THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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50 posts categorized "Africa"

17 April 2018

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations

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Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations is a practical guide for those about to embark on a digitisation project and it has just become available online. It is aimed at those who are planning to apply to EAP for future funding, but hopefully the advice will have wider appeal for anyone about to start a similar project.

It has been a joy working on this publication and I hope that people will find the information within its pages helpful. The uniqueness of the book lies in the advice given by those who have taken part in EAP projects and I am extremely grateful for their contributions. But of course, since submitting the draft manuscript to Open Book Publishers, I have received more images of projects being carried out in the field. Although it was too late to include them in the publication, I thought I would share just some in this blog to show that  projects continue to work successfully throughout the world, often in very unique circumstances.  

EAP935_Pub004

EAP935: digitising archival material in northern Ghana

Tristan

EAP951: working on Tristan da Cunha

EAP1005

EAP1005: a portable set-up for Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

Cisse_Community_EAP1042

EAP1042: working with the Cisse community in Senegal

16 March 2018

The Manuscripts of Mali

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The fabled city of Timbuktu has attracted frequent media attention over the last few years. During the occupation of northern Mali by Al Qaida linked extremists in 2012 the destruction of mausoleums to local Islamic saints in Timbuktu caused an international outcry and resulted in a UNESCO funded rebuilding project after the recapture of the city in 2013. The extremists also burned around 4500 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba Institute as their last act of defiance before the French and Malian forces re-conquered Timbuktu. Already during the Jihadist occupation many thousands of manuscripts had been transported in secret to Bamako in the now famous rescue operation organised by the Timbuktu librarian Abdel Kader Haidara. This swashbuckling tale has been the subject of two international best-selling novels, The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (2016) by Joshua Hammer and The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu (2017) by Charlie English, as well as countless articles and documentary films. Timbuktu, ante bellum, was a thriving city of tourism and the centre of over fifty private family libraries which have now been moved to Bamako where the manuscripts are receiving conservation treatment and are being digitised by SAVAMA, an association of Timbuktu libraries led by Abdel Kader Haidara, which has received international funding from the German, Dutch, Luxemburg, Swiss and Norwegian governments as well as the Ford Foundation and many other sources.

Timbuktu-139086

Certain important libraries in Timbuktu declined taking part in the rescue mission to relocate to Bamako. Instead they chose to hide their precious manuscripts in secret desert hiding places in and around Timbuktu: these include the Imam Essayouti, Al Aquib and Al Wangara manuscript libraries, attached in turn to the three ancient mosques of Timbuktu: the Djinguereber (built 1327), the Sankore (built soon after) and Sidi Yahya (1440). Together they compose what was known as the University of Timbuktu. The British Library, through the Endangered Archives Programme and in partnership with the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota, USA, is now undertaking the digitisation of these libraries in situ in Timbuktu, where work is underway in the Imam Essayouti library since October 2017, and will begin in the Al Wangara in April 2018.

  Imam Ben Essayouti and Sophie resize
Imam Ben Essayouti with Sophie Sarin

Al AquibThe Imam of Sankore at the Al Aquib Library, Timbuktu

Al WangaraThe Al Wangara Library

Although the main concentration of Arabic manuscripts in Mali was undoubtedly in Timbuktu due to its position as the most important trading city of the Trans-Saharan trade route since the early Middle Ages, other Malian cities also boast large deposits of ancient Arabic manuscripts: Djenné in particular. It is situated some 500 km south of Timbuktu in the Niger Inland Delta of Central Mali and was also an important city of trade and scholarship and one of the gateways where Islam first penetrated Mali in the 13th century. Djenné is a repository for thousands of manuscripts which have been kept by families for centuries. In 2009, the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme ran a Pilot Project, which concluded that Djenné’s manuscripts provided a suitable source of material for the mounting of a major two year digitisation project. This was the first in a series of three consecutive major projects, which finally came to an end in October 2017, when in the region of 400,000 images had been achieved from the 8,500 manuscripts which are currently stored in the Djenné Manuscript Library.

Library front Djenné Manuscript Library

Malian manuscripts deal in the main with traditional Islamic subject matter such as Hadiths (traditional sayings and stories attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), Islamic Jurisprudence of the Malikite School, religious poetry and sermons etc. There are also frequent philosophical expositions, mainly on ethics and logic as well as many manuscripts dealing with the Arabic language and grammar. There is history, correspondence, and astronomy which is normally treated as inseparable from astrology. A large proportion of the manuscripts, particularly in Djenné, fall under the label ‘esoteric’; incantations and magic formulas which purport to tell the future or influence the course of events by the use of phrases from the Qur’an in combination with the manipulation of vegetable matter or animal sacrifices. These sorts of practises are frowned upon by certain factions within Islam and some believe that this may possibly have caused the destruction of the manuscripts in Timbuktu by the fundamentalists who derive their Islamic creed from the Wahhabist school of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The involvement of the British Library through the EAP in these projects in Mali continues to be instrumental in safeguarding these manuscripts. In the case of Djenné not only in digital form but also in providing a physically safe environment for the storage of the documents, which had previously been kept in very precarious situations in the family homes, susceptible to the vagaries of the climate where during the rainy season violent rainstorms often cause destruction to the fragile mud buildings, and insects are a continuous hazard.

Fig 9 MaliDigitising in Djenné

However, the menace for the manuscript collections in both Djenné and Timbuktu lies not only in the threat of physical deterioration; the political situation is very unstable. There exists an uneasy truce in Timbuktu, but Islamic extremists are encamped in the surrounding desert and attacks on the city are frequent despite a very large UN peace keeping force.  Similarly, the escalating security crisis in central Mali is making the future uncertain for the Djenné Manuscript Library. State presence is withdrawing from the area as frequent attacks from local Islamic fundamentalists target state employees at institutions such as gendarme guard posts and schools. The Mission Culturelle, as the representative of the Ministry of Culture is a potential target and by extension the Djenné Manuscript Library. So far neither has been targeted, but the situation is volatile. The fact that the Djenné collection of documents has now been digitised and that copies exists at the British Library and also at the National Archives in Bamako means that although the original copies continue to be kept in troubled central Mali, at least the vast majority of manuscripts have now been saved for scholars in digital form, and the Timbuktu manuscripts from the three famous Timbuktu University Libraries are now also on their way to being digitally preserved for posterity.

Written by Sophie Sarin, grant holder of five EAP projects based in Mali: EAP269, EAP488 (Over 2000 manuscripts newly online), EAP690, EAP879 and EAP1094

 

From September 2018, the British Library will be showcasing the projects carried out in Djenné in the form of an exhibition to be held along the Second Floor Gallery. There will also be accompanying events related to Mali during the autumn, so do check the Library's What's on page later in the year. 

16 January 2018

Doctoral Research into the Migration and Settlement of Liberated Africans

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Each year, the British Library organises Doctoral Open Days, with the aim of helping students explore the Library’s collections. Two years ago, I met Jake Richards at an Asia and Africa focused Open Day. I am absolutely thrilled to share this blog post, the first to be written by a PhD student using EAP material as part of their research.

In April 1839, J. B. Hazely, an official in the Liberated African Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, requested that his colleague, S. Thorpe, ‘with all possible speed, send up to this Department six able Boys, capable of speaking English, & fitting to be placed on board Her Majesty’s Brig of War Harlequin’. The Harlequin was one of several Royal Navy ships that patrolled the Atlantic to suppress the slave trade. Naval ships intercepted hundreds of slave ships in the nineteenth century, and transferred the embarked slaves to particular ports where they would be declared free from slavery, and then apprenticed for up to fourteen years – a process which labelled them ‘liberated Africans’. The Liberated African Department Letter Books, digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme, contain correspondence between departmental officials, Royal Navy officers, and missionaries who were involved in different stages of this process of ‘liberation’. As Hazely’s letter reveals, the six boys would work to suppress the slave trade from which they or their relatives had recently been rescued.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1837_1842_216EAP443/1/18/6 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [22 Aug 1837-15 Feb 1843]

Sierra Leone handled around half of the approximately 200,000 slaves rescued after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 – more than any other location in the nineteenth century. Britain’s colony in Sierra Leone had begun twenty years previously as a site not much larger than Freetown, established as a home for black soldiers and sailors who had fought for Britain during the American War of Independence, plus Maroons from Jamaica and freed slaves from Nova Scotia. After 1807, colonial governors and the Church Missionary Society founded a series of villages outside Freetown to manage the influx of liberated Africans, and appointed managers, such as Thorpe, to run them as part of the Liberated African Department. Many of these villages still bear their English-sounding names: Hastings, Kent, and York.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1842_1847_050EAP443/1/18/7 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [1842-1847]

The Letter Books suggest that the managers combined jobs as administrative heads, magistrates, and experimenters in labour patterns – a local social engineer before ‘decentralisation’ became a buzzword. One of the most noticeable patterns of experimentation was a division of work and opportunities according to whether the Department identified a liberated African as male or female. Managers distributed male apprentices to naval ships, to the West India Regiments, and to settle Tombo (or Tumbu) on the southern fringe of the colony. Although girls went to school, some women were married off soon after arrival, including several ‘Eboe’ women who were presented with husbands soon after disembarking from their slave ship at Freetown’s Liberated African Yard in 1838. Sometimes women worked for ‘respectable married women’ to learn domestic skills until they were eligible for marriage, as a letter from April 1842 attests. The Letter Books give only glimpses of the other work women did beyond the oversight of village managers, such as food hawking or market selling. The lack of choice in deciding labour and domestic relationships may seem surprising, but many contemporary workers in Britain had similar constraints on their choices. The Letter Books continually remind their reader that there were many gradations between enslavement and free labour, and that the processes of moving between them were unpredictable and halting.

The EAP is a cherished window into documentation at the frontier of historical research, and I am grateful to the archivists and researchers whose EAP grants made these sources accessible, to Jody Butterworth for telling me about them at the BL’s Doctoral Open Day for the Africa and Asia collections in 2016, and to the staff who ran a wonderfully helpful open day.

Jake Christopher Richards (University of Cambridge) is conducting doctoral research into the migration and settlement of liberated Africans around the South Atlantic, c. 1839 – 1871.

If you are interested in attending this year's Open Day, it is on Monday 22 January 2018.

22 May 2017

A new chapter in the story of Timbuktu’s manuscripts: Sample digitisation of materials from the Infa Yattara Family Library

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Thursday, January 26th, it’s my last day of exploration in the Infa Yattara Family Library (IYFL) and of enduring the now familiar route to its location in the newly built-up eastern outskirts of Bamako. The Yirmadjio district has become home to many Malians from Timbuktu who have sought refuge in the capital during the recent violence and instability that have disrupted the northern regions of the country.  My taxi awaits. I brace myself to inhale once more with the searing ambrosia of the Malian capital’s thoroughfares, a suffocating mix of dust, diesel exhaust and other particulates that rake the bronchial passages. The more pleasing concoction of minute inhalants still await at the library: a thin haze composed of nearly microscopic flecks of manuscript paper that are unavoidably created when folios are handled and the dry mold one brushes off a tooled leather binding. I find that it goes well with cola, others prefer the bottled water or a shot of sweet Malian tea.

EAP913Blogpost_001Example of a manuscript from the IFYL collection. Note the powdery dry mold on the leather binding wrap

Madame Fati greets me at the door when I arrive, and Daniel, my apprentice who is learning the art of manuscript photography among other aspects of basic preservation, descends, two steps at a time, wearing his habitual wide grin and embraces me with his slender frame. We make our way back up from the residence’s courtyard, to the library proper, secured by not one, but two, steel gates, a reminder of the precious materials which this unassuming house conceals and the desire to protect them adequately.  Having gained access to the room in which steel cabinets house the roughly 4000 manuscripts, my entrance disturbs the dove nesting in the window facing the street below. That too, offers a certain symbolism, though I refrain from interpreting the omen presented by the tiny egg that went missing at one point during our month-long pilot project.
EAP913Blogpost_003Dove's nest, egg still present

The libraries of Timbuktu, and the abundance of centuries-old manuscripts they contain, have consistently attracted the attention of international media during the past five years. That coverage, however, has not been devoted solely to stories of scholarly discoveries regarding one of West Africa’s most productive scholarly centers of the pre-colonial period.  Instead, accounts have largely focused on the threat to these troves of knowledge during the town’s occupation by the al-Qaeda linked militants of Ansar Dine which began in 2012. To be fair, much ink has also been devoted to the optimistic story of local Malian efforts, often with support from outside donors and experts, to secret away a large percentage of these endangered manuscripts to the safety of Bamako, where they remain today.

Like the manuscripts, the Yattara family was forced to flee their home in Timbuktu shortly after the militant occupation. Yet, despite open death threats – Pastor Yattara was specifically target because of his role as a prominent leader in the small, but vibrant, Christian community of the city – they managed to arrange the removal of much of their private manuscript library before their property was ransacked.  Like dozens of other families, whose collections can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of works, their holdings received sanctuary in the Malian capital under the auspices SAVAMA, a local NGO dedicated to the protection, preservation and study of these material. Founded by a scholar-librarian of Timbuktu, Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, and with the support of various private foundations and other international partners, the SAVAMA team has assumed responsibility as temporary caretakers of this fragile class of movable heritage.

EAP913Blogpost_002Inside the Infa Yattara Family Library

In the case of the IYFL collection much of the material was rehoused in archival boxes and folders and a preliminary listing of the library’s holdings was created. At the family’s request, having themselves resigned to resettle indefinitely in Bamako, the collection was returned and relocated in their newly constructed residence that could both accommodate the library and facilitate further study of its contents. To my knowledge, they are the first of such family whose library to has gone through this complete cycle of relocation. Most continue to remain in SAVAMA’s care with their continuing efforts to stabilize and document those collections. Enter the EAP and its support for our pilot project whose goals have been to evaluate the continuing preservation needs of the collection, to provide training in the use of archival materials and photographic equipment which we supplied, to assess the strengths of the holdings for future scholarship, and to digitise a representative sample of the manuscripts for open access.

EAP913Blogpost_004 Dr. Straughn reviewing a manuscript with Pastor Yattara

An additional aim of the project has been to document the history of the collection in order to better contextualize how this new chapter in its biography marks both a continuation of its relationship to furthering knowledge, and the establishment of new forms of engagement with publics that could never have been imagined by those individuals who had initially put pen to paper.  The library has formed over the life of Pastor Yattara to include items inherited from his father, the namesake for the institution, and other family members. He, like many other library caretakers, has also acquired materials from outside the family, significantly broadening the scope of its holdings, particularly in the areas of the esoteric sciences. Indeed, this practice continues a long tradition for the circulation of texts amongst scholars and bibliophiles in the communities of northern Mali and even beyond. Such networks of acquisition have extended into Andalusia in the north, Egypt in the East, and Nigeria to the south. It is not uncommon to see a manuscript where a string of former owners’ names have been crossed out and another added. In our work we came across several examples of this reinscription scattered throughout the library’s holdings.

EAP913Blogpost_005Pastor Yattara consulting with a colleague on the items to be digitised

In our daily work, the team inspected each of the manuscripts in the collection in order to document, and in many cases rectify, any issues with their current housing. We would also verify, and update where necessary, the initial data about their contents for the library’s local catalog (number of folios, condition, general subject matter). Through this survey of the holdings allowed we identified roughly a hundred manuscripts for consideration as potential items for digitisation. At this point the library director, in consultation with a local scholar, worked with us to select the fifty we would photograph in order to best represent the collection. This was not an effort to chose the fifty best or seemingly most important of the holdings, rather, our aim has been to demonstrate the range of the materials in terms of subject, condition, style, genre, date, as well as other vectors of their production. Our rationale for such an approach has been to showcase where the collection has its strengths – particularly in materials from the 19th century – such that scholars might see the potential in conducting future work with the collection as a whole or in part.

EAP913Blogpost_006   The digitisation process

On a personal note, my work with these venerable manuscripts, and the relationship that I came to have with them, reflected, in many ways, how I would experience and engage with the modern city that had become their new residence. It was a mix of the familiar and the strange, the exciting and monotonous. On any given day you might come across a series of folios filled with seemingly indecipherable magic squares with unimaginable powers. Such wonders might be followed on the return drive to the hotel with a glimpse of a man riding a motorbike with a kid (and here I mean a real baby goat) on his shoulders or a live chicken hanging on the handlebars of a mopped, wings flapping, as the driver weaves through the cars. The following day would be filled with page after page of texts on jurisprudence, often in a hand that was less than legible, even if it had not been extensively smudged by water staining and the dirt that could result from several decades of safekeeping as part of a cache of buried manuscripts. Such days might be similarly filled with endless traffic jams to rival Los Angeles or Cairo, motorists occupied with their ubiquitous mobile phones as they endeavor to inch forward. It is all valuable knowledge, whether ethnographic or epigraphic, regardless of its potential to be paradigm shifting or to supply another data point that confirms a well-established trend. My colleagues and I have been humbled by the opportunity to collect that knowledge and to have been entrusted by the Yattara family and the EAP as a conduit for its sharing. 

This blog has been written by Dr. Ian Straughn, Brown University. Dr. Straughn is the grant holder for the EAP913 pilot project.

08 February 2017

Tracking the past – the preservation of the railway archives of Sierra Leone

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It seems a long time since the Curator of Archive & Library Collections at the National Railway Museum (NRM) wrote to me flagging the Endangered Archives Programme, wondering if it might be of interest to the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (SLNRM).

The NRM had been involved with SLNRM since 2005, when its founder, Col Steve Davies MBE invited the Director, Andrew Scott CBE to attend the official opening that March. At the time, we were fortunate to get a grant from the British Council, under Tony Blair’s Africa Programme, to cover the cost of a small number of advisory visits and a UK based training programme for the newly appointed staff there, who had never seen a train in action, let alone a steam engine!

As the history of Sierra Leone is one of British slavery and colonialism, much of it is shared across our two nations, including the story of the railways – built during the colonial period in the 1890s and closing in 1975 after only fourteen years of independence. This means that the museum is equally relevant to us in the UK as it is in Sierra Leone.

It was somewhat miraculous that the collection of locomotives and rolling stock which form the core of the SLNRM collection had survived more than ten years of bloody civil war, housed in the heart of the former National Railway Workshops, which had become a refugee camp for some 10,000 displaced persons.

Several documents and images had been found in the pits of the building and inside some of the vehicles at the time when the museum was being developed. They included, tickets, files, notebooks, wagon labels and operating manuals, stores receipts, postcards, stamps. On setting up the museum, Colonel Davies and the Museum Coordinator (and former Workshop Manager) Mohamed Bangura, managed to gather a small number of photographs, postcards, tickets and other ephemera from former railwaymen and other sources in Sierra Leone and the UK.

Image 1

This material was piled in the corner of a showcase in the museum, not properly stored and there was no proper provision for its care or access. It was kept in heaps in unsuitably hot and humid conditions and was vulnerable to damage from movement, light exposure and dust. It was un-catalogued, with the exception of a small number of tickets and wagon labels, so inaccessible to visitors or researchers, and vulnerable to loss or theft.

The material known at the time dated largely from the 1930s through to the official closure of the railway in 1975, which seemed somewhat unusual in terms of EAP projects. However, we felt that, whilst this may not be recognised in the UK as pre-industrial, in Sierra Leonean terms it was pre-modern, since we would argue that the modern era began in 2001, with the end of the war in which much material evidence had been destroyed, and the beginning of a new era of peace and democracy.

Image 2Photographs found in the museum, faded and embrittled by the harsh climate.

We managed to put together a preliminary EAP application in October 2012 and were delighted when we received a letter from Cathy Collins that December, to say that the International Advisory Panel would like us to submit a full application for the project. We were advised to apply for a pilot project, as there was clearly much work to be done to identify what, if any, further material existed.

As there are few people left in the country who remember the railway in operation, it was essential that any surviving archives were located, preserved and catalogued as quickly as possible and that storage and access facilities created. We also wanted to ensure that proper training was given to the museum staff so that they could properly care for the collection.

We had until February 2013 to make the full application and this was the tricky part. Sierra Leone’s postal service was largely dysfunctional and connectivity limited and rather sporadic which meant that communication with the museum was not easy. However, through the good offices of a well connect ex-pat friend in Freetown we did manage to get agreement from the museum that they wished to undertake the project in partnership with us and that they would provide the necessary information, references and electronic signatures.

A formal application was eventually submitted on time and then all we had to do was sit back and chew our nails. We were delighted when we received a further letter from Cathy Collins in July 2013 agreeing to a grant of up to £15,266 over 10 months to complete our project.

We got started as soon as the paperwork was completed – purchasing the necessary materials and equipment needed, arranging shipping to Sierra Leone and planning our visit. In November 2013, we made the first visit to set up the equipment, test photograph the material held at the museum and to research what other material we might find. I’m not going to talk about the detail of all that here, as Archivist Tim Proctor can tell that story better than me [in a future EAP blog post].

One thing that is worth highlighting is the gratitude of the Sierra Leone people, who were delighted that a British public body was prepared to support Sierra Leone heritage and we were feted by the Ministry of Tourism & Cultural Affairs for making it happen, with a grand reception at the SLNRM and a police escort to get there through the horrendous Freetown Traffic! Tourism and culture had recently been listed as part of Pillar One in the Agenda for Prosperity – the new Sierra Leone strategic plan and so museums and other attractions were sharing a spot of the limelight.

Image 3Press Conference at the Ministry of Tourism & Cultural Affairs, widespread media coverage for launch of EAP626 in Sierra Leone

A second visit to complete the photography was planned for spring 2014.

We were glad that we had planned two visits rather than one, as the first set of photographs were not as good quality as we had hoped, and needed to be repeated. However, we were amazingly lucky to meet a fellow at the National Archives who had already been doing some work for another EAP project and understood the requirements. That was a godsend given what happened before we got out there for the second visit. When Ebola broke out it very quickly became clear that our 2014 visit would not be able to take place.

The EAP team were extremely supportive and agreed that project completion would be delayed until the Ebola crisis ended and Foreign Office advice permitted travel to Freetown.

In the event, we had to wait until March 2015 before we could safely travel. During this visit, we were able to see real growth in the museum, following the appointment of a new Chair of the Monuments & Relics Commission – the governing agency for heritage and the appointment of a new Coordinator for the SLNRM. A restructuring of the museum team had also taken place and an Education & Outreach Officer appointed, along with a Museum Clerk. This is great news, as it means that the work we have done to catalogue and digitise the collection will be used to good effect in country as well as through the online resources developed under EAP.

A little goes a long way in Sierra Leone and the impact of this project will be significant and far-reaching.

Many thanks to everyone who made it possible both in the UK and in Sierra Leone.

 

Written by Helen Ashby, Chair of the Friends of Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, formerly Head of Knowledge & Collections, National Railway Museum, York and grant holder for EAP626

02 February 2017

New collections online - January 2017

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Four new collections are now available to view on the EAP website. The teams involved have helped to preserve a wide variety of records including Peruvian parish registers, Romani archives, Russian Old Believers’ textual heritage, and Nyasaland African Congress records.

EAP699: Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections

Over the past few years, researchers from the "Roma Ethnology" working group, in the Ethnic Minorities Department of the Institute of Cultural Heritage, undertook a series of field trips to Roma communities. They located 11 ethnographic Romani groups in Moldova, each with its specific pre-modern culture. The best known of these are: Layesh (ex-nomads Roma group), Lautari (Roma musicians), Lingurari (Roma spoon makers), Chokanary (Roma blacksmiths), Churary (Roma sieve makers), Curteni (Roma servants to local noble courts). During these field research trips among the Roma community the researchers became aware of the existence of valuable archival materials kept in a state of neglect. Most of these sources (photographs, documents, and manuscripts) are kept in family archives. They are endangered for a variety of reasons. For example, when the owners of personal archives die, their descendants are not interested in preserving them, and there is little funding within the country for collecting and archiving them. These archives are gradually disappearing.

This project aimed to discover these collections of Romani archive material to preserve, digitise and make them publicly available for research. The project team were able to discover and digitise material from the families of some well-known Roma personalities from the past, as well as material from ordinary Roma families. The digitised material is now publicly available in the Moldovan National Archive, as well as the British Library, and is an important source of information for Romani studies. The project digitised 2557 images from 36 individual collections dating from between 1925-2013.

EAP699_16_2-EAP_699_16_Roma_Ciocanari_Riscani_19_L
EAP699/16/2 - Preida Iacov Collection - Roma Family-Military Album [1955-2010]

EAP699_7_2-EAP_699_7_Roma_Curteni_Ciocilteni_21-1_L
EAP699/7/2 - Muzeu Ciocilteni Collection - Papers [1942-1986]

EAP834: Living or leaving tradition: textual heritage of the taiga Old Believers' skit

The aim of this project was to preserve the hand-written book collections of the taiga community of Pilgrims, one of the most radical denominations among Old Believers: confident in the coming of the Antichrist and who regard the authorities as his servants, and also believe that a skit (a small-secluded monastery or convent) is a perfect place where the Orthodox faith can be observed. They prefer to live a reclusive life with other believers as they think this protects the Christian faith and the soul. The Russian monarchy and Soviet power regarded them as irreconcilable enemies and repeatedly destroyed Taiga religious settlements.

The manuscripts of the 15th, 17th and 18th centuries represent the Russian Orthodox and Early Old Believers’ traditions, and their digitisation will help researchers to reconstruct the reading habits of the Siberian peasants-skitniks and the ways of ‘book migrations’. The manuscripts of the 19th and 20th centuries reflect late Old Believers’ traditions and they are interesting as examples of the Russian peasant religious literature. It is believed that approximately 66% of the books were written or rewritten by the skitniks.

The preserved texts contain unique historical and linguistic information and reflect the process and results of assimilation of the culture of Cyrillic writing and reading by Siberian peasants in the 19th and 20th centuries. The manuscripts were stored in poor conditions, exposed to moisture and temperature changes, and were being damaged by mould and migration of ink. In addition, the Skit monks were often forced to write using home-made ink or pencil on paper of poor quality.

The project digitised 144 manuscripts with over 22,000 pages copied. The manuscripts selected for digitisation are those that most adequately reflect the confessional strategy, preferences and history of the taiga community since its formation in the 1830s. These include 1. Liturgy and religious rites: Prayer texts, church calendars and descriptions of rituals and festivals; 2. Canon law and monastic rules; 3. Writings on Christian/Old Believers’ ethics and morals; 4. Religious polemics; 5. Religious poetry; 6. Community history.

You can read more about this project on the project homepage, as well as project holder Professor Elena Dutchak’s Libri journal article: Breathing Life into Rare Book Collections: The Digitization of the Taiga Skit Old Believers Library (Libri. Volume 66, Issue 4, Pages 313–326). We have also funded a similar project - EAP556: Book heritage of Ural Old Believers, which also has its own blog post with more information. EAP834_1_1_56-B-27666_001_L EAP834/1/1/56 - Theoktistos the Stoudite. The service for Jesus Christ [1950s-1960s]

EAP834_1_1_41-B-26104_014_L
EAP834/1/1/41 - The Dominical letter // Вруцелето // Vrutseleto [1941]

EAP783: Digitisation, preservation and dissemination of parochial books and matrimonial records prior to the establishment of the Civil Registry in Peru

This project digitised parish registers detailing baptisms, marriages and deaths in the Diocese of Huacho, Peru. Six parish collections were digitised: Parish of San Miguel Arcangel of Acos; Parish of Nuestra Señora of the Asunción of Ámbar; Parish of Santa María Magdalena of Cajatambo; Parish of Inmaculada Concepción of Canta; Parish of San Juan Bautista of Churín; Parish of San Juan Bautista of Huaral.

These documents are of great value as in the majority of cases they are the only records of birth, death and marriage that exist for citizens of Peru. In 1852 the Civil status records were created but this function was first entrusted to Governors, and then to the municipalities under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic. Consequently, the records of the Civil State in Peru lacked a hierarchical organisation as their offices and files were dispersed in more than 2,500 locations, with no national or regional registers of births, deaths or marriages. For this reason the majority of citizens born before 1940 have great difficulty locating their records.

EAP783_1_6_1-EAP783_AMB_DEF_02_1901_1944_002_LEAP783/1/6/1 - Books of Deaths-Parish Nuestra Señora of the Asunción of Ámbar [1901-1940]

EAP942: Preserving Nyasaland African Congress historical records

The pilot project surveyed Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) records in selected districts in Malawi in order to assess the state of records, their storage conditions, and determine the extent as well as the preservation needs. The project created an inventory of the records and digitised a small selection of the identified records including minutes of meetings of the NAC; the NAC constitution; editorial comments of Malawi News pertaining to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP - successor organisation to NAC); photographs of the late Hon. Aleke Banda, a prominent nationalist and politician.

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EAP942/1/3 - Photos of Aleke Banda

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EAP942/1/1 - Nyasaland African Congress Constitution of Organisation [1943]

13 October 2016

New collections online - September 2016

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Over the past month we have made four new projects available to view through our website. We have also added two new projects to BL Sounds. There are now eight EAP funded projects on Sounds in total, with over 25,000 tracks to listen to. This includes a wide variety of genres of music from Micronesia (EAP115) and Guinea ( EAP187, EAP327, EAP608); folk and traditional songs and talks from the Uralic speaking regions of Russia (EAP347); Indian classical music (EAP190; EAP468); and musical pieces and poetry from Iran (EAP088).

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EAP347 - Vanishing voices from the Uralic world: sound recordings for archives in Russia (in particular Udmurtia), Estonia, Finland and Hungary

The EAP347 project was funded to help preserve sound recordings from the Uralic speaking world that were collected at the Udmurt Institute for History, Language and Literature, Izhevsk, Russia. Most of the recordings are from the Udmurt Republic and the surrounding regions of the Russian Federation, including the Republic of Tatarstan, Kirov Oblast, Republic of Bashkortostan, and Perm Krai. These recordings can be browsed through their region, language, subject, title and recording date. They include many recordings of traditional songs and oral history, featuring subjects such as ‘army recruitment’, ‘drinking songs’, ‘guest songs’, ‘fairy tales’, and ‘wedding’. There are 6118 recordings in total available to listen to here

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EAP704/1/1: Mäshafä salot - Book of Prayer [1495-1505]

EAP704: The Melvin Seiden Award: Digitisation of the monastic archives of Marawe Krestos and Däbrä Abbay (Shire region, Tigray Province, Ethiopia)

This project aimed to secure and digitise two collections of Ethiopian manuscripts kept in remote monasteries located in the Shire region of the Province of Tigray: Marawe Krestos and Däbrä Abbay. These manuscripts are crucial for the study of Ethiopian and Eastern Christian monasticism and the history of Ethiopia, particularly for the northern regions which are now a part of Eritrea and difficult for researchers to access. They also document the history of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church and bring to light the new and little known works of Christian and Ethiopian Church literature. The digitised material is a great resource for researchers studying the history of manuscript and Ethiopian art history in the context of Christian, Oriental and Byzantine artistic traditions. The project was able to fully digitise the two collections. 61 manuscripts were digitised from Marawe Krestos and a further 45 belonging to Däbrä Abbay. A total of 14,602 folios, covers and edges were digitised. The material dates from the 14th century to the 20th century.

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EAP704/1/5: "Mäshafä kufale, Isayeyas - Book of Jubilees, Book of Isaiah [1360-1399]

 EAP115 - Collection and digitisation of old music in pre-literate Micronesian society

The EAP115 project aimed to collect and digitise music and recorded chants from around the Micronesia region. It achieved this by gathering music from government radio stations in Majuro, Marshall Islands; Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap, Federated States of Micronesia; and Koror, Palau, as well as from private collections and church sources in Chuuk, including the Liebenzell Mission and the Catholic Church media studio. The collection features a wide variety of musical styles and charts the evolution of music in the region, with recordings ranging from religious chants and choirs, to more modern rock and reggae songs. All 7069 recordings are available to listen to freely from around the world on BL Sounds. So far the most shared track is the aptly named ‘A happy celebration song’, performed by girls from Woleai, Yap State. You can listen to the track here and explore from there.

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EAP636/5/43: Historia da Misericordia de Goa [1912]

 EAP636 - Creating a digital archive of Indian Christian manuscripts

Portuguese rule in Goa bequeathed a vibrant Catholic community and a rich legacy of texts in Portuguese and Indian vernacular languages. These texts are held in a number of different State, Church, private institutional and family collections and have often been forgotten or lost in collections with no catalogues, remaining invisible to scholars and those interested in the history of Christianity in the area. Many of these texts, dating back to the sixteenth century, were in danger of being lost altogether due to uncertain archival conditions and poor preservation. The aim of this project therefore was to locate, identify and digitise many of these Christian manuscripts located in the region of Konkan. By creating a centralised digital archive of these texts the project has been able to provide a significant resource for scholars and community members interested in the history of Goa, particularly its Catholic communities.

The project was able to digitise the collections of several local families as well as those of institutions in the region. This included digitisation of the manuscript collection, as well as significant books, from the Seminary of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier in Pilar, relating to the order and to the Church in Goa. The Jesuit-run Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr (TSKK) research, educational and cultural centre also agreed to let its collection of manuscripts be digitised. This included its collection of microfilms of early Marāṭhi and Kōṅkaṇī manuscripts.

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EAP636/4/39: Historia dos Animais e Arvores do Maranhao [1967]

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 EAP675/23/1: "Turks in Kardzhali region, South Bulgaria. Akhmed Yusmenov collection [1950s-1980s]"

 EAP675 - Documentation of the pre-industrial elements in Bulgarian minorities' culture during the 20th century - phase II

This project was focused on the discovery, analysis and digitisation of 20th century photographs depicting elements of Bulgarian minorities’ culture. The project was targeted at different ethnic and religious communities, such as Old Believers, Turks, Armenians, Karakachans, and Vlachs. This major project continued the work carried out in the earlier EAP500 pilot project, which focused mainly on a few small collections of Pomaks, Turkish, Karakchan and Tatar images.

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EAP675/10/1: Armenians from different Balkan regions - Haskovo city. Philip Derandonyan's collection [1910s-1960s]

Documentary material from minority groups in Bulgaria is scantily represented or missing from Bulgarian archives. The reason for this is rooted mostly in the mono-centred state policy, focused for a long period solely on the Bulgarian ethnic tradition and culture, as well as in the policy of the Bulgarian state before 1989 aimed at forced assimilation of minorities. This is the reason for the gradual disappearance or even purposeful destruction of pictures and photographic collections of the different minorities in the country, particularly of the Muslim minority during the so called “Revival process” in Bulgaria in the 1960s-1980s. The policy of the Bulgarian state for a forced assimilation of the Muslims was accompanied with the destruction of all documents – official, personal and family – that were testament to their minority identity. Through the research carried out both in this project and EAP500, it has been found that such documents had often been hidden and saved, although often in inappropriate conditions. The project succeeded in discovering and safeguarding these images, and helped create an understanding amongst these groups as to the importance of the project and the need for preservation of these endangered archival documents. Since completion of the project the team has continued to be notified of newly discovered material with families opening up their own collections for study and digitisation.


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EAP675/22/1: Karakachans in Sliven region [1930s-1980s]

 EAP683 - Rāmamālā Library manuscript project

This project set out to create an inventory of 6000 primarily Sanskrit, Prakrit and Bengali manuscripts held in the Rāmamālā Trust compound in Comilla, Bangladesh, and to digitise a sample of them. Established in 1935 by Maheśacandra Bhaṭṭācārya and currently run by the Mahesh Charitable Trust, the collection was meant to promote education and preserve Bengali culture. It was also intended as a resource for preserving and promoting Hinduism within a dominant Muslim environment on the eve of British colonialism. Much of the library is thus dedicated to Sanskrit scientific and legal literature. Yet it also contains unique texts in a variety of other Sanskrit genres and includes many regional works in Bengali (eg, a rare version of the Mahābhārata), together with some works in Prakrit. Consequently, it preserves a snapshot of the literary and religious culture of the region in pre-colonial and colonial times, encompassing not just Hindu works but also works related to a distinctive, regional variety of Islam (Satyapīr). The collection has been physically displaced twice. First during the upheavals in 1947 when India and Pakistan were partitioned, and then again in 1971 when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan. Early attempts to itemise, catalogue, and identify manuscripts have been largely lost; all that remains by means of a catalogue is a general overview of the collection and archives of a few handwritten notes. The manuscripts themselves suffer from physical neglect and dilapidation. They are housed in rooms with glassless windows and leaky roofs, exposed to the elements, and open to vermin and potential theft. Since Bangladeshi independence, there have been limited efforts to ameliorate the disarray of manuscripts, including some microfilming in the 1980s, and classification of the manuscripts’ general categories. Despite the promise of these preliminary efforts, the full scope of the collection remained unknown.

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EAP683/1/1/81: Mahābhārata - Sana 1197, Phālguna 15, [February 27, 1791] (f. 617v)

The project found that there were far more manuscripts in the collection than initially thought, with an estimated 9000 in total. This discovery added a significant strain on resources for creating the inventory and managing their assessment, however, the team were able to complete their work, converting handwritten lists into spreadsheets, and make the inventory readily available to scholars worldwide. The project was also able to digitise a sample of 85 manuscripts ranging from 1 folio up to 620 folios in length dating from the mid-17th century up until the early 20th century. The project also carried out preservation work on many of the endangered manuscripts and moved them to less exposed locations away from vermin and water leaks.

EAP683_1_1_65-rlms5566_003_LEAP683/1/1/65: Praśnacakra

01 September 2016

Call for Applications

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Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting grant applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 4 November 2016 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website. This year we will also be accepting online applications.

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EAP843: Part of the Archibishopric’s Archive, Sandiago de Cuba. A pilot project undertaken in 2015 with a major project about to begin.

The Endangered Archives Programme has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. This aim is achieved through the award of grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise the material, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The digital collections from 165 projects are currently available online, consisting of over 5 million images and several thousand sound recordings.

This year we have started making our sound recordings available for online streaming and one of our most popular archives is the Syliphone Label.

The Programme has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals. Since 2004 approximately 300 projects have been funded. Last year awards were given for projects based in Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Ghana, India, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Turks and Caicos Islands.

The following images give a sense of the type of material that went online over the past year.

Image 4EAP692/1/1/2  Alagar kovil Kallalagar Inner Mandapa Ceiling East [17th Century]. Part of the pilot project to digitise temple murals in Tamil Nadu. The team have now started a major grant.

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EAP727/6/25: བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid-19th century]. Tibetan Buddhist manuscript from Amdo, PR China

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EAP755/1/1/86 Mendoza. Photographs taken by Annemarie Heinrich, Argentina. The team working on this project have also been awarded  a major grant.

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EAP856/1/6 Journal du Premier Ministre Rainilaiarivony (Tome III) [May 1881 - Sep 1881]. 19th century archives written by Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (written in Malagasy.  Another project is also underway on Madagascar.

So, if you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at endangeredarchives@bl.uk