Mauro Nobili

Profile picture for Mauro Nobili

Contact Information

446D Greg Hall M/C 466
810 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

Office Hours

By appointment
Assistant Professor


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.

Research Interests

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)

Courses Taught

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

Assistant Professor, Program in Medieval Studies

Honors & Awards

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”

Recent Publications

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.

Nobili, M. (2017). Introduction: African history and Islamic manuscript cultures. In The Arts and Crafts of Literacy: Islamic Manuscript Cultures in Sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 1-24). Walter de Gruyter GmbH.

Nobili, M., & Diagayeté, M. (2017). The Manuscripts that Never Were: In Search of the Tārīkh al-Fattāsh in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. History in Africa, 44, 309-321.

Nobili, M. (2016). A propaganda document in support of the 19th century Caliphate of Ḥamdallāhi: Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir al-Fulānī’s “Letter on the appearance of the twelfth caliph” (Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khalīfa al-thānī ʻashar). Afriques, (07).

Nobili, M. (2016). A Short Note on Some Historical Accounts from the IFAN Manuscripts. History in Africa, 43, 379-388.

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