PhD Scholarship in African Studies at the University of Birmingham: Arabic Sources for West African History, West African Manuscripts in the British Library

6 November 2013

PhD Scholarship in African Studies at the University of Birmingham
African Studies PhD Scholarship
Arabic Sources for West African History
West African Manuscripts in the British Library

The Department of African Studies and Anthropology at the University of Birmingham (incorporating the Centre of West African Studies) and the British Library are pleased to announce a three-year studentship for students commencing their MPhil/PhD in African Studies in September 2014. The studentship is attached to an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership awarded to the British Library for research and cataloguing related to its collection of West African Arabic manuscripts and its forthcoming exhibition: ‘West Africa: Cultures of the Word’. The successful applicant will receive (at UK/EU rate) full tuition fees and maintenance funding (which was £13,726 for 2013/14, increasing annually), plus associated expenses (£550 yearly maintenance payment from AHRC; up to £1,000 per annum from the British Library to cover travel and related costs).

The doctoral project

The successful applicant will be expected to pursue doctoral research focused on the analysis and interpretation of particular themes, genres or types of Arabic sources for West African history and culture. The broader themes of the project may include any aspect or period of West African History, including Saharan institutions and societies and/or trans-Saharan connectivity. Proposals for the comparative study of Arabic sources across different African contexts will also be considered.

The British Library holds about thirteen volumes of West African manuscripts (some containing multiple, collated works). A core element of this collaborative doctoral project will be to identify, research and produce metadata for this collection (see below for further information). These manuscripts will potentially constitute one of the sources for this thesis.

Supervision arrangements and professional experience

This studentship offers a collaborative supervisory team that brings together two specialists from the University of Birmingham, Dr Benedetta Rossi, Lecturer in West African Studies, and Dr Anissa Daoudi, Arabic Language Coordinator at the Centre of Modern Languages, with the Curator for African Studies at the British Library, Dr Marion Wallace. The selected applicant will profit from the resources and networks of both partner institutions, becoming a full participant in the lively African Studies research community at Birmingham, while also gaining first-hand professional experience of curatorial work at the British Library in London, including cataloguing and exhibitions work. The student will be allocated office space in the Library and be able to participate in the Library’s rich programme of public events, study days and student seminars, and to disseminate their research findings to academic and nonacademic audiences. In the longer term, the blend of academic research and curatorial work should considerably enhance employment-related skills, while inspiring a project with considerable potential for knowledge exchange and public impact.


While supervision and training in Arabic language will be available at the Department of Modern Languages (Arabic division) of the University of Birmingham, a minimum qualification for the successful candidate will be proficiency in reading Arabic. Applicants should provide copies of language certificates or other proof of having received training in Arabic (preferably Classical Arabic) with their application. The candidate should have a research interest in West Africa. Expertise in relevant disciplines, for example the History or Anthropology of West Africa, or knowledge of West African languages and/or French, will also be an asset. Due to AHRC regulations, applicants must be UK or EU residents and meet the normal entry requirements for the MPhil/PhD in African Studies:


How to apply

To be considered for the African Studies PhD Scholarship, prospective applicants are invited to send a covering letter, CV, names and professional affiliation of two referees, and a research proposal of no more than 2000 words to Sheena Robertson ( by Monday 13 January 2014. The applicant should also ensure that, by this deadline, two reference letters are emailed to Sheena Robertson by the referees named in the application, specifying the applicant’s name, referee’s relation to the applicant, and skills that make the applicant a suitable candidate for the proposed research project. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed via Skype and/or in person at the University of Birmingham. Interviews will take place as soon as possible after the submission deadline.

Residency Eligibility

PLEASE NOTE that, to be eligible for the full award (fees and maintenance), applicants must fulfil the AHRC’s residency criteria. They must: 1. be settled in the UK; 2. have been resident in the UK for the last three years (and the primary reason for residence must not have been educational). Applicants resident in the European Union may be eligible for a fees-only award.

For more information see
Funding-Guide.pdf, Annex A.

Further information is provided below.

For questions, inquiries, or an informal discussion please contact Dr. Benedetta Rossi or Dr. Marion Wallace (who can also provide further information about the BL exhibition).

PhD Scholarship in African Studies at the University of Birmingham:

Further information

1. The Department of African Studies and Anthropology (DASA) and Centre of West African Studies (CWAS) at the University of Birmingham CWAS was established in 1963 as a multidisciplinary teaching and research department offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses and research supervision in a range of subjects relating to Africa. Recently renamed DASA to reflect its broadened geographic coverage, the Department enjoys a long-standing international reputation as a centre of excellence in the study and teaching of Africa. A genuinely interdisciplinary centre, it brings together the perspectives of history, anthropology, geography, development studies, politics, literature and language.

DASA and the University of Birmingham possess substantial holdings of archive material and documentation relating to Africa – including newspapers, periodicals, the Church Missionary Society archive and various other colonial/missionary records. DASA also enjoys links with a number of universities across Africa. It regularly has African scholars in residence as well as postgraduate students from Africa. Postgraduate students have come to DASA from all parts of the world in the last fifty years, from places as far afield as Japan, Thailand, Barbados, Brazil and New Zealand as well as from Europe, the USA and Africa itself. DASA’s postgraduate community enjoys an unparalleled level of access to staff and resources, including the University library of over two million volumes and, within DASA, a museum of African art and artefacts, the Danford Collection.

2. The British Library and its West African manuscripts

The British Library is the national library of the UK, and also collects material from all over the world. It has substantial published holdings on West Africa, and these will be available to the student to supplement the collections of the University of Birmingham Library.

The British Library’s African collections include about thirteen volumes of West African manuscripts (some containing multiple, collated works), and these are at the core of this collaborative doctoral partnership. The manuscripts mainly date from the late eighteenth or nineteenth century and include some Qur’ans as well as devotional works, poetry, popular literature and manuals on magic, talismans and amulets; much of their content has not yet been identified. One of the student’s primary tasks will be to identify, research and produce metadata for these manuscripts.

3. The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP)
The EAP (, which is based at the British Library, funds the preservation of the archives of pre-industrial societies all over the world. For preservation purposes, digital copies are created, and these are normally made available on the EAP website.

This PhD studentship offers an opportunity (depending on the student’s interests and discussions with the supervisors) to work on digitised EAP collections. Those of particular interest to this project may be: o EAP 269 and 488 – pilot and major projects on the manuscripts at Djenne, Mali
o EAP 334 –ajami manuscripts of Senegal in Wolof
o EAP 387 – Nigerian ajami poetry mss in Fulfulde
o EAP 087 – Arabic manuscripts at the Kano State History and Culture Bureau (included in a broader collection)
o EAP 535 – Arabic and Hausa manuscript material in National Archives,
Kaduna, Nigeria
o EAP 051 – Bamum script manuscripts in Foumban, Cameroon
4. PhD outline proposal
Information on the original proposal can be found at

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