People sections

Letter from the Chair

Dr. Mauro Nobili

Asst Professor of History
African American Studies
Assistant Professor of Center for African Studies

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Contact Info

Office Hours

MW 10:00-11:00 and by appointment

Areas of Specialization

West African History; Muslim Societies in Africa; Arabic Manuscripts


I am a historian of pre-colonial and early-colonial West Africa, with a specific interest in the area of the modern Republic of Mali and the town of Timbuktu. My special focus is on Muslim societies of the region and their Arabic manuscript heritage. I conduct research in several collections of Arabic manuscripts from West Africa, stored in public or private libraries in Africa (Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Niger) and in Europe (Denmark and France). I have worked and published on topics linked to Arabic calligraphies and script styles, Islamic eschatology, genealogies and the West African chronicle tradition.  

My current project is an original study of the Timbuktu chronicle known as the Tārīkh al-fattāsh. The chronicle’s complex genesis and authorship is still shrouded in mystery. Notwithstanding the efforts of several scholars, the major obstacle has been the limited access to the actual manuscripts of the chronicle. My research thus comprises an effort to collect all the available manuscript copies of the Tārīkh al-fattāsh, on the basis of which I am producing an innovative analysis of the text. My study is revealing that the Tārīkh al-fattāsh is a novel chronicle written in the 19th century, and not the effort of three generations of scholars who worked on it starting from the early 16th century and eventually interpolated in the 19th century, as previously advanced by most scholars. This 19th century Tārīkh al-fattāsh was composed by a substantial rework of a 17th century anonymous work. The manuscripts available allows for a new, comparative edition of the two texts. My work is re-instating the two works to their historical periods and, by throwing light to the political and ideological motivations that lie under their production, as well as the usage of the chronicle themselves, is contributing to improve our knowledge of the intellectual history of West Africa, from the post-medieval period to the immediate pre-colonial time.

Specializations / Research Interest(s)

  • West African History; Muslim Societies in Africa; Arabic Manuscripts


  • PhD, University of Naples "L'Orientale", African Studies, 2008.

Distinctions / Awards

  • 2016 Humanities Released Time Program, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, for Fall semester
  • 2016 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign “List of excellent teachers” for Hist. 395/8
  • 2016 West African Research Association Residency (to host Dr. Mohamed Diagayete, IHERI-AB, Timbuktu).
  • 2015 Research Board Award, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
  • 2015 Research Support Award, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • 2011-2012 Petra Kappert Fellowship, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, University of Hamburg
  • 2012-2014 Post-doctoral Fellowship, University of Cape Town.
  • 2013 A.W. Mellon Young Scholars Award, University of Cape Town
  • 2014 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign “List of excellent teachers” for Hist 200


  • Hist 110 - History in Africa
  • Hist 200 - Introduction to Historical Interpretation
  • Hist 213 - African Muslim Cultures
  • Hist 395/8 - Honors Research & Writing Seminar / Advanced Composition
  • Hist 510 - Problems in African History

LLS Titles & Affiliations

  • African Studies Association



  • Catalogue des manuscrits arabes du fonds de Gironcourt (Afrique de l'Ouest) de l'Institut de France. . Roma: Istituto per l’Oriente «C. A. Nallino», 2013.

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Book Contributions

  • Nobili, Mauro, and Nicola Melis. "Introduction - Islam: a Plurality of Historical and Linguistic Experiences." Collectanea Islamica. . Ed. Mauro Nobili and Nicola Melis. Roma: Aracne, 2012. 1-13.

  • "Risāla min Maryam bint Fūdī ilā al-ibn. A brief contribution to the study of 19th century Nigeria eschatology." Collectanea Islamica. . Ed. Mauro Nobili and Nicola Melis. Roma: Aracne, 2012. 71-86.

  • "Écriture et transmission du savoir islamique au Mali: le cas du ṣaḥrāwī." Dynamiques de transmission du savoir islamique au Mali. . Ed. Elisa Pellizzari and Omar Sylla. Paris/Rome: L'Harmattan, 2012. 37-68.

  • "Bookishness in the Sokoto Caliphate and the Arabic Documents Relating to the jihādī Literary Production in the de Gironcourt Collection of Arabic Manuscripts." Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Hausa Studies: African and European Perspectives (Napoli 5th-7th July 2010). . Ed. Sergio Baldi and Miki Yakasai. Napoli: Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale", 2011. 241-255.

Edited Books

  • Nobili, Mauro, and Nicola Melis. Collectanea Islamica. . Roma: Aracne, 2012.

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Journal Articles

  • Nobili, Mauro. "A Short Note on Some Historical Accounts from the IFAN Manuscripts." History in Africa 43 (2016): 379-388.
  • Nobili, Mauro , and Mohamed S. Mathee. "Towards a new study on the so-called Tārīkh al-fattāsh." History in Africa 42 (2015): 37-73.
  • Nobili, Mauro, and Andrea Brigaglia. "Central Sudanic Arabic Scripts p.2: Barnāwī." Islamic Africa 4.2 (2013): 197-223.
  • Nobili, Mauro . "Back to Saharan Myths: Preliminary Notes on ‘Uqba al-Mustajab." Annual Review of Islam in Africa 12 (2012): 79-84.
  • Nobili, Mauro. "Arabic Scripts in West African Manuscripts: A Tentative Classification from the de Gironcourt Manuscript Collection." Islamic Africa 2.1 (2011): 105-133.
  • Nobili, Mauro. "‘Rediscovering’ the de Gironcourt Manuscript Collection." Annual Review of Islam in Africa 10 (2008): 62-66.


  • Rev. of In the City of the Marabouts: Islamic Culture in West Africa (Waveland Press, Long Grove, 2012), by Geert Mommersteeg. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82.3 (2014): 869-874.
  • Rev. of Arabic Literacy and Intellectual History in Muslim Africa (Brill, Leiden – Boston, 2011). Eds.Graziano Krätli & Ghislaine Lydon (eds.). The Trans-Saharan Book Trade: Manuscript Culture. Oriente Moderno 93.1 (2013): 324-330.
  • Rev. of L’inspiration de l’éternel: Eloge de Shekou Amadou, fondateur de l’empire peul du Macina. Par Muḥammad bin ʻAlī Pereejo. (Grandvaux, Brinon-sur-Sauldre, 2011). Eds. and Trans. Bohas, Georges, Abderrahim Saguer, Bernard Salvaing. Islamic Africa 4.2 (2013): 256-259.
  • Rev. of L’Islam in Etiopia. Bilanci e prospettive (special issue of Civiltà del Mediterraneo 16-17 [Dec 2009 – Jun 2010]). Eds. Alessandro Gori and Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti .Oriente Moderno 90.2 (2010): 599-574.