Call for paper : In the notebooks of a scholar and traveler in Ethiopia. Transcribing and editing the notebooks of Antoine d’Abbadie (mid-19th century)

Closing workshop of the MSS-Abbadie project organized by Vanessa Desclaux (BnF) and Anaïs Wion (CNRS, IMAF), November 22 and 23, 2023,

French National Library (Paris, Richelieu) then at the Campus Condorcet (Aubervilliers)

Example of a notebook page transcribed by HTR on Calfa-Vision
Example of a notebook page transcribed by HTR on Calfa-Vision

Call for paper

During the decade of 1840, a French scientist, Antoine d’Abbadie, traveled to the Horn of Africa. Self-funded, he made numerous scientific observations that he recorded in some twenty notebooks. Today deposited at the French National Library in Paris, these handwritten notebooks contain a wealth of information that has remained mostly unpublished. Indeed Antoine d’Abbadie himself used only a small part of them, mainly those concerning geography. His notes cover different fields of knowledge: history, literature and codicology, anthropology, linguistics, geography and hydrography, meteorology. 

The MSS-Abbadie project, part of the BnF’s four-year research program (2020-23), has been working to make this profusion of notes accessible by digitizing the originals, depositing them on Gallica, describing the notebooks, and offering them for collaborative transcription on the Transcrire platform. HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) has allowed us to automatically acquire all the texts, in Latin and Ethiopian scripts. The majority of the publications made so far have been aimed at understanding and describing the notebooks, in all their complexity.

This workshop is intended to be a shared moment to conclude this first part of the work on Antoine d’Abbadie’s notebooks and to prepare for the future, in particular the electronic edition. All researchers wishing to use this newly available material are invited to submit a paper. 

First of all, the aim is to emphasize what the corpus brings to our understanding of the societies of the Horn in the first half of the 19th century. In transcribing, it became apparent that many dimensions of Ethiopian societies were revealed. To mention only a few: the place of women in society, the relations between the populations living in this area of the Horn populated by a mosaic of peoples, the history of the Oromo populations, the composition of family households in several villages, the prices of foodstuffs on the markets and their quantities, are some examples of the subjects on which Antoine d’Abbadie has investigated with interest and methodically.

In addition, he listed and established vocabularies for more than thirty languages (Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan). For the majority of them, these are the oldest written attestations we have. 

The history of the acquisition in Ethiopia of some three hundred Ethiopian manuscripts that Antoine d’Abbadie then bequeathed to the Académie des Sciences, now deposited at the French National Library, can also be renewed by the exploitation of the numerous notes found in the notebooks about these manuscripts. 

Finally, beyond the social sciences, Antoine d’Abbadie conducted investigations as a geographer, cartographer and physicist, taking a particular interest in climatic phenomena, which he measured and described in great detail. 

This accumulation of observations – which amounts to nearly 5,000 densely written pages – gives pride of place to the informants with whom Antoine d’Abbadie exchanged during the ten years he spent in Ethiopia, some of whom were long-time acquaintances and others strangers he met along the way. He notes the name, age, social origin, region of origin, and language of the people who give him information, in order to contextualize what they say and to make the information he has gathered as relevant as possible. He does not hesitate to make the discordant voices, the doubts, the omissions, as much as the certainties, heard. He thus provides us with a precious resource to better understand the circulation of knowledge in the Horn of Africa in the context of this particular encounter, provoked by Antoine d’Abbadie’s immersion in the life of the Ethiopian populations during the 1840s.

Finally, this call for participation invites the contributors who took part in this crowdsourcing adventure to return some of the knowledge acquired during this transcription work, as well as to testify about it and the working methods that were experienced. It remains wide open to researchers from outside the project who can provide a fresh look at both the historical context and the new approaches currently being applied to this type of corpus and situations.


To submit your proposal (title and max. 500 hundred words), please write us before the 30th of June 2023 : ;

Related Resources

Project’s twitter account :


  • November 22 and 23, 2023
  • French National Library (Paris, Richelieu) then at the Campus Condorcet (Aubervilliers)

Citer ce billet
Olivier Jacquot (2023, 29 mai). Call for paper : In the notebooks of a scholar and traveler in Ethiopia. Transcribing and editing the notebooks of Antoine d’Abbadie (mid-19th century). Carnet de la recherche à la Bibliothèque nationale de France. Consulté le 28 mai 2024, à l’adresse

Olivier Jacquot

Chargé de collections : manuscrits des fonds américains, Service des manuscrits ORientaux (SOR), département des Manuscrits (MSS), Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF)

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