuscripts in this collection are
very interesting in terms of what their paper has to say. For instance, on the right you
can see a blind stamp in one of the papers that was used by the commissioned
West African scribes to write their documents, that
Theodore Dwight collected. And it shows that the paper that he used actually
came from Massachusetts. So it’s a whole collection of
very interesting blind stamps in these 41 documents
that are going to make an excellent
research project for someone. And then what you see on the
lower left is another one of the 41 documents
in the collection. It’s a travel payer, a
very beautiful document with Arabic writing in a
circle that is a talisman that a traveler would take. And that paper happened to have
an Italian watermark in it, which is very interesting. It’s known that the paper trade
was wide from Europe to Africa. But here’s an example of the
watermark that proves that.>>Shelly Smith: And then I’m
just going to say a last couple of words about creating
the facsimiles for this which was another part
of our responsibilities. So one of the things
that we were doing as the project was going on, as
Sylvia was doing the treatment on all the items, as items
were finishing treatment, we then worked with
our colleagues from the digitization services
to in several batches start to digitize those things. So that those files could be
created so that they could go on to the next step in the
process, so that we didn’t wait until the very end for
all this to happen. So I helped with the safe
handling of the material to get them under the camera. They resulted in these really
fantastic high-resolution images that you can see of course
on the library’s webpage. But I was able to then
manipulate them a little bit into some slightly
different images. I had to change things
a little bit in order to produce the facsimile. Now as far as the facsimile, this isn’t something
that we normally do. We just in talking
with our colleagues in the custodial divisions, we
knew that there would be a lot of interest and that
people would really want to handle the original
manuscript. And that it was fragile. It had been well handled over
its lifetime and we wanted to try to minimize that
as much as possible. But to make a facsimile
to allow researchers to really get the sense
of the artifact itself, we thought would be
really important. And so I had never
done this before, but I was optimistic
that I could do this. And in finding different
kinds of handmade paper that were very similar to the
original and experimenting with printing methods, I was
able to make several copies that will be available
both for use in the Africa and Middle Eastern Division
and in the Rare Books and Special Collections
Division. And then finally we
house the items and most of those were in
— oh sorry, yes. Oh, so before and afters, right? So on the left is the original and on the right
is the facsimile. And on the next one
is an opening. And then again on the
left is the original and on the right
is the facsimile. Trying to keep the
sense of the original with the facsimile
as much as possible. We housed all 42 of the items. Most of them were in
acid-free paper folders that our conservation staff
member Mary Elizabeth Watson constructed two fantastic
custom-made cloth-covered clamshell boxes for
both the main manuscript and for one of the facsimiles. There, finally. [ Laughter ]>>Beacher Wiggins: All right. You may have covered some of
this, but as all of us know, the reason that we collect any
of this content is to share it and have researchers
have access to it. So a couple of questions,
and you hit on some of this. The first one is, are there
any observations that either of you have in terms of how
what you did affect a researcher in looking at and
accessing this? I picked up some of that
as you were talking. But in case you wanted
to highlight any of that?>>Sylvia Albro: Well, as I
said, there is material evidence that can contribute
to the story. And if we in any way can
document that and include that with the collection so
that when scholars come to look at it, they have
also that evidence, I think it can contribute
to their appreciation or to their investigations. And some of that includes
information about the paper, information about these sewing
threads and sewing construction. Origins of some of the paper
when we know and any kind of alterations that
have been made. We save everything, we
document everything. And we’re always
available for consultation.>>Beacher Wiggins: And
where do you store this? How will anyone know? Has this been passed on?>>Sylvia Albro: Well, we write
an extensive treatment report and that will accompany
the item. In some cases it’s
also kept in our files. We have a lot of
digital photographs of before and after treatment. Those are also available
if necessary. And we printed out a lot of
our information and included it in the files with the
conserved documents when it went to the Rare Book Division.>>Beacher Wiggins: And is
there a methodology that you use when you get something like
the Omar Ibn Said documents to determine how you want
to do your conservation? Do you get a team to
pull that together?>>Shelly Smith:
Usually it’s a balance. You did the treatment.>>Sylvia Albro: We
definitely consult with the curatorial department
that’s associated with the item. In this case it was
the AMA team. And we write a proposal. We look at it together. We think of three
things in particular: the value of the item of
course, the condition the item and how the item is
going to be used. So those are three factors
that we discuss and we look at the item together, and
we come up with a plan. And we write up our proposal. It gets signed off
on if it’s approved. And as we’re going
through the treatment, we often have questions
and we regularly consult. It’s the richness of the library
that we have so many specialists in so many areas that can
really inform what we do.>>Beacher Wiggins: Great. Thank you. Now we’ll move on. Those of us at the
library know that one of Dr. Hayden’s goals is to have
the library’s content digitized and made accessible
to the world. She doesn’t want it just
to be here on Capital Hill. So now we turn to the
digitization aspect of it. And we’ll ask Domenic to
give us a background run through what happened to get us to this point for
the digitization. Domenic?>>Domenico Sergi: Okay,
thank you, Beacher. My name is Domenic and I am head of the digital scan
center here at the library. And this project came up
rather suddenly, I think. I certainly wasn’t
prepared for it. But working with
conservation and Sam here with the digital
conversion team. Yes. I’m sorry, is that better? Should I start over? So we were working closely
with the conservation staff and Sam here to my right who coordinated all the
digital ID’s for the items. So that way we keep all
the pagination correctly because some of the
items were backwards in how they were paginated. The orientation being
a foreign language, it has to be presented
correctly. So with their guidance
we were able to do all of that in one sweep. Shelly and company made
our end really easy. So we showed up at their
lab with our equipment set up on site and they
did all of the handling as these items were treated. They’d call us over, we’d
come over, image them, and take the images
and then put them into our post-processing effort. Which entails the cropping,
rotating and pagination. And the setting up of the
camera is unique in that we have to shoot color checkers
for color accuracy. It’s important when you’re doing
facsimiles or if these are used in publications that
the colors are correct. We shoot — in this particular
case we did these at 600 PPI so that we could get down
to the grain of the paper. It’s also for scholars to have
the ability of studying them for the inks that
were used or have had. Our goal is always to
keep the images true to the authenticity
of the object. So we show all edges,
gathers, how they’re sewn, it’s all in the image. And that’s it.>>Beacher Wiggins:
Did a particular set of documents present any
particular challenges you thought about, the
digitization process?>>Domenico Sergi: Well, some
of the challenges were you have to make sure the lighting was
set up correctly for contrast, for example, so that
there are minimal shadows. Some of the items may have
had a little bit of lifting or they were dog-eared in one
corner which may cause a shadow. So we correct for all of that. The images online
look really nice. The website is beautiful and
we’ve really enjoyed working on this whole effort
with everybody involved.>>Beacher Wiggins:
No new equipment or machinery was
needed to pull this off?>>Domenico Sergi: No, no new. In 2009 we did a pretty big
acquisition of new equipment. We’ve moved to new technology
which is instant capture now. And we’re using cameras that
range from 70 megapixels, 80 on up to 100 megapixels. For this particular project
we used the 80 megapixel and shot these items at a 1-to-1 of their original
size at 600 PPI.>>Beacher Wiggins: Thank you. Now, moving on to Sam, tell
us a bit about what you did. And I’ll have a couple of
questions for you as well.>>Sam Manivong:
Okay, good afternoon. My name is Sam Manivong. Anchi mentioned that I am the
digital library specialist. I’m also [inaudible]. I was kind of late
to come on board. And thanks to my
supervisor, Mike [inaudible] who assigned me to this project. And one of my colleagues
who left for a new position —
that’s why I am here. So my role basically, essentially involved interacting
with all of you guys. And thank you for
making my job easier. For my role, basically I
assign the collection ID. I think it’s kind of catchy. I put Omar Said 1831
as the collection ID. And I assigned the digital ID and work pretty closely
with Dominic’s team. And also my role is to make
sure that we have service space to house these digital files
for public access as well as long-term storage in
case anything happens. We have plan B to back it up. In addition, I also work with
Dominic’s staff, Ronnie Hawkins, Michelle Miner as
well as Andrew Cook. This staff, they have really
good experience and make sure that all the images
follow FADGI. So FADGI stand for
Federal Agency Digital Guideline Initiative. So all the images are met for the future longevity
of the collections. In addition I also developed
the permanent URL and I worked with Dave Reser to update the
IRS record for 856 and 985 and for each item that
has a permanent URL. And I think that’s
about it, right?>>Beacher Wiggins: Okay. Did you do anything particularly
new from this experience in working with a selection that
you hadn’t encountered before?>>Sam Manivong: Well, before I
didn’t know who Omar Said was. And with that I learned
just the name itself. I Googled it and
learned from the project. And I think it’s really,
really important that we talk. As you can see, the young high
school students coming to talk to us this afternoon
about his journey. And this is his permanent home
at the Library of Congress.>>Beacher Wiggins: And
what was a typical day like for you working
on this project?>>Sam Manivong: For this
project we have a hard deadline. So I am amazed that
we met the deadline. And basically Anchi kept
us intact and made sure that we followed
the target deadline. And we all met that.>>Beacher Wiggins:
Okay, very good. Thank you. Christa, why don’t you give us
a brief overview of your role in helping the library to
present the collection?>>Christa Maher: Sure. My name is Christa Maher. I’m a digital media project
coordinator here at the library. And what I do generally is
help different groups that work to get these collections
online, talking to each other. So I come in usually
at the tail end after all these folks have
done their work and Dave and the catalogers
have done their work. And I make sure that what we’re
sending over to our colleagues in the Office of the Chief
Information Officer in OCIO, that they have what they need to
build the online presentation. That the content files that
Dominic created and Sam put in the presentation space
are where they need to be, that they’re named according
to the metadata that we have in the catalog records. And basically put
in a lot of tickets. And I make sure that kind of
the timing is working out. As others have alluded to, there
was a kind of tight deadline for getting this
collection online, partly because of the wonderful
program we’ve had today. But also just because
of the work needed on the conservation
side which was impacting when things could go to be
digitized, which was impacting when Sam could QA the materials
and put them on the website. So I’m really happy that
it came out so beautifully. It’s such a wonderful
collection.>>Beacher Wiggins: Okay. How would you say users
can access LOC.gov site to find related materials to
this based on what you did?>>Christa Maher: Sure. So this is a wonderful
collection, but it’s one of many, many, many
wonderful digital collections that the library has
been putting online for at least the
past 20-25 years. We have other collections
that have recently gone up that are in Arabic. We have other collections
that — actually we have some
WPA collections created in the 1930’s. They’re interviews
both audio and written with formerly enslaved people. And really using the
rich catalog record data, users can use LOC.gov
interface to find more like this suggestion at
the bottom of every page. Faceted subject terms like you’d
find in an online shopping site. And the full-text
transcriptions that we have. I mean, I think it’s wonderful
that we have this collection, but it’s even better
that we have it online.>>Beacher Wiggins:
Okay, very good. And was there anything
particularly striking about your working with
this particular collection? You’ve been speaking
my language so far. [ Laughter ]>>Christa Maher: I
haven’t mentioned any mark field numbers. I could do that.>>Beacher Wiggins:
We’d say that for days.>>Christa Maher: For days. I think this was a
really good example of how well our colleagues
worked together across the institution. And that’s always
fun to be part of.>>Beacher Wiggins:
Very good, thank you. And now we will wrap up
our discussion portion with Dave Reser who
I think at the time that he was doing this was
a part of our operation. But he’s since moved on. But he will always be ours. And so now he will talk
about the other aspect of the cataloging and
metadata of that side. So Dave, fill us in on
your role in making this.>>David Reser: My metadata
history here is only three decades, not four
and a half decades.>>Beacher Wiggins: Hey, everybody can’t have
four and a half decades.>>David Reser: So the role
that I bring to this along with some catalogers is to
take obviously the images that have been made that Sam
has carefully stored away. And Christa is telling us what
we need to have in those records in order to get them
up on the website. So it’s basically
traditional cataloging. So we had two spectacular
senior catalogers who helped us out with this. One is here today. So Debra Wynn might
want to raise her hand. She’s in the rare
materials section, actually reports to Beacher. And one of the things
that she divided this work with another cataloger who’s
not here today, Alan Mayberry. And the way we split the content
was the Arabic stuff was done by Alan who is a specialist
in Near East materials and has done all kinds of Arabic
script manuscripts and all kinds of things for the African
and Middle Eastern Division. And so Debra focused
on the English things which were not only the typed
script published materials but the handwritten holograph,
the content that was there. The real challenge of course
was that, as Shelly mentioned, this project required a lot of
things to be done concurrently that really have to
be don sequentially. And so I had some catalogers
raring and ready to go, but nothing for them to catalog. Because it was undergoing
a very important work in the conservation
and then the scanning. So that typically is done at
the very front of the process and then we come back after all
that information is available to us on the digital images and we update the
records with that content. So at this time we have to
kind of turn that on its ear, catalog as best we could with
the information we had in order for Christa to test development
of the website itself. Actually Alan did a few records that were just not even
halfway done, which was fine. Because it was all that
was needed to pull it in to make sure that we
could display the content and then he could come
back as Debra did to finish of those records when
it was actually possible to see some of that material. I think one of the real
interesting things for me in this — I’ve been
involved in a lot of projects that were digital
content before. But because of the
backward nature of this one, I got to see more up front. I was telling Shelly
and Sylvia this morning, I had no idea all this stuff that actually happened
at their stage. And it was the project
meetings that Anchi was having with us monthly that it
actually allowed us to get clued in a little bit that we’re
still waiting months to be able to have the thing to catalog. But they took pictures
of the things. And so those conservation
images that they had to document the before and after
process was something we were able to give to the catalogers. They didn’t need to see
Dominic’s spectacular images. The photographs that were taken in conservation were
really great for us. And although I can’t
read my own handwriting, Debra is quite expert
at looking at 17th- and 18th-century handwriting. But we actually got
to supplement that as Dr. Rothman
said this morning, he actually did transcribe all of the handwritten
English things. So we were able to get those to
Debra even before she was able to see the images as well. So some of those things that
initially make this kind of hard from a workflow perspective. There were a million things
that could happen along the way. It all actually got
completed before we had to.>>Beacher Wiggins: It
sounds like things got tossed on their heads but you stepped
in as catalogers are able to do and make it happen. Was there a reason for
choosing the level of cataloging that was applied
to the collection?>>David Reser: I think this
is a big discussion we have with Christa every time we talk
about a new digital collection. We have to have the metadata
for the items in the collection. We have choices on how we can do that in order to
feed our website. There are some that are better
than others in certain cases that we can make finding
aids that just document or list the items
and we can make kind of non-mark stub
records that can feed that online presentation. But usually the best method
if we have the resources is to actually do traditional
library cataloging in our online catalog. And because this was — even
though the timeframe was short, it was only 42 items so it was
the kind of thing we were able to get to very good catalogers who knew what they
were really up against. So it was almost a no-brainer
to decide that we would stick with regular mark
records in our catalog. And it’s also I think
from my perspective, in thinking about this
as a digital collection, obviously these are materials
that are going to end up as physical items
in our Rare Book and Special Collections
division. So putting them in
our library catalog where we can then record the
inventory that we have for each of these items as well
is a very critical piece. And so that kind of helps
drive that decision as well.>>Beacher Wiggins: Okay, well
my second question was going to be along the lines
of what are some of the challenges you faced,
but I think you hit on those. Are there any others
that you didn’t bring because you were
going back and forth in a nontraditional workflow?>>1y: It’s kind of related. The catalogers who worked
with us in this one, the challenge became with Alan
Mayberry got assigned to work on the Arabic materials but he
had retired a few weeks before. When your expert retires, but
again we’re incredibly fortunate that Alan and Debra
are a couple. And so it just turned out that
he was staying here for a while after retirement to volunteer. So he was able to do some of
the cataloging after he retired and do some volunteer
work for us. They are also bicoastal. So Alan’s living part-time
in Portland, Oregon. And so we had to schedule
the work that he was doing on the cataloging on his
trips back here as well. So it was always good that
Debra and Alan could be in communication as couples are. And help us with
solving that problem. And Alan’s come back at least
twice to volunteer since then and he was able to complete the
records after the conservation and scanning and actually got to
look at the materials as well. So that wrapped things
up nicely.>>Beacher Wiggins: Very good. Thank you, Dave. Are there any more comments
before we open it for questions, based on anything anybody
else said after you spoke? Okay, with that then
we open the floor for any questions
from the attendees. I see a hand there.>>Thank you. Thank you very much. I just bought the book now
and I noticed on page 60 — on page 58, the Arabic
pagination is numbered five. And then on the following page
the Arabic pagination is 14. So nine pages are missing. Were they found missing
or is that intentional? And correction, when I
looked at the Library of Congress film video, it says that he wrote a 15-page
autobiography when that’s not true if
some pages are missing.>>Shelly Smith: I think
you’re referring to the images that you can see here where
there’s five on one page and on the other page. So the manuscript is
constructed of numerous pages that are nested within
each other. So as you turn the pages,
you have say five and six, and then you would
have the next page in the sequence would
be six and seven. But the conjugate to that
is far later in the section, so the conjugate to page five
would be page 20-something. Does that make sense? [ Laughter ] [ Inaudible ]>>Sylvia Albro: There
are not any missing pages. There are not any missing pages. That’s important to note. And since that second
sewing structure sewed through the fold, we knew that the entire manuscript
was just one section. It was numbered in
pencil and the name of the first translator whose
name was Alexander Costhial was written in the same pencil
inside the front cover. So I would suspect that
he numbered the pages. And there weren’t
any missing pages.>>Shelly Smith: There is one
page in the center that’s torn and so there is a portion
of that page that’s missing. But that was a blank page. [ Inaudible ] Well, you’re talking about
the front and the back. Some people call that a page. Some people call that a leaf. It’s terminology.>>Beacher Wiggins: Yes, ma’am?>>Yes, I have two questions. Number one, do you have any
links with the webpage back to Omar’s origination
in Senegal? And does the library have
any working relationships with libraries and
universities in Senegal in terms of his passage back and forth?>>Beacher Wiggins: I’ll let
Mary Jane respond to that. I do not know of any.>>Mary Jane Deeb: Thank you. No, we do not have any
specific relationship with the University of Senegal. However, we did go to Senegal to brief West Africa Research
Center for our acquisitions. And so in fact in Dakar we
are working cooperatively with the West Africa Research
Center that actually collects and purchases books for the
African collections here. So there are 11 countries in
West Africa who are participants in a project to purchase for
the Library of Congress as well as for other institutions
publications from countries such as Mali, Gambia, Togo
and other countries, Guinea. And to catalog them in Dakar
and then to send them to us. So this is a collaborative
agreement that we have with Ala Alryye and
Angela Kinney who’s working with Ala Alryye, is very
much involved in this. And I went to Dakar to brief
the bibliographic representative there, to give them
the guidelines to purchase our materials.>>Beacher Wiggins:
Yes, that is true. And I guess I view these as part of our acquisitions
relationships. And the way we acquire
materials is through vendor agreements
and what not. But I don’t consider
that agreement with a standing institution
in the sense of what we did to get the Said collection. So my fault for not answering
your questions along the acquisitions line, which
I certainly could have. And did we answer
both your questions?>>Yes.>>Beacher Wiggins:
Okay, thank you. And this gentleman.>>Yeah, thank you so
much for the presentation. It was really a wonderful
job that you have done. We are working on — what you
have done is very professional. We have collections that
date back maybe 800 years in a town in Ethiopia. And most of those books
are left in nature. Some of them are intact. We were wondering,
like you’ve mentioned that you have acquired
new machines. We don’t have the budget. Is there any like way that it
could be done on a normal budget with volunteers so
that we can expose this to the rest of the world? And some of those
scripts were written by African Ethiopian women which
were very rare at that time. So it would definitely
present a very good history which is not known
up to this moment. So what do you advise and what
do you think can be done not through like the Library
of Congress in style and profession, but by a
community who wants to preserve that part of history and bring
it to the rest of the world? Thank you.>>David Reser: I guess
I’ll take that question. So the technology that
you were speaking of, what do you have available?>>We have this like — we only
have one machine and it is just like pictures, the document. And some of them are
in binders and some of them are in loose pages. But we don’t have much and we
have like, cameras, but it’s not like an organized
like technology setup that we have in place now.>>David Reser: Well, aside from
the really high-end equipment that we use here, there
are several other cameras on the market that
are more affordable and do a good enough
job to document. Especially if you’re
going for the content which is on these documents. Using a flatbed scanner may
not be the best approach because of the bound
ones you’re mentioning. It just applies too
much pressure and stress on the documents, especially with the lid coming
down over it. But I would research
other cameras. Canon, Sony, they make
many, many makes and models that can give you a high
enough resolution to be able to document these things
and keep them and share them with the right people.>>Beacher Wiggins: And I guess
he has contact information, you can email him and get more
information following this.>>David Reser: Right. Like he’s saying, you
can stay in touch with us and we can make recommendations
for you as well.>>Beacher Wiggins: Marieta? [ Inaudible ]>>Marieta Harper:
There’s another agency that you can get in touch with. The AU, African Union,
has a program to assist different countries in
Africa in actually making copies of materials and help with that. And there’s another
library association, African Librarians Association,
which they have ways to connect other
African countries with cataloging projects. So they are the organizations
that actually do it.>>Hello. I’d just like to
know if I can ask the lady from Senegal how much did
the gentleman acquire it for, the one who was the
only man bidding on it? And then how much
did the Library of Congress acquire
it for at Sotheby’s?>>Beacher Wiggins:
Well, we’re not likely to share that information? But just know that we
worked hard to get it. I don’t think this is
the forum for that. You’re welcome. Mary Jane, then Jane.>>Mary Jane Deeb: Okay. First of all I want
to thank you, not only for this
wonderful panel but for all the incredible
work that you’ve been doing for the past six
months, one year. And I’m going to put
you on the spot now. I’m going to ask you, I know you
enjoyed working with each other. Would you do it again? And would you do it let’s
say for a smaller project? Do you think this is
something that works, working together
the way you have? And would it be different if
it was thousands and thousands of documents that
needed to be processed? And so, the question
is to all of you.>>Beacher Wiggins: I can’t
imagine who’s going to say no.>>Shelly Smith: Exactly. We’d do it again. I think we’ve already started. Absolutely. I mean, I think that every
project is slightly different and yes, we all talked about
how the timeline was difficult because so many things
ideally should have happened and then moved on
to the next thing. And there wasn’t time
to do that in this case. But doesn’t that
happen all the time? I mean, I feel like even —
there is no perfect project. And what makes it worthwhile and
a good experience is the quality and the expertise and
the joy of working with our excellent colleagues.>>David Reser: I think the other
thing that’s quite different about this one, so
I did face this in just any other digital
project when we first started. And it wasn’t until you
get into it more that — I didn’t realize that you
were going to do the work with the high school
students that made it just that much more spectacular. I didn’t know that Shelly was
going to do a PR campaign, that you couldn’t turn around
in Washington without knowing about this collection
and this program today. So the type of emphasis
that went into this particular collection
just really made it special.>>Beacher Wiggins: Anybody?>>Christa Maher: I guess
I’ll just echo what Dave said. I was approaching this
very much like one of the four dozen new
collections we tend to put on every year. So I think coming into it I
thought, “Well, this was a lot of overhead for 42 items.” We’re putting up
Woodrow Wilson’s papers and that’s 400 reels
of microfilm. But I think having
the opportunity to really do this deep dive
I think did make an impact.>>Beacher Wiggins: Very good. Thank you.>>Sam Manivong: I’d like
to add one more point.>>Beacher Wiggins: Sorry.>>Sam Manivong: To answer
the question, I’d say yes, definitely I’d do it again. I felt that as of today our
presentation as we all know as P1, at this point, this
system being quite mature. And as Christa put
in the tickets, I felt things were moving faster
than the last couple of years. This would be my first
project for 2019 this year, and it went really well.>>Beacher Wiggins: Jane? Jane?>>Thank you. Just a quick question to Sylvia. I’m sorry to ask you to repeat
yourself, but your story about the threads was
absolutely fascinating. And you mentioned that the cover
stitching is the same thread as that used in other
Isaac Bird translations. But I didn’t catch what you
said about the earlier threading that you had found
underneath that and what that connected to
in your research.>>Sylvia Albro:
Okay, thank you. The earlier thread which is very
different from the thread used to attach the cover, was
used to sew through the fold of Omar Ibn Said’s manuscript. But we noticed since we were
working on all 42 objects in the same spate of time, that
the same thread had been used to sew the solicited manuscripts
that were from West Africa that were primarily — the calligraphy was by an individual identified
as Mohammed Decker. And so we’ll have to have
the historians explain more about who he was. But Theodore Dwight wrote to
the president of Liberia asking if he could procure some
manuscripts from the part of West Africa that Omar Ibn
Said was from in an attempt to understand more about what
the culture of the people who lived in that area were. And so those manuscripts are
also multi-page manuscripts and they’re in this collection and they also required
some conservation. Because pages were falling out. But they were sewn
with the same thread. So to me that means that the
person that collected these in the US probably
sewed all of those. But we have photographs
before the treatment and we’ve saved the threads,
and some that didn’t have to be disbound were
not disbound. We only took out the thread if
it was preventing the manuscript from opening or if pages
were falling out and broken. So we would not typically
remove a thread unless it has to in order to facilitate
the use of the manuscript.>>Beacher Wiggins: It just
seemed to me one of the things, just to underscore,
you describing that again just shows
you cannot minutely plan for how long it will
take you to do your work, no matter what it
looks like initially. I’m not sure we picked
up on that, but the more we discuss it,
that’s just critical to know with all the things that
we get for the library.>>Marieta Harper: My
guess may be Derrick Beard, because of his ability
and experience with collecting various
artifacts, rare books, items, he may be the person
that did that. But this is my wild guess. Because of his rich background in collecting antiques
and so forth. And someone like that
from his background — I didn’t read everything
that this man had the ability or knowledge of to do that. Because he did a lot of
sharing of the manuscripts, not only Omar Ibn Said but
the others in the group. And that’s a guess. But I think that’s
an educated guess.>>Sylvia Albro: Well, these
things are always puzzles.>>Marieta Harper: Yeah.>>Domenico Sergi: I don’t think
it could be Beard, Marieta, and the reason why is because
we know that the cover was sewed on by Cothiel 20 years after
the manuscript was made. And so that would have been
in the mid-19th century. So that thread that was hidden
inside couldn’t have been put on after the cover. It had to go on before. So it does tell you
perhaps the time that those other
manuscripts were collected. But there’s also documentation
about those that’s in writing. So it’s just a material clue. But I think material clues
have their own contribution. [ Inaudible ]>>Beacher Wiggins: Deb?>>Hi. I’m usually
in the back room. I don’t use these things. Just one thing that
reminded me about this, because being a cataloger
and being able to go through these things item
by item, I had to do a lot of research because all
these names, this Cothiel and Isaac Byrd and
Mohammed Decker — I had to make name authorities for every one of
these people too. And I had to go back to do that. To do my job correctly, I’m looking for authoritative
sources. So I was reading a lot of the
literature just to be able to catalog the materials. So in the process
of doing that — that’s what I love about
this job at the library, is that for everything
that comes across my desk, if my supervisor lets me,
I can really dig in deep and learn a lot and
take a lot of time. But with this one there was a
deadline, but fortunately — and that’s what was
really interesting about this collection, is
that this item has been known. This manuscript has
been out there. There’s a lot that’s
been written about it. So it was really fun to see
the panelists this morning go, “Oh, I read your book. Oh, I saw that.” So it was a really nice forum
that you guys planned today. I mean, it really helped
put things in perspective. And I was really happy to see
so many people here and involved and interested in
this collection. So thanks for making my day.>>Beacher Wiggins:
And there’s a colleague that I never see at the library.>>That’s a joke.>>I have found this
day to be fascinating. And I think our colleagues in
Africa, in African libraries, will also find it fascinating. Quite often people want
to know what happens here at the Library of Congress. They want to know how
collections are done, what the cataloging process is. There are these details
that they want to know. And with the webcasts that
are going to be available, this is our opportunity
to show them. It’s been fascinating to hear
the scholarship in the morning and to hear these
details this afternoon. And to hear the experts and to
see the experts explaining this. It’s wonderful that
it’s all tied in. And I don’t think that we often
have an opportunity to see that. So thank you so much. And I just want to say that
we are really appreciative in the African and Middle
Eastern Division for the vision, the diplomacy and all
of those great words that you could say
about Mary Jane Deeb. [ Applause ]>>Beacher Wiggins:
Are there any others? Well, if not, as my staff
always do, they keep me honest. So I omitted a few people who
were involved in the front end of making this happen. So the ones I didn’t mention
I’ll just mention now. So for the Southeby’s London and the seller negotiations
there was Daisy Taggy and Iliona Mitchell-Podicky,
and Jen Boncevik who I’m looking directly
in the face now. And the rest of the team
we have acknowledged. But it takes a team
to make this work. So we want to make sure
we acknowledge everyone. So this is to me a fitting
note to be ended on. We’ve had two complementary
statements. Is there anything else pressing that anybody else wants
to say or question? If not, I’ll let Anchi
tell us how to get to see the real objects.>>Dr. Anchi Hoh:
Thank you, Beacher. And thank you to our
wonderful panelists for enlightening us
how you make the magic. [ Applause ]

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