Social history of Timbuktu : the role of Muslim scholars and notables, 1400-1900


Social history of Timbuktu : the role of Muslim scholars and notables, 1400-1900

Elias N. Saad

(Cambridge studies in Islamic civilization)

Cambridge University Press, 1983

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Bibliography: p. 298-307

Includes index



Originally published in 1983, this book deals with the precolonial history of the Islamic West African city of Timbuktu. The book traces the fortunes of this fabled city from its origins in the twelfth century, and more especially from around 1400 onwards, to the French conquest in the late nineteenth century. The study rests upon a comprehensive utilisation of the Timbuktu sources, including the well-known chronicles or tarikhs of Timbuktu. The author focuses on the role of scholars and, in so doing, he provides a fresh study of a learned community in sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, the study shows that the scholars occupied a position of leadership and authority in the social structure of the city. Hence, in providing fuller understanding of the role of scholars and their status as 'notables', the work makes it possible to understand the enigma which has surrounded this extraordinary city throughout its history. It contributes an important perspective for historians of Africa, the Middle East and Islam.


  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Genesis of a social tradition
  • 3. The scholars as a learned elite
  • 4. The scholars as administrators
  • 5. The scholars as regional notables
  • 6. Persistence of the patriciate
  • 7. Summary and conclusions
  • Appendices
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index.

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