A review of the Islam Burkina Faso Collection, a database of materials on Islam, directed by Frédérick Madore
Islam Burkina Faso Collection
Frédérick Madore, Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)
Robert Launay, Northwestern University
An ongoing project of Frédérick Madore since 2018, the Islam Burkina Faso Collection is an open access digital database containing over 2,900 archival documents, newspaper articles, Islamic publications, photographs, and audio recordings on Islam and Muslims in Burkina Faso since 1960. The website also indexes more than 265 bibliographical references on the topic. In addition to detailed Dublin Core and bibliographic ontology metadata, optical character recognition provides full-text search capabilities. Two digital exhibits that bring together a selection of items by themes serve as entry points to the larger collection. An index, listing about 1000 events, locations, organizations, people, and topics is also available. The full dataset can be harvested from its OAI-PMH repository.
As part of his doctoral research (2013–2018), Madore has digitized more than 7,000 news clippings about Muslims in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as nearly 1,000 Islamic publications (pamphlets, bulletins, magazines), most of which have ceased publication. Almost all the collected documents are in French, offering more of the perspective of Francophone Western-educated Muslims than of Arabisants trained in madrasas and Islamic universities. The idea of publishing this corpus of sources online was strongly inspired by the open science movement, calls to decolonize knowledge about Africa, and Enrique Martino’s idea of setting up a blog with all the archival sources he used for his PhD dissertation on the history of Fernando Pó and the Bight of Biafra.
The online website and database were created with Omeka S and made public in November 2021. This was one of the first digital humanities initiatives published under the University of Florida Libraries’ program LibraryPress@UF. The project director is grateful for the invaluable technical support and assistance on copyright issues provided by Perry Collins, librarian at the George A. Smathers Libraries. The collection also benefited greatly from earlier discussions with Tiffany Esteban and Leonardo A. Villalón, as well as from Louis Audet Gosselin, who kindly shared printed material from his own research. Aïssétou Sawadogo, Lassane Ouédraogo, and Koudbi Kaboré helped to secure copyright permissions from the newspaper editors and Islamic associations.
The collection is intended as a useful resource for local and international scholars of Islam in West Africa, reducing travel costs and time and overcoming some of the difficulties often encountered in archival centers in the region. Traveling in Burkina Faso has also become more difficult due to political instability and security issues.
The project was supported by a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (2018–2020). An article published in the Revue d’Histoire Contemporaine de l’Afrique in 2021 explains the database in more depth. The collection was also presented at the 12th European Summer University in Digital Humanities and the 34th Deutscher Orientalistentag in 2022. With the support of the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Madore is currently working on expanding the database by including material that he has already digitized as part of his research on Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Togo.
The Islam Burkina Faso Collection is a digital database created in 2021 by Frédérick Madore, in conjunction with the Library Press and the Sahel Research Group at the University of Florida and the Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. The collection is an invaluable research tool for scholars in or outside Burkina Faso, offering access to material that is difficult or impossible to find outside — and sometimes even inside — the country, where approximately half the population (roughly 22 million people) identifies as Muslim. This database is unique, intentionally furnishing a model for comparable efforts documenting Islam in other West African countries. Indeed, in collaboration with colleagues in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, Madore is planning to digitize collections on Islam in these neighboring countries as well.
The centerpiece of the collection is about 7,000 newspaper articles, dating from the country’s independence from France in 1960 to the present day. These articles are in French, the official language of the country. They include articles from five national newspapers, some of which have ceased publication, as well as from eight Islamic newspapers, several of which were ephemeral. There are miscellaneous documents, photographs, and an audio recording. The site also includes an extremely comprehensive bibliographic section of scholarly references, listing not only books, book chapters, and journal articles, but also masters and doctoral theses and reports. Like the newspaper articles, the bibliography focuses specifically on Islam in Burkina Faso since independence in 1960. Of course, some of the sources treat the topic in more historical depth, and it is possible to find information about Islam during the colonial era and even before, although in far less detail and less comprehensively. These sources are included but cannot, unlike the newspaper articles, be directly downloaded from the site.
Particularly original features of the site are two digital exhibits, one on pilgrimage to Mecca from Burkina Faso and its organization, and the other on student activism. Both of these themes reflect aspects of Madore’s own research.1 Each exhibit presents a series of documents from the collection structured along a timeline, each with brief explanatory comments. These exhibits are intended to provide examples of how documents from the collection can be used to construct a narrative, but they also demonstrate some of the ways in which Islam in Burkina Faso has changed over the past 60 years, in capsule form.
Plans for future development of the collection include a collaboration with the Centre National des Archives (the National Archives of Burkina Faso) to digitize files of correspondence and make them available for researchers to download. This would also include an inventory of sources on Islam in the archives, which would be an indispensable research tool for scholars seeking to learn what material is available. In addition, such an inventory and eventual publication of archival documents would expand the scope of the collection to cover the colonial period, not just postcolonial Burkina Faso. The project team might also consider the possibility of incorporating sources in relevant languages other than French.
The collection is an extremely important contribution and critical aid to scholarship on Islam in West Africa. Islam in Burkina Faso has certainly not received the scholarly attention devoted to some other West African nations, most notably Nigeria and Senegal. On the other hand, the proportion of the nation that identifies as Muslim has been growing rapidly since Independence, as has the social and political visibility of the Muslim community. The collection provides a much needed corrective and, even more importantly, a model for constructing similar archives throughout West Africa as a whole.