THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

25 April 2017

New collections online - April 2017

Last month we put four new collections online: EAP833, a private family archive from Serbia with many First World War records; EAP626, records relating to the Sierra Leone Government Railway; EAP609, Malay language records from Sri Lanka; EAP613, Armenian maps, periodicals and newspapers.

EAP626: Tracking the past - the preservation of the railway archives of Sierra Leone

EAP626_1_2_6-EAP626_Photographs_002_LEAP626/1/2/6 - Photographs of the railway

The Sierra Leone Government Railway was built in 1893 and changed the nature of society, enabling the transport of passengers and goods between the interior and the Freetown colony and port.  At independence in 1961 the railway was well equipped and was a significant employer until its closure in 1975. Since this period much of the infrastructure and academic memory was lost, especially during the bloody civil war between 1991-2002. In 2005, shortly after the end of the civil war, the Sierra Leone government opened its National Railway Museum in Cline Town, a suburb of the capital Freetown, based around a collection of British built locomotives, carriages and wagons which had survived in the former railway workshops. A number of documents and images were found since the opening of the museum, and a significant amount of archival material was found inside some of the vehicles at the time when the museum was developed. However, the project team found that the vast majority of the railways’ records were destroyed in the 1970s following the closure of the network. Although there was less material than anticipated the significance far outweighs the quantity as this is the only material surviving in Sierra Leone that was generated by the railway itself. There are gate pass books, requisition slips for oil and two tally cards for drivers withdrawing oil, items which might be considered insignificant in a UK business archive, but these are the only source for names of railway drivers at this period and thus actually take on a greater significance in the context of the railway museum. There are also tickets, an instruction manual for the railway’s telegraphy system from 1946, and a few other forms, which show how the railway operated.

The majority of the records digitised come from the National Archives of Sierra Leone and include a series of files opened by the Colonial Secretary’s Office in 1929, and a small series of 19th century photographs. The 1929 files are particularly significant, as they suggest that a review of the railway was carried out, with renewal of track, attention paid to accommodation, some questions of pay and grading settled, and most significantly some services replaced by road bus, including the so-called ‘Mountain Railway’ which ran from Cotton Tree up to Hill Station. These experiments with bus services foreshadowed the closure of the network in the 1970s and its replacement by road transport. The records digitised will allow researchers to better understand the development of the railway and its impact on the history and development of the country.

EAP626_1_2_7-EAP626_PostageStamp_LEAP626/1/2/7 - Postcards

EAP833: Safeguarding the fragile collection of the private archive of the Lazić family

EAP833_1_1_73-EAP833_WarBook73_001_LEAP833/1/1/73 - From the war days: 1912-1917 [1917]

This project aimed to digitise and preserve the valuable private archive and library collections owned by the Lazić family in Serbia who for six generations have collected important and rare material. Aleksandar Lazić (1846–1916) was the founder and the owner of the Library until 1910 when his son Luka Lazić (1876-1946) took over who enriched the collection with material documenting the Great War. He acquired much of the material in or around the battlefield and continued to purchase related material until his death in 1946. Along with his son and successor Milorad Lazić (1912–1977), he also accumulated a significant collection of law books, the majority of which were acquired between 1930-1950 and are crucial for theoretical and historical research of the Serbian state and law, and also help to document the changes in Serbian society. The collection has continued to be added to by subsequent members of the Lazić family who continue to care for this important archive.

Much of this material relating to the First World War is unique and not found in any other libraries or archives. The preservation of this material is essential as most was printed during the war and on foreign territory using low quality fragile paper and ink. The collection includes for example, Serbian newspapers printed in exile on Corfu and in Thessaloniki at the time of the First World War during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia.  There are also copies of the rare confidential journal ‘Pregled Listova’, published in Geneva for members of the Serbian government in exile, and used to provide updates about the latest news from Serbs, their allies and enemies.

EAP833_1_2_1_2-EAP833_Periodical2_001_LEAP833/1/2/1/2 - The Serbian Fatherland: a monthly magazine for Serbian youth in exile [1917]

EAP609: Digitising Malay writing in Sri Lanka

EAP609_5_6-609_Syair_Faid_al-Abad_06_LEAP609/5/6 - Syair Faid al-Abad [1903]

This project encompasses a range of materials written in the Malay language in Sri Lanka from around the mid-19th century to the late 20th century. The history of the ‘Malay’ community in Sri Lanka goes back to the middle of the seventeenth century, following the foundation of Dutch rule in the island in 1640. The designation ‘Malay’ has been commonly used to refer to people from the Malay Archipelago and Peninsula who were exiled to Sri Lanka by the Dutch as political exiles and convicts, or recruited as soldiers to colonial armies, both Dutch and at a later stage, British. Many of those designated as Malay were of Javanese or east Indonesian ancestry, and the early exiles included members of diverse local elites. Despite the distance from the Indonesian-Malay world the Sri Lankan community maintained a flourishing literary culture, with works that closely resemble those produced in the Malay “heartlands” as well as local creations. It includes manuscripts, printed books, prayer booklets, wedding invitations, personal letters, family records, poems and songs. These diverse materials testify to the variety of ways in which Malay was, and is used in Sri Lanka. The majority of older materials are Islamic in nature, including theological manuals, poems in praise of the Prophet, and tales and histories written in the hikayat genre. These are written in gundul (Malay-Arabic script) and/or Romanised Malay. The collection also includes modern examples of Malay written in the Tamil and Sinhala script, as well as older materials in Arabic and Arabu-Tamil owned by Malay families, testifying to the linguistic and orthographic diversity of the community's writing practices. The collection attests to the social and cultural aspects of the community’s life and allows for an expansion of the definitions of the ‘Malay World,’ and provides an insight into local forms of Islam.

EAP609_30_4-609_Malay_Schoolbook2_43_LEAP609/30/4 - Jolong Bacaan [20th century]

EAP613: Digital preservation and cataloguing of early printed Armenian maps, periodicals and newspapers, and making them accessible online

EAP613_2_3_2_000002_LEAP613/2/3/2 - Zurna [Զուռնա] [1906, 1909]

This collection was first made available a year ago though it has recently had a large amount of new material added and is worth sharing again. The newer material can be found in the Fonds EAP613/2 and includes additional printed books, newspapers, journals and maps.

The project digitised maps and periodicals held in the collections of The National Library of Armenia (NLA), the largest repository of printed Armenian materials in the world. The first Armenian printed book 'Urbatagirk’ (Venice 1512), the first printed periodical 'Azdarar' (Madras 1794), the first printed Bible in Armenian (Amsterdam, 1666) and the first printed map 'Hamatarats Ashkharhatsuyts' (Amsterdam 1695) are some of the treasures preserved in the NLA. However, the storage conditions of NLA’s collections are poor and the material fragile. The fluctuation of temperature, level of humidity and the pollution level in the stacks remain uncontrolled throughout the different seasons and has resulted in paper deterioration and fungal contamination.

The project digitised over 60,000 pages, mainly of Armenian newspapers and journals, but also a small collection of maps dating from the 17th to 20th centuries. The newspapers and journals cover some important dates in Armenian and Soviet history and include interesting front page imagery on the dates of the 20th anniversary of the Russian revolution, and the death of Lenin, as just two examples.

EAP613_2_3_68_4_000015_LEAP613/2/3/68/4 - Eritasard Hayastan [Երիտասարդ Հայաստան] [1906-1907]

EAP613_1_5_1_12_22-CustomName266_L
EAP613/1/5/1/12/22
- Khorhrdayin Hayastan. No.1-75 [Խորհրդային Հայաստան] [1928]

EAP613_1_1-EAP613_1_1_17_L
EAP613/1/1 - Maps (1695-1800)

 

23 March 2017

Yangon Photo Festival 2017

This is a guest blog written by Lukas Birk, grant holder for EAP898.

Last autumn I was able to digitise 4000 negatives from Bellay Photo Studio in downtown Yangon for EAP898. The images were taken by photographer Har Si Yone, primarily in the late 1960s and 70s. Bellay Studio was founded only a few years after General Ne Win seized power in Myanmar and subsequently introduced ‘the Burmese way of socialism’. The studio was frequented by many ethnically Chinese members of Yangon’s society, a community that suffered greatly under Ne Win’s political doctrines, many had to leave the country by the late 70s.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Bellay Photo Studio-resizeDaw Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at the award ceremony of the Yangon Photo Festival

The exhibition Yangon Fashion 1979 curated for the Yangon Photo Festival is the first narrative from the many fascinating photographs taken at Bellay Studio. The exhibition sheds light onto a hidden part of Burmese society from the 1970s; private fashion photographs. Although wearing western clothes, miniskirts, or tight blouses was not forbidden, they were certainly not worn on Yangon’s streets, as the political atmosphere was much too conservative for such individual expression. The outfits were often inspired by Burmese movie stars, musicians, or illegally imported fashion magazines. Some tailors would also provide style catalogues for outfits only used during a photo shoot. The studio was an outlet for freedom of style and young people, who could afford it, would be seen there frequently. These photos were often exchanged with friends and dedications can be found on the back of many prints.

Lukas Birk_ Yangon Photo Festival_5 - resize

YPF YANGON FASHION EXPO-23 - resize

This year’s Yangon Photo Festival branched out from its usual location, the French Culture Institute, and was held in public. It is the first time that the government allowed an uncensored public display at Maha Bandula Park in downtown Yangon. Besides Yangon Fashion 1979, the festival showed revealing photo stories by young Burmese documentary photographers, as well as a series from the World Press Photo Foundation. The festival was opened by mayor U Maung Maung Soe and state counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi juried the festival’s photo competition. Thousands of people came to see the exhibition on the first weekend and the fashion photographs became the centre of interaction and selfie-taking. The exhibition inspired many conversations; after all, everybody has a sister, aunt, or mother that had had her photograph taken in similar fashion. It was the commonality of the images that brought people together. The son of the photographer, now the proprietor of Bellay Studio, Tun Tun Lay was very moved at the sight of his father’s work being shown in a historic light and enjoyed by a huge crowd in the park.

Lukas Birk_ Yangon Photo Festival_4 - resize Lukas Birk with Mayor U Maung Maung Soe and Yangon Photo Festival curator Christophe Loviny

22 March 2017

In Search of Zoroastrian Manuscripts in Iran

To celebrate Nowruz, this guest blog has been written by Milad Jahangurfar, who is the grant holder for EAP888, a current project that hopes to find the few surviving Avestan manuscripts which have used the Persian alphabet.

 

The Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, has been written in the Avestan alphabet, which was created for this purpose probably during the Sassanid era (224-651 CE). It is usually believed that before developing the alphabet, the priests were responsible for oral transmission of the collection. However, the history of the script and the forms of transmission of the scripture are still open to debate.

Image 6 resizedSett-i Pir/Mah Setti Pir temple, inside the Asadān castle. According to Zoroastrian legends and folklore, the castle dates back to the Sassanid era.

In the 19th century, and perhaps even earlier, a new trend in writing down the Avesta was developed. Zoroastrian priests started using the Persian alphabet. This change was a solution to the problem of reading Avestan and Pahlavi (middle Persian) texts which had become difficult for both priests and the laity.

Image 1 resizedThe three major Iranian provinces (Tehran, Yazd, Kerman) where the manuscripts are located.

Tehran, Yazd and Kerman are the three major provinces in Iran where the manuscripts are likely to be located. Once being the strongholds of Zoroastrianism in Iran, they are still where Zoroastrian communities are based. Yazd and Kerman are considered to be where the manuscripts originate. Even the volumes located in Tehran have been mostly composed and inscribed in these two provinces. The Zoroastrian families that moved to Tehran, particularly during the last few decades, brought with them such manuscripts, handed down through generations, brought to the capital. A few of them found their way to safekeeping such as the National Library, the Archives of Iran and the Library of Tehran University, whereas the rest of them are kept in poor conditions in private collections and sadly there is no specific record regarding their history of ownership or the exact date of composition and provenance.

Image 4 resizedPart of a prayer in the Khordeh Avesta.

The major part of the corpora consists of the Khordeh Avesta, which means ‘the Little Avesta’. The Khordeh Avesta is a collection of daily prayers to be performed during different ceremonies and rituals by both laypersons and by priests.

Image 3 resizedMilad Jahangirfar, sorting the files after digitising the manuscript.

Image 2 resized
Dr Farzaneh Goshtasb (a faculty member at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran) working on a manuscript.

Image 7 resized
Mr Rostam, the keeper of the Sett-i Pir temple in Yazd, and Dr Goshtasb.

EAP would like to wish all of our Iranian colleagues a very happy New Year.