810 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801
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, Ghana, and Ivory Coast), in Europe (Denmark and France) and North America (USA). 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.
West African History; Muslim Societies in Africa; Arabic Manuscripts
PhD, University of Naples "L'Orientale", African Studies, 2008
2018-2021, National Endowment for Humanities: Scholarly Editions and Translations
2018-2019, Endangered Archives Program, EAP1101, with Jimba Mashood (Kwara State University, Nigeria)
2016 West African Research Association Residency (to host Dr. Mohamed Diagayete, IHERI-AB, Timbuktu)
Awards and Honors
2018-2019 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies
2018-2020 University of Illinois, Lincoln Excellence for Assistant Professor Scholar for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
2019-2020 Discovery Partners Institute
2017-2018 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, George S. & Gladys W. Queen Award for Excellence in Teaching History
2012-2014 Post-doctoral Fellowship, University of Cape Town.
2013 A.W. Mellon Young Scholars Award, University of Cape Town
2015 Research Support Award, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
2016 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign “List of excellent teachers”
2017 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign “List of excellent teachers”
2011-2012 Petra Kappert Fellowship, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, University of Hamburg
2015 Research Board Award, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
2016 Humanities Released Time Program, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
2014 University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign “List of excellent teachers”
Hist 110 - History of 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
Hist 101 - History Now!
Additional Campus Affiliations
Associate Professor, Program in Medieval Studies
Nobili, M. (2020). Reinterpreting the Role of Muslims in the West African Middle Ages. Journal of African History, 61(3), 327-340. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021853720000584
Nobili, M. (2020). Sultan, Caliph, and the Renewer of the Faith: Aḥmad Lobbo, the Tārīkh al-fattāsh and the Making of an Islamic State in West Africa. (African Studies). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108804295
Nobili, M. (2019). The Written Word: Islamic Literacy and Arabic Manuscripts in West Africa. In K. Berzock (Ed.), Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa (pp. 241-253). Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Nobili, M. (2018). New Reinventions of the Sahel: Reflections on the Taʾriḫ Genre in the Timbuktu Historiographical Production, Seventeenth to Twentieth Centuries. In T. Green, & B. Rossi (Eds.), Landscapes, Sources and Intellectual Projects of the West African Past: Essays in Honour of Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias (pp. 201-219). (African History; Vol. 6). Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004380189_011
Brigaglia, A., & Nobili, M. (Eds.) (2017). The Arts and Crafts of Literacy: Islamic Manuscript Cultures in Sub-Saharan Africa. (Studies in Manuscript Cultures; Vol. 12). De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110541441